KEYPORT — The big topic of discussion at the Wednesday night meeting of the Board of Education in this borough was whether to get rid of the high school's Red Raider mascot — an illustration of a feather headdress-wearing Native-American chief.

One one side is Aaron Bowers, a 1994 Keyport High School graduate who told Townsquare Media he studied the mascot topic over the past 10 years. After getting approval "from the Native American community," he felt it was time to bring it up to the Board of Education.

"The Board of Ed has been very open-minded and were willing to listen to me. I thank them for that. Whether they are going to change the mascot I don't know. Something like this cannot be easy and takes time. Hopefully they'll open up their hearts to the Native American community," Bowers said.

Bowers is not Native American. Among the people he said he spoke to are those behind the Not Your Mascots and Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry groups on Facebook, and the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape and the Ramapough Lunaape Nation of New Jersey.

Schools Superintendent Lisa Savoia told the Asbury Park Press the issue is open to discussion at Wednesday's meeting from all sides.

"It is not scheduled for any action taken. The board wants to hear from the community. This is a very preliminary discussion and a component of the process," Savoia was quoted as saying. She did not return a message from Townsquare Media on Wednesday afternoon.

Unofficially leading those who want to keep the name is Phil Santiago, a 2005 Keyport graduate and president of the Keyport Alumni Football Association.

Santiago does not consider the Red Raider name racist but can understand the criticism over the name.

"I could accept their concern to a certain extent if our mascot had been something along the lines of the Redskins, where you could make the connection between the direct negative connotation between 'red skin' and possibly people construing that as someone describing a Native American as having red skin. I can accept that gripe," Santiago said.

Santiago said there is evidence that the term "red raider" dates back to pre-Revolutionary War history and it's "fitting" as to the geographic location of Keyport.

Santiago said he has talked to many people since the issue came up about the name.

"We have a great sense of pride and honor to our school. We pretty much have the same sentiment: We never have nor never will look at the Keyport Red Raider as a negative or offensive term or mascot. It was everything about pride when we were in school and it's everything about pride now that we're out of school."

Bowers disputes the Red Raider as a symbol of pride.

"If the Red Raider means pride I ask you and everyone else, pride in what? If it's disrespectful to Native Americans how can there be pride in that? There's always going to be Keyport Pride no matter what the mascot is so why not change it," Bowers said.

"Most alumni don't agree with me but I can't blame them because most haven't studied the harm that mascots do to the Native American community, especially Native American kids that may have to attend or visit these schools."

Bowers said that athletic wear make Adidas has agreed to help schools with the cost of changing team names.

"Fighting any form of racism or oppression is always worth the cost," Bowers said.

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