KEYPORT — The Board of Education voted Wednesday night to retain the school's Native American mascot.

By a vote of 6-4, board members decided that the image of an Indian with a headdress will not be changed or replaced.

"We are a small community similar to a tribe," board member Kim Kutschman said before voting to keep the mascot. "When I look at that Indian face, I don't look at it as a cartoon. I look at it as strength and as a leader."

The issue was first brought up by 1994 Keyport High graduate Aaron Bowers, who said he had heard from a number of Native American groups throughout the country who believe mascot imagery featuring Native Americans is "disrespectful and insulting." Bowers, who is not Native American, did not attend Wednesday's meeting, but spoke to New Jersey 101.5 by phone.

"I appreciate everything they did looking into it," Bowers said of the board. "I'm not surprised by the vote. I would've been more surprised if they changed it."

Phil Santiago, president of the Keyport Football Alumni Association, called the vote a win for the community.

Phil Santiago, president of the Keyport Football Alumni Association, urges the Board of Education to retain the high school mascot. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

"Keyport residents have a great sense of pride and I think that prevailed tonight," he said after the hour-long meeting.

 

Sheryl Lester, a 1975 graduate, attended the meeting to speak in favor of a mascot change.

"I don't approve of the imagery," she told the board. "If you won't change it, give it respect."

Prior to the vote, members of the board urged fellow members to consider a "compromise" and keep the Red Raider name but adjust the associated imagery. A number of members suggested the school incorporate lessons about Keyport's Native American history into the curriculum.

Elena Malinconico, the board's vice president, said the school has "already made a compromise" and she voted to retain the mascot.

"On none of our sports uniforms do we currently use that Native American symbol," she said. "We're using the 'K.'"

More from New Jersey 101.5:

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.