KEYPORT — Superintendent of Schools Lisa Savoia said Wednesday night's Board of Education meeting, which included discussion about changing the name of the high school's athletic teams, had one of the largest meeting turnouts in her eight years in the district.

Residents packed the meeting to discuss the issue of the team name and mascot, a feather headdress-wearing Native American figure that 1994 graduate Aaron Bowers suggested be changed because it offends Native Americans. Many others support keeping the name and logo.

"The board has not made a decision on this yet. However, the board considers the input all of the community we represent," Savoia said Thursday. "There was a lot to digest."

She said many of the 60 people who spoke left after they spoke and did not hear the interaction between the board members

Bowers said he found the meeting "very constructive and beneficial," while Phil Santiago, president of the Keyport Football Alumni Association, who supports keeping the Native American imagery, described this meeting as "productive."

Savoia said that things got a little tense at times but thought the meeting went well.

"This is a very passionate group of individuals," she said, and praised board president Ann Panzarelli for letting everyone "be heard and listened to" in a respectful manner.

"Various alumni, residents, and students that spoke about this issue everyone put forth their own opinion as to how they themselves perceive our Red Raider, which is noting short of pride and honor. I feel everyone's message was received well by the board," Santiago said.

Bowers think the Red Raiders name will stay in place but the image of the chief may be removed.

"After learning Keyport's history we found out last night that the Red Raiders were not actually Native Americans," he said.

Jack Jeandron, 90, who was not at the meeting, told New Jersey 101.5 that the high school team colors have always been red and white and when the football team began playing around 1940, "it was natural to call them the Red Raiders.

You can't be a 'Red Farm Worker.' You had to have a name with some oomph to it," Jeandron said.

Several years later, the school decided that the the name could be connected to Native Americans and they started to use the Native American imagery.

"I think that when they did that, they were thinking here's something that will make us look invincible — although (the teams) were pretty poor," Jeandron said.

Jeandron said that the Lenape settled the area that later became Keyport and harvested clams and oysters from the bay.

Savoia said the board meets Wednesday but until the meeting agenda is publicly posted on Monday the board's next action won't be known.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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