Recently, an article published in an area publication singled out one of our local schools and communities. It is important to note that this was an opinion piece published in a city that just had a mascot change. The article was short, calling out the use of the Indians mascot at County Line Public Schools. Responses locally were swift and strong, as you would expect. The content of the original piece contained many construed and inaccurate pieces of information and vilified a great community where many of our friends and family members live.
I have now covered the Indians for several years, and have enjoyed my time there. Also, my family is a Tribal Nation cardholder. Before moving back to the area, I worked for one of the best schools in Oklahoma, where I was a faculty member at Tulsa Union High School, the home of the Redskins. While that mascot may seem even more inflammatory, it was how the school chose to use mascot and honor Native American heritage that has allowed for the longevity of its use. While the football team has drawn national attention, a tradition started in 1994 by students who researched and built the teepee. The players have taken the field running through it ever since, including long road trips to New Mexico and California. Locally, the traditions are just as strong. Our community has watched games played on the floor with the Indian at midcourt for generations, and it will be there through all of the new renovations this year. As a media member, I am always treated well, and usually get a handshake and thank you from an administrator. The characterization of the students and fans as anything less is probably just frustration.
County Line is a very tough place to play a game. It is loud, and you can bet that the fans will know the officials by name before it is over. It is a sporting event, not a knitting competition. I had friends that went to school there and often spent time on the campus when I was in high school many years ago. But man, I hated playing there. That is how home teams should be.
Times have changed, and we know that many things that were part of society are now taboo or rightfully projected as wrong. I am not going to debate any of that. However, sterilizing events to make sure everyone is included and nobody is offended will get us nowhere. It has been in the spotlight for some time, and was best illustrated in the sitcom Community, where the fictional community college named their mascot the human beings, changing it from grizzlies because "some of these kids have been called animals their whole lives." I do not believe that is the bubble we want to live in.
The Arkansas Activities Association has put in place many rules for sportsmanship over the years because of inflammatory remarks like those in the opinion piece. Gyms and stadiums now display lists of all the atrocities fans and students cannot commit, such as saying "Beat the Eagles" or directing any other content at the opponent. These people would have never made it through a night at the Trojan Classic, where schools filled the gym to capacity to make up cheers on the spot to yell at each other. Homecoming floats now have Disney characters, but a generation ago, you saw trailers with a giant toilet and a spinning mascot inside.
I understand balance. The line gets crossed by hyped-up teenagers or the angry parent. Those are the issues to address. For the rest, create a school spirit and fill a venue that teams dread playing in. It is likely a fan of another visiting school who wrote the piece on County Line. All it takes is one look at the schedule to see the new addition to their program, a new school in Fort Smith, where the letter was initially published. I spoke to an administrator at County Line this week, and they said many of the items from the opinion piece were simply not true, but they were not making any formal remarks on it. Several of the topics mentioned are not even allowed under AAA rules, so there will be no issues with them. The school will review some things but do not expect drastic changes for the Indians. It is a proud community that supports their school.
Can we start at the basics understanding that mascots are selected to show strength, display a sense of majestic presence, and to intimidate opponents. If that is the purpose, then may County Line always be the home of the Indians.