The end is near for the R word.

Snell Middle School Principal Pat Abalos has removed signs, drawings and other public references to “Redskins” from his campus in the southwestern New Mexico town of Bayard.

Abalos said he still has to order new uniforms for athletic teams and perhaps purchase items such as school stationery. The new gear and supplies will eliminate all references to Redskins.

The principal has to wait to make his changes. Board members of the Cobre Consolidated School District haven’t yet selected a mascot to replace Redskins at Snell.

“We’re still nameless,” Abalos said Tuesday in a phone interview.

He said he expects the school board to choose a new mascot by summertime.

Students returned to the campus six weeks ago after a long shutdown to blunt the spread of COVID-19. Neither they nor anyone else thought much about mascots while they were learning from a distance.

Abalos attended Snell Middle School in the 1970s, when Eagles was the team name.

He is uncertain why the school switched to Redskins in the early 1980s. Even then, other schools were eliminating names and symbols such as Redskins, Redmen and Indians.

Many of the early changes occurred on college campuses and were driven by students who said institutional depictions of Native Americans were racist.

Stanford in 1972 and Dartmouth in 1974 did away with their Indian mascots.

Dozens of colleges and high schools have followed their lead in the four decades since.

A smaller number of schools continue using Native American mascots. One of the more notable is Florida State University, whose teams are known as the Seminoles. The university has cooperative relationships with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

The mascot change that received the most attention came at the professional level in July. Daniel Snyder, primary owner of Washington’s NFL team, yielded to corporate pressure and dropped the name Redskins.

Cobre school board members voted 3-1 to eliminate Redskins as Snell’s mascot a month after the pro franchise’s decision.

The board also ended the use of cartoonish Chief Wahoo as the symbol of Cobre High School’s teams. But Cobre High continues to call its teams Indians.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, formerly the baseball coach at Cobre High, advocated the demise of Chief Wahoo. Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians had set the tone by retiring the same grinning caricature.

Morales, a Democrat, told me he favors retaining Indians as Cobre High’s mascot.

“I think it does have some historical connection to Grant County,” he said, mentioning Apaches whose land was near present-day Silver City.

But Morales said all mascots depicting Native Americans one day might be displaced.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill last month banning the use of Native mascots at most public schools in his state. It’s a sign, Morales said, that more large-scale changes are likely.

School boards in other states have acted on their own in eliminating controversial mascots.

Last year, the Michigan villages of Clinton and Paw Paw each dropped Redskins as their high school mascot. Paw Paw switched to Red Wolves, a more clever and lyrical fit.

Abalos, the Snell Middle School principal, declined to offer an opinion on what mascot should replace the R word.

Morales said he now supports reviving Eagles as Snell’s mascot.

Though the lieutenant governor says it’s fine to keep using Indians at Cobre High School, he favors Miners as a replacement if a change occurs.

The area’s rich history of mining and labor activism would make it a logical team name, Morales said.

In Bayard, population 2,400, Abalos said there’s no longer much talk about ousting Redskins at Snell Middle School.

Morales said one suggestion floated in the area was to make Indians the mascot of both the high school and the middle school. That idea never reached the school board in any formal way.

Community surveys on what to call the teams at Snell Middle School have been distributed. The favorites, whatever turn out to be, might get the school board’s attention.

Snell’s last change in mascots 40 years ago barely received any notice, though it should have been controversial.

The inoffensive name Eagles was ousted for no particular reason. In its place came Redskins, a mascot that never should have survived the Roosevelt administration — Teddy Roosevelt’s administration.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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