For 13 years, Lauren Sadeh has been in charge of or a part of team huddles for the Manhasset girls basketball team.
Huddles during practice, huddles during timeouts in games, huddles before and after they take the court.
And Sadeh said that not once in the thousands of team circle gatherings she’s witnessed have any of them ended with one particular phrase.
“We’ve never said ‘Hands in, Indians on three!” said Sadeh, currently the girls head basketball coach. “It’s always been ‘Set on three!” or ‘Let’s go ‘Set!,” something like that.
“It’s just not something you ever heard,” she said. “All of the teams I’ve coached whether it was basketball, softball, golf, if we didn’t do a ‘SET’ cheer, we’ve always said that season’s motto like ‘FAMILY on 3!’ or ‘TOGETHER on 3!’”
The debate over high school, college and professional sports teams using potentially-offensive Indian-related nicknames and mascots has been a hot topic in America over the past few decades, with both the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins agreeing to change their names in recent years.
Here in Manhasset, the debate has simmered among older school graduates who believe in honoring the tradition of the past, and newer faculty and students who believe the name should be changed.
In many school districts across the country, superintendents have made local decisions on the issue, but now Manhasset and other New York State schools have no choice in the matter: Last November the state Dept. of Education informed all NYS school districts that all indigenous names, logos and mascots must be removed.
Manhasset Superintendent Gaurav Passi has set into place a plan he presented to the school board last month stating that new team names will be solicited from the community, and a committee of volunteers will review named and put forth a series of mascot names for Manhasset students to vote on, with a result coming “hopefully by end of December of this year,” Passi said in a recent interview.
In speaking with current Manhasset athletes and coaches like Sadeh, it appears the name change just isn’t that big of a deal to them.
“We loved being the Indians, and we love the mascot, but at the end of the day, it’s not about the mascot,” said just-graduated Manhasset football and lacrosse star Matt Cargiulo. “For us, in my years playing sports, it’s been about your brothers on the team, and competition, and seeing how good you can be on that day. We represent Manhasset, that’s the important thing.”
Johnny Hogan, a junior on the cross country and track teams, agreed with Cargiulo that the nickname issue isn’t one that’s come up a lot.
“It’s never been that big an issue,” Hogan said. “Maybe a few kids think it should stay, but I have never heard anybody I know being mad that (it’s changing). I feel like we run for each other, and for ourselves, and that yes, we’re affiliated with the school but really it’s about trying to do the best we can for our group.”
One part of this change that coaches and players interviewed agreed was that the contentiousness around the issue has died down a bit, and anger over the name change now is mitigated by the fact that Manhasset didn’t have a choice; like Massapequa and Sachem and others, the state is ordering it to change.
“I think knowing that this was coming down the pike has made it easier,” said Steve Steiner, the head track and field coach for the past 18 years. “People have had time to get used to it, and our students by and large are well-educated and know how to think and analyze situations, and most I’ve talked to can see how the Indians name can be offensive.
Steiner added with a laugh that the biggest concern/excitement over the issue from his students is a sartorial one.
“They’re excited we’ll get new uniforms,” Steiner said. “And one of my thoughts was I probably have 250 clothing items I won’t be able to wear anymore because they all have the feather on the M in the logo.”
Shea Panzik, a senior who competes for the field hockey and lacrosse teams, sees the Indians name as a source of pride and isn’t wild about the change.
“I think it’s all about how (the nickname) is presented, and playing as the Manhasset Indians has always given me a sense of pride, of playing for something bigger,” Panzik said. “To me, it’s always felt like representing Indians through hard work and strength is what we’ve been doing.”
The current banners and trophies at Manhasset will be allowed to stay and keep the Indians name, but all visible signage outside the school and on school fields will be changed.
As far as what the new nickname and mascot should be, there was no consensus.
“All I hear (from the players) is that they don’t want it to be something lame,” Sadeh said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, which is what we do at Manhasset,” Cargiulo said. “That’s not going to change.”