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Their nicknames are fighting words

LOWELL -- It's the North sectional semifinals of the Division 2 state baseball tournament. Tewksbury against Lincoln-Sudbury. The Redmen against the Warriors.

Two teams whose nicknames have Native American origins.

Few noticed. That's life in Massachusetts, in a state named for a tribe, filled with cities named for tribes. They are everywhere, these nicknames, and most seem to want to keep it that way.

''The nicknames for teams, you want it to say 'fight,' " said Tewksbury baseball player Greg Weisse. ''You don't want a nickname like the Squirrels or something, that doesn't mean anything. Like the Redmen -- you think someone who's going to fight for what they believe in."

It's an issue that surfaces occasionally, and while some high schools in Massachusetts have gradually moved away from the Native American nicknames or mascots, many more aren't budging. That's the way it's always been, they say. Part of the town.

''My feeling is that it's an absolute distinct honor for our Indian American heritage," said Tewksbury athletic director Bob Aylward. ''Wouldn't you like to honor you or your heritage or your ethnicity? It isn't anything but honoring."

Aylward also said he refuses to buy uniforms with a headdress logo or ''Redmen" nickname. He prefers ''Tewksbury." Not because of the potential controversy but because he likes seeing ''Tewksbury" each time his athletes play. It's unique. ''Redmen" isn't.

It's also Natick's nickname.

''Certainly you've got some feelings on both sides," said third-year Natick AD Thomas Lamb. ''I have heard arguments in both directions. I don't think the school has an opinion either way. I'm surprised someone hasn't taken it on real strong and gone for it."

Lamb estimated that the school phased out a headdress logo about a decade ago. No mascot, either.

In reality, it's a town issue. Aylward seems attached to the Redmen. Lamb doesn't. Andover's Golden Warriors switched from a Native American mascot to a Golden Eagle in the 1990s. Millis retains the ''Mohawks" nickname.

Many schools have abandoned mascots, though, in what they call a gesture of respect.

Lincoln-Sudbury has. Tewksbury has not.

Headdress, face paint. That's the costume that a member of the Tewksbury student body often wears at football games and pep rallies.

''It's nothing to give offense to anyone," said baseball player Bill LaVigne. ''It's just something that's always been done."

Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association deputy director Bill Gaine hasn't seen the question arise in more than a decade. But unless it became a problem during tournament play, Gaine said, it's unlikely the MIAA would involve itself. The association already has rules prohibiting the use of ''war paint" at tournament events. And that's about as far as it goes.

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