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Retired Caldwell football coach Ken Trimmer is a strong supporter of the high school's time-honored and very popular moniker, 'Chiefs,' in day and age when several high schools and colleges have caved in to opposition and pressure to alter their familiar nicknames. (SC photo)

It Remains ‘Once A Chief Always A Chief’
While Weequahic Is Still Indians For Now

By Steve Tober

Whether it was Pascack Valley disbanding with ‘Indians’ or Pascack Hills sending the ‘Cowboy’ out to permanent pasture - the sports teams’ self-appointed name-rebranding force has apparently taken a break from patrol around North Jersey, although the topic of school nicknames has continued to be a focus in the colleges, such as at George Washington University, which had removed the longtime moniker ‘Colonials’ and replaced it in the spring of 2023 with ‘Revolutionaries.’ 

As far as Pascack Valley had been concerned, one retired teacher had argued that the Indian mascot is ‘dehumanizing’ and ‘can cause psychological damage.’ A representative from Pascack Hills said that ‘Cowboy’ excludes women and people of color.

Whatever the discussions, including arguments back and forth, changes in nicknames did occur at the Bergen County sister schools in 2021 as Pascack Valley is now the Panthers and Pascack Hills is the Broncos. 

“People around the nation want to express their point of view on a number of topics,” said Gary Westbury, the now retired athletic director at Weequahic, a history-laden Newark high school that also bears the nickname, the Indians. “The opportunity is there to try and fulfill one’s agenda, and although I haven’t heard much yet on the topic here, I expect that there could be talk down the line about changing our nickname because I know that they’re already talking about changing East Side’s name (the Red Raiders).”

How much opposition is mounted to fight any further nickname changes, whether it’s in Newark or elsewhere, remains to be seen; but there has been opposition to the name change from Cowboys to Broncos at Pascack Hills where more than 700 signatures were on a petition in June of 2020, and folks in the James Caldwell High School district have continued to protect their beloved ‘Chiefs’ nickname which has its unique roots in that it isn’t even in honor of an actual Native American to begin with.  

It's now been six years since a James Caldwell High School sports parent gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition to ‘Keep the JCHS mascot,’ and if ‘Chief’ old-timers such as retired football coach Ken Trimmer continue to have anything to say about the topic, it’s ‘Once a Chief…Always a Chief!”

“Our ‘Chief’ has nothing to do with disrespect,” said Trimmer, who is still a volunteer assistant with the girls basketball team at the high school and had been a teacher or coach at JCHS for 56 years. “It’s an honor to be called a ‘Chief.’”

What is quite unique about Caldwell’s Chief is that it can be said that JCHS’s nickname is the only one in the state of New Jersey which is in honor of a former coach, the beloved Harris ‘Chief’ Bonnel who taught and coached at the Caldwell-West Caldwell high school for more than 40 years from 1934 to his retirement in 1975, encompassing a time of change when the school’s sports increased from two to 19.

“We know that in late 1930s they were already referring to ‘Chief’s’ baseball team,” said JCHS Athletic Director Dan Romano, who also played football and baseball for JCHS and was a longtime assistant football coach at the school as well. “’Chief’ had a relationship with some local Native Americans, who may have been Lenni-Lenapes, although we’re not sure about that, and invited them to the school (then Grover Cleveland High School) in the 1930s.

“During an assembly program at the school discussing the Indian culture, the Native Americans made coach Bonnel an official chief.”

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