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James Caldwell High School honors the memory of former coach and athletic director Harris 'Chief' Bonnel with the school's long-standing nickname which inspires Chief sports fans who regularly visit Bonnel Field for Friday night football while proclaiming 'Once A Chief Always A Chief' for those to hear. (SC photos and also by Jeff Stiefbold)

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It is also thought that Bonnel may have also been a chief with the local fire department.
“If his nickname was ‘Sparky,’ we may have been the Caldwell ‘Sparks,” said Romano with a chuckle. “When they made him a chief, they gave him a headdress as well.

“By the early 1940s people referred to ‘Chief’s baseball team’ and ‘Chief’s basketball team,’ because those were the two main sports he coached, and it appears that other teams at the school did not use the nickname at that point and it wasn’t until after the 1951 yearbook was dedicated to him that the nickname began to stick for everyone.”

For several years the Caldwell teams wore a ‘C’ on their helmets. Trimmer said that he contacted the Washington Redskins in the early 1970s and asked them to send their helmet decal which they did, and that’s when JCHS teams used the Indian headdress on the logo which can be seen in different locations on campus including in the middle of Bonnel Field where the Chiefs football, soccer and lacrosse teams play.

“We are always open to discussion on the topic of our school’s nickname which we are very proud of,” said Romano. “We’re honoring a person who was very important to our school but we certainly don’t want to offend anyone. We did away with the tomahawk chop several years ago and there is no reference of anything negative at all in our cheers.”

There is a plaque in the Legends Park at Bonnel Field which explains the story about Chief Bonnel to help provide information to fans visiting James Caldwell High School who can read about a Chiefs icon and former mentor to help make even more sense to those wishing to learn more about Caldwell’s unique and very apropos nickname.  

While Caldwell certainly has no intention of relinquishing its classic nickname, at Weequahic Westbury said he would not be surprised if the powers-that-be might one day decide to drop ‘Indians’ as their nickname.

“I’m more interested in simply making sure that we remain open as a high school,” said the 1982 West Side graduate. “We went from a Group 4 school years ago to a very small Group 1 that came near closing because of low student numbers what with all the other magnet and charter schools opening in Newark and attracting some of our students.

“I’m not sure where the Weequahic Indian came from although it may have something to do with Weequahic Park back in the day. Our strong alumni keep the spirit of the Weequahic Indians alive in their newsletter, but if those in charge want to change the name that badly then that’s just the way it’s going to be.

“So many people seem to be looking to make changes in all different areas of life right now, and the school nickname topic has resurfaced once again just like it did 15 or 20 years ago when a lot of the colleges changed their names whether it may have been St. John’s (Redmen to Red Storm) or Montclair State (Indians to Red Hawks).”

While other school name changes may continue in the high school and college ranks it seems safe to say that at Caldwell, the very popular and time-honored nickname will remain.

“There is absolutely no reason to change it,” said Trimmer. “Its an honor to be called the ‘Chief.’”

Follow Steve Tober on 'X' (formerly Twitter) @Chattermeister

Weequahic High School in Newark still maintains its nickname the Indians despite others such as Cleveland's MLB team deciding to change its moniker. (Photos by Gene Nann)

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