PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- Three of the four teams playing for state championships in high school football Friday have Native American nicknames and mascots.
Two of those teams, the Lamar Savages, and the Eaton Reds faced each other in a Class 2A matchup, with Lamar's late comeback effort falling short in a 28-21 defeat.
Both teams may have played their final games with their current mascots, as pressure mounts from the public -- and even from former students and players -- to retire the symbols commonly viewed as offensive and demeaning to Native Americans.
Many fans defend the mascots, saying that the original intent was to honor and celebrate the heritage and culture of native tribes that populated the region.
Blake Mundell, a 2007 Lamar graduate and former captain of the football team, is part of LamarProud, a group of school alumni supporting the removal of its mascot.
"To question this definition of the word savage that I had grown up with, made me realize it's really just in this small town of Lamar where that definition exists," he said.
In a statement after Lamar's game Friday, Mundell praised the team for its second-place finish but also repeated his commitment to retire the mascot, "as a promise that all students and athletes will be educated in a safe and inclusive environment."
In recent years, opponents of Native American mascots have asked the state Legislature and the state athletic association to take action, but the final decision rests with local school boards.
"Right now, they're in a search for a new superintendent, and we've been dealing with the COVID situation," said Scott Rankin, a Lamar fan. "So that's the primary focus. It was never meant to be something derogatory toward any Native Americans. They take it as a symbol of pride."
Rankin said people who grew up in Lamar, attended the high school, and still live there generally want to keep the mascot but newer arrivals with no ties to the area or the school feel differently.
Eaton fan Jeff Detienne said that the school board is weighing whether to keep the Reds nickname but drop the snarling mascot.
"I think they want to keep the Reds, so I think they'll keep the color and they'll come up with a new design," he said. "What do I want to happen? I think the community should decide."
In another championship game Friday, the Loveland Indians defeated the Palmer Ridge Bears, 42-6.
On Saturday, the Strasburg Indians will play the Limon Badgers.