By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California high school's decades-old use of an Arab mascot to promote its sports teams has drawn the ire of an Arab-American rights group that says the mascot is an offensive caricature, portraying Arabs with a large nose, beard and head-covering.
Coachella Valley High School sports teams are dubbed the "Arabs," which the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee complained in a letter to the school this month plays on harmful stereotypes.
The group, whose leaders say they are not aware of another U.S. school with the nickname Arab, also cited as offensive the school's logo of an Arab, which it said was displayed in the middle of the basketball court and elsewhere at the school.
"It's a very stereotypical logo of Arabs, it has the angry-looking Arab with the hook nose and the beard," said Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the group.
The controversy over the Arab mascot comes as the use of ethnic team names and mascots has gained new prominence with a campaign this year to pressure the National Football League's Washington Redskins to change their name. American Indians and others have long pilloried the Redskins moniker as racist.
At the Coachella school's sporting events, a person in an oversized mask dances and entertains the crowd as the mascot.
In its letter, the Anti-Discrimination Committee described YouTube videos of half-time shows at Coachella Valley High School sporting events that show the Arab mascot making an appearance while "a female dressed as a belly dancer entertains him."
A Web search by Reuters found a video of the school's mascot dancing with a belly dancer on a basketball court, in the middle of a circle of cheerleaders.
Ayoub said he understands that the school, which opened in 1910 and is located in the arid Coachella Valley town of Thermal, 125 miles southeast of Los Angeles, originally used the Arab mascot as a nod to the region's date-growing industry, because the date palm is associated with the Middle East.
"There is an appropriate way to recognize the ties with Arabs and the Arab community, but this was not it," Ayoub said.
Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent Darryl Adams is due to discuss the issue with the local school board later this month, Adams's interim assistant, Marita Rango, said. Adams was not immediately available to comment.
"He just hopes to resolve the issue there with the mascot," Rango said. "He is working with (the ADC)."
Ayoub, whose group was alerted to the existence of the mascot a few weeks ago by a member in New York, said Adams has been receptive to his group's concerns.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)