On Feb. 1, the South Burlington School Board voted unanimously to change the ‘Rebel’ name used by the high school for sports teams. This decision marked the end of a long fought battle by students opposed to the nickname.
The board voted to keep the name about 15 months ago, but continued pushback from community members re-sparked the debate.
A BHS Register Twitter poll asked readers if they felt the name should be changed. 71% supported the decision with 29% opposed.
— BHS Register (@BHSRegister) February 9, 2017
Eva Rawlings, a junior at South Burlington High School, feels it’s very important that the ‘Rebel’ name has been changed.
“When I found out that our mascot is supposed to represent a confederate soldier, I was appalled,” she said. “Though I have never been personally affected by racial discrimination since I am not a person of color, even I felt uncomfortable chanting it at games, knowing what the confederacy stood for.”
Though she is pleased with the school board’s decision, Rawlings has felt discouraged about the aftermath. Since the name change, two Facebook “resistance” groups have popped up. We are S.B. Rebels and Rebel Alliance.
“There is now a petition by angry students and community members who want to change the rebel name back. I find this incredibly disappointing and frankly, sad,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s selfish for people to care more about keeping a tradition of a mascot, than whether or not everyone feels welcome.”
Student Ben Tate believes the change was uncalled for.
“When people think of South Burlington, the word Rebels follows immediately, and it is what we have always recognized ourselves as,” he said. “I don’t see how the name is racist or tied to the confederacy. I do believe it was earlier in our history, but when we got rid of the mascot in the 90’s, I believe that is when the ties to the confederacy were broken.”
For Tate, the Rebel name has been a source of pride.
“When I step onto the field for baseball, I’m proud to have the Rebel name across my chest. It shows that I will fight for my town, and my teammates. It brings us together, and shows who we are as a community. We are rebellious, and will fight for what we believe in,” he said.
The junior believes that the student body and the South Burlington community did not have enough of a say in the decision to remove the name.
“The residents are the ones that are going to have to pay for all of the renovations to the school that will have to happen, as well as all new uniforms and sports fields that have the Rebel name on them and will need to be changed,” Tate said. “I myself, along with many other students and residents believe we should have gotten more of a say in the change.”
All teams, clubs and groups at SBHS that use the “Rebel” name are going to have to make some changes. The SBHS student newspaper is currently called “SB Rebelution.” They have not decided on a new name yet.
Principal Patrick Burke feels the Rebel mascot does not fit the times, and needed to be removed.
“Schools have mascots to unify the student body,” he said. “The mascot that we’ve had for a long time no longer serves that purpose. It’s not a unifying symbol for the student body.”
Burke believes the Rebel name is harmful to what he wants to be a welcoming school community where everyone feels respected.
“We can’t keep this mascot because it affects the school environment in a negative way. It’s not just that we can’t agree. That’s a fact that can not be dismissed. That’s part of the story. When I have kids of color saying, “I’m not comfortable with this,” then I have to listen.”
Burke feels that this is a simple thing.
“I mean you guys (BHS) are the Seahorses, but if all of a sudden there became this crazy terrorist group that’s racially motivated and out killing people, and they call themselves the Seahorses you guys would be like, “oh my god, let’s get this name changed.”
Isaiah Hines is an SBHS senior and the Student Representative on the South Burlington school board. He is also a co-founder of the Student Diversity Union.
“As a result of this role, I’ve become a sort of spokesperson for all those in favor of changing the name. Also because I am Black, this name and what it symbolizes has a particular significance to me personally,” Hines said.
For Hines, the road to achieving this name change has not been a smooth one.
“I have been constantly asked to just look overlook the issue. I have been told to ignore the links to the confederacy and focus on the alternate meanings the name has taken on. I feel that it’s just unfair for people to ask me, a Black student, to overlook the Rebel name’s clear connections to an anti-black, pro-slavery, racist group.”
Hines feels that although this journey was a tough one, it was a necessary one, and the hard work has payed off in the end.
“Working with students, faculty, and community members to advocate for change and seeing our efforts come to fruition has been a very rewarding experience. It felt so good hearing each of the Board members read their statements expressing their support for changing the name.”