Saying Goodbye to the Rebel Name
Rachel Norotsky | On 05, May 2017
Hopeful. Relieved. Empowered. These are the words that three South Burlington High School students claimed to best describe their emotions on February 1st, 2017. This was the day that the South Burlington School Board made a historic decision to retire the SB Rebel moniker. The moniker dates back to the 1960s and was plastered across South Burlington school buses, gym floors, and uniforms – along with the confederate flag. As years passed, the confederate flag and “Captain Rebel” who once served as the SBHS mascot both stopped showing up in the schools, and the Rebel identity at South Burlington transformed into what many viewed as a harmless name with little meaning behind it – until 2015.
The 1960s yearbook images surfaced of confederate flags donning the walls of cafeterias and school buses around the same time that white supremacist Dylann Roof was seen holding a confederate flag after murdering nine community members of Charleston, South Carolina at their historically black church. Once this connection was made, there was no denying that the Rebel name was tied to the confederacy. Students gained the courage to finally speak out about their discomfort with the Rebel name.
Hines was the first SBHS student to bring up the issues behind the Rebel name back in 2015, along with community members like Bob Walsh also raising their voice, at a school board meeting. The board voted unanimously to keep the Rebel name, and make efforts to rebrand it into something more positive. One year later, the school board addressed the same question after dozens of students, community members, and alumni advocated for change – Should we retire the Rebel name? This time, the board voted unanimously once again. This time, they voted yes.
Principal Burke released a powerful statement explaining why he supported the retirement of the Rebel name at the school board meeting that spoke volumes to many. “How can we ask current student athletes who are not comfortable with the name to wear a uniform with the word ‘Rebels’ written across the front? How can we distribute Rebel uni-tees to students and staff who have told us they feel excluded?”
Many students attending this important school board meeting erupted into applause and celebration after the announcement to retire the name. The crowd included many Student Diversity Union members who came to support the club’s founder and leader, Isaiah Hines (SBHS senior), as he spoke out about why he believes the name must be changed.
SBHS junior Kiran Waqar is one of many students who felt that it was time to retire the Rebel name. “Honestly, I just thought ‘Thank God.’ I was relieved that our school was finally taking a step in the right direction, especially considering the current political climate. It was kind of like breathing out when I didn’t know I was holding my breath.”
The Rebel moniker is officially being retired in August 2017. The biggest question as of right now seems to be, now what? “The student body is really divided,” states SBHS junior Will Jewkes. “Some people are ecstatic, some are horrified. Many people don’t care either way. For me, the most disappointing thing to see is the lack of empathy from student to student.”
Everyone is wondering what the new school mascot will be, and many see this as a great opportunity to finally have a school mascot since “Captain Rebel” was retired decades ago. The SBHS administration has been doing everything that they can to make this process inclusive to all students as they will be the ones representing the new name throughout their high school years. Many SB alums and community members have been voicing their opinion on both sides quite aggressively, but luckily the power still lies in the current and future SBHS students. A committee was formed by Mr. Burke consisting of many eager students who are ready to share their ideas about a new mascot for the community.
“By moving away from the Rebel name, we have made a powerful statement that racism has no place in our schools,” says student school board representative and graduating senior Isaiah Hines. “We have unequivocally proved our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This decision shows that we are willing to reckon with our problematic past and move forward towards something better. I now feel empowered because I spoke up for what I believe in and achieved real results by doing so. My school district respects me as an African American student and really wants me here and wants me to feel comfortable and included.”