Rebel Debate Continues

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Thursday September 10, 2015

Discussion about the SBHS Rebel nickname continued at the September 2 school board meeting. Residents, who believe that enough was done 20 years ago to distance the high school from connections to the Confederacy when the Rebel mascot and associated icons were dropped, expressed their hopes for the Rebel name to continue. Others, who maintain that the Rebel name is still tied to the Confederacy and racism, lobbied that it is time to change the name altogether. Twenty five residents filled the F.H. Tuttle Middle School Library to voice their opinions, both for and against maintaining the moniker.

Superintendent David Young began the conversation by providing context to the issue which started in a conversation on Front Porch Forum. “There is a lot of engagement on the topic and the board is in a phase of listening and understanding of concerns,” Young said.

The South Burlington School District has been home to the Rebels since 1961, when the high school was established. Some say that the Rebel moniker was derived as a nod to the secession of the south, drawing comparison to SBHS students ‘seceding’ from Burlington High School. Twenty years ago, the school dropped its mascot, and any reference to the Confederacy. The Rebels moniker remained and along with the symbol of the interconnected SB letters, are the icons that identify the district’s banners, website, and sports uniforms today.
Bob Walsh, a South Burlington resident and a retired African-American History teacher from South Burlington High School is staunchly in favor of removing the Rebels name completely. Walsh commented, both at the August 19 and September 2 meetings that in the past, a Captain Rebel mascot would enter the fields before athletic matches waving the Confederate flag to the tune of Dixie. Walsh added that there were also Confederate flags on school buses. He maintains that the term “rebel” has established ties to racism and that the time has come to retire the name.

As members of the audience spoke at the September 2 meeting it became apparent that there are a number of conflicting recollections regarding the South Burlington Rebels past association with the Confederacy. Paul Jordan, South Burlington High School’s football coach from 1969-1990 said he could not recall there ever being a Captain Rebel, but instead, a Robbie Rebel mascot who “carried a sword and stood by the cheerleaders.” Jordan did not remember any references to the Confederacy and explained that he instilled Rebel pride in his team whose motto was “to lose with class and win with dignity.”

Jessica Pelkey, a 1992 graduate of South Burlington High School corroborated Jordan’s claim since she was, in fact, Robbie Rebel. Pelkey said she donned the outfit at sporting events and that being a Rebel was then, and still is, about school spirit. A number of audience members, many that were SBHS graduates, echoed her sentiments; that being a Rebel meant following your own path and striving for excellence, in academics and on the field. These individuals all believe that the Rebel name should be maintained.

The issue of the Rebels tie to racism was touched upon by several individuals. Susan Farrell, a South Burlington graduate who has children in the school system, mentioned the issue of white privilege and that due to South Burlington’s demographics, perhaps, many do not make the association between the Rebels name and its history. “We cannot ignore the impact language has on people and their experiences...we need to be on the right side of history,” Farrell said.

Former City Manager Chuck Hafter concurred, saying that while traditions are important, some have become outdated and that making any “child feel less than special, is a detriment.”
As the public comment period came to a close, South Burlington Legislator Maida Townsend hoped that as discussion of this “issue of significance” continues, that people can move past the harsh words that have been exchanged in person and online. Townsend suggested that through the visioning process, people could come together to find a unifying force rather than one that is divisive.

The board will continue listening to concerns in the weeks to come and is interested in polling students on the matter. Prior to making any decisions, the board wants to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to express their opinions, especially those who could not make it to the meeting.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent