Rebels Identity Under Fire

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Thursday August 27, 2015

What is a Rebel?

A rebel can be many things; a google search produces a top ten list of rebels throughout history and includes Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington, Spartacus, Galileo and Robin Hood for their unwillingness to conform to the standard. But it is the question about the meaning associated with the name used by the South Burlington High School Rebels that currently has the community engaged in deep discussion.

The South Burlington School District has been home to the Rebels since 1961. It is said to have been a play on the southern theme of secession when the new school, which drew students away from Burlington High School, chose the Rebel name for its sports teams and adopted Captain Rebel as its mascot.

But twenty years ago, the school made the decision to remove all of the symbolic images related to the Confederacy. SBHS dropped its Captain Rebel mascot, and also removed the Confederate flag in its icons and images. When Captain Rebel’s image in the center of the gymnasium floor was painted over with a solid blue circle and the school was left without a mascot, students joked they should be called the ‘blue dots’.

Eventually, an interlocking image of the SB letters became the symbol of the high school, and along with the name Rebels, remain as the images used today by the high school on banners and signs, websites, and sports uniforms.

However, a recent debate has emerged over the appropriateness of the continued use of the Rebel moniker due to its purported associations with the Confederacy. Even though the use of the flag has long been abandoned by the school, emergings controversy over the Confederate flag has re-energized the cry to eliminate the Rebel name.

Superintendent David Young has been aware of conversations for and against changing the Rebels identity and at the August 19 meeting, residents had an opportunity to speak out on the matter.

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 identity completely. Walsh remembers a time when Captain Rebel would enter the fields before athletic matches waving the Confederate flag to the tune of Dixie. Walsh added that at that time there were also Confederate flags on schools buses. “People didn’t think about it and I’m sure it was unintentional...but the symbol is inappropriate and it’s a good time to change. The flag is associated with racist policies...you can’t escape that.”

But others maintain that not a trace of those icons have been in use for over twenty years, and that when the mascot and the flag were removed so was the connection to the Confederate south. Many students and community members feel that the Rebel name is just that-a name- with the benign idea of a generic rebel symbolizing independence and spirit.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who has been Chair of the South Burlington School Board for eleven years and grew up in Vermont, said she couldn’t recall the Rebels being affiliated with the Confederacy when her district competed with South Burlington at various events. “But we promote thoughtful discussion here,” Fitzgerald added, “Perhaps we need an updated discussion on our options.”
School board member, South Burlington High School graduate and former student of Mr. Walsh, Julie Beatty said that she had the utmost respect for Mr. Walsh’s concerns and added that she did not think any of her classmates, or recent students attending the high school ever associated the Rebels with the Confederacy.

Young said that it would be appropriate to solicit further community feedback. “If the feedback is significant, it could direct next steps, similar to what the City is doing in their visioning process,” Young said.

This item will be open for public comment at the next school board meeting, September 2 at 7 p.m. at the Tuttle Middle School Library.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent