South Albany High School is grappling with the possibility of changing its controversial mascot, which has ties to the American Civil War.
Although there are no longer images of a confederate soldier on campus, the name "Rebels" remains emblazoned on the school's athletic uniforms, and on the grandstand and end zone of the football field.
There has been talk in the community for years of potentially changing the controversial mascot, but that talk intensified after what happened last August in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a protest over the removal of a confederate monument turned violent.
After the incident, South Albany Principal Brent Belveal received hundreds of emails and letters calling for the rebel mascot to be retired.
Belveal eventually went before the school board and said he planned to research what making a name change would look like.
"I'm really trying to stay impartial and run a process where everybody gets an opportunity to be heard," Belveal said.
Adding to the momentum driving the push for a name change, there was a recent incident during a basketball game, in which a South Albany player was heard saying something a Parkrose High School player considered racist.
The incident prompted Belveal to call Parkrose's principal and arrange for a group of South Albany students to come for a visit and clear the air.
The conversation centered on the incident on the court, the history behind the school's name and how the diverse student body at Parkrose felt about it both.
"It was a really good experience because we got to see from a different point of view how other people see it, and kind of to put ourselves in their shoes, and what it would be like for them," Eli Nafziger, a South Albany Junior who went on the trip said.
Nafziger plays varsity football and basketball and proudly wears the rebel name on his chest.
He and many other students would prefer to keep the "rebel" name, but possibly pair it with a mascot that clearly can't be linked to the Civil War, with the idea that a "rebel" can be anything from a freedom fighter to someone with an independent streak.
"The idea of the Rebel being someone with a chip on their shoulder, someone bucking the status quo, always fighting, always striving to overcome that underdog status really resonated with me growing up here and being here," Brandon Johnson, a teacher who accompanied students to Parkrose, and a South Albany alum said.
But other students who visited Parkrose came back with a different perspective.
Lillyan Marchand, a freshman, thinks the name should be changed, both because of her conversations with Parkrose students, and because of her sister's experience at South Albany High School.
"She's a woman of color and she used to talk about how the mascot would offend her and how people would say racist things towards her," Marchand said. "If a significant amount of people think we should change it, and if it's making them uncomfortable, then that's a good enough reason for us to change it."
If approved by the school board, a name change wouldn't come cheap, since the "rebel" name is so widely used.
"The total ends up being about 350,000 dollars, give or take a few thousand dollars, and that's a big chunk," Belveal said.
Belveal said the district plans to hold several public meetings and take feedback from the student body before making a decision on a name change.
Listening sessions on the potential mascot change are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Feb. 27 at the school. Anyone interested in attending can sign up for the sessions here.
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