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Members of Maryville Rebels community hope for nickname change as petition circulates online

"We, as students, alumni, teachers, and community members, feel a change of mascot away from the Rebels is long overdue."

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — A petition to school officials requesting a permanent change to the Maryville Rebels nickname is making rounds online. 

Addressed to MHS School Board Chairman Nick Black and Maryville Director of Schools Mike Winstead, the petition takes direct aim at the Rebels connection with the Confederacy. 

Organizers said the implementation of such a mascot at a public institution of higher learning does not accurately reflect the school's goals. 

"We, as students, alumni, teachers, and community members, feel a change of mascot away from the Rebels is long overdue," the petition reads. "The Rebel mascot stems from a history of slavery and Civil War and does an injustice to the strong Union ties of Maryville, Tennessee."

School board chairman Nick Black said the name is not a mascot, but rather a nickname, and started as a dispute in football in the 1930s. The name "Red Rebels" has donned stadiums and clothing ever since.

Rachel Evans is a 2012 Maryville High School graduate who played a major role in drafting the petition. She said it doesn't matter how the nickname came about.

"Over the years it became linked to something rooted in hatred and division and prejudice and it really affected a lot of people," Evans said. "We've known that this is something the school board was aware of, that it could be problematic for a while, and just had never taken any action to change it."

Evans said it was the alumni coalition's goal to amplify the voices from alumni of color who take offense to the name and to create positive change.

Black, who is also an alumni, said the board is open to discussion, but won't be voting until it's brought to an official meeting.

"Right now we're just looking for a dialogue," Black said. "We're not for a name and we're not against a name. The name is what it is until it's changed."

The connection between the Rebels and the Confederacy has long created space for a harmful learning environment, alumni said. 

"There can be no denying this connection with the Confederacy, as the Confederate flag makes frequent appearances at school events and not so long ago, a Confederate soldier was printed on official school uniforms, and so it must go," the petition read.

He's aware of the controversy entwined with the confederacy, acknowledging the presence of flags throughout campus in the past, but says the school system severed ties with the flag in 1999 and banned it from campus years later.

"It's not something that I'm proud of, but you know the fact that it happened I don't shy away from that," Black explained. "You know, the confederate symbology was there."

Some alumni said those who oppose the name change are rooted in the tradition of the school, not necessarily the negative context.

Maryville City Schools said it is proud of the work it has done in its system so far to be inclusive and diversify staff.

The petition was launched on Friday. As of Wednesday, the it had 1,625 signatures collected. The organizer's overall goal is 3,200 signatures.

On July 14, 2020, the school system announced a task force is being created to review the use of the nickname. It is set to start in August. 

READ THE PETITION IN FULL: 

We, as students, alumni, teachers, and community members, feel a change of mascot away from the Rebels is long overdue. As a public institution with a mission to “prepare students for a lifetime of learning and responsible citizenship,” and “prepare students for an ever-changing world,” we feel that the current mascot does not reflect these goals.

The Rebel mascot stems from a history of slavery and Civil War and does an injustice to the strong Union ties of Maryville, Tennessee. There can be no denying this connection with the Confederacy, as the Confederate flag makes frequent appearances at school events and not so long ago, a Confederate soldier was printed on official school uniforms, and so it must go. By holding onto “the Rebels,” Maryville High School presents an unwelcoming environment, not only to their students, but also to the larger community as a whole. To be forward-facing and align with MHS’s goal of adapting in an “ever-changing world,” we feel strongly that a change must be made.

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