Students revolt against West HS “Rebels”

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Since it opened in 1951, West High School’s nickname and mascot have been “The Rebels.”

That might be changing soon, however, because of a petition filed earlier this year challenging the mascot.

“Our current mascot is not respectful to the people of color in our community because it is representative of the Confederate Army which fought to take away their rights,” said the petition. “It is important to make everyone feel comfortable and accepted in our school and this mascot could cause discomfort in our student community.”

To help determine the mascot’s future, Knox County Schools officials said Monday that a pair of community meetings will be held in coming weeks to discuss its “merits and distractions,” according to the system’s policy in such challenges.

The first meeting will take place on Monday, Nov. 29 and the second on Monday, Dec. 6. Both will be held at West High School from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Such meetings are triggered automatically whenever a written challenge supported by 25 or more stakeholders is filed. The current petition, which was submitted in April, was signed by 45 students and four teachers. 

“The mascot was created to acknowledge the Confederate Army and it was originally represented by a Confederate soldier,” the petitioners wrote. “Even if we try to separate ourselves from the original intent of the mascot, we will never be able to fully get away from the racially motivated past of our mascot without changing it. In a time of such racial injustice it is important we stand with the people of color in our community, and this would be a fantastic opportunity to do.”

They added: “In conclusion, the current mascot of West High School is not reflective of our school-wide values or the principles described in the procedure and it is important we change that.”

West High School is represented on the Board of Education by Virginia Babb, who said Monday that she’ll be attending both meetings.

“I have heard from a few people over the last couple of years that they do not like the Rebels name because they see attachments to the confederacy and don’t feel it represents the diversity of the school,” she said when asked if she’d fielded many complaints about the mascot from her constituents. 

“Personally, I do not see the Rebels name as offensive because I see it as having many meanings, however I do understand how some people do not like the name,” Babb said. “I feel like there is a process in place and through the two community meetings (which I plan to attend) I hope we can hear from people on why we should change the name and why it should stay the same.”

West High School has 1,453 students and 154 staff members, according to the school’s website.

The first page of the petition challenging the nickname and mascot of West High School. Source: Knox County Schools

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on November 2, 2021.