Virginia community divided over Douglas Freeman High School dropping ‘Rebels’ nickname, mascot

Virginia News

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) —  Fans will no longer cheer “Go Rebels” from the sidelines at Douglas Freeman High School.

School principal John Marshall said, “These elements of our school’s culture are a part of our past. We do not wish to erase them from our history, but we do wish to learn from them.”

WFXR’s sister station talked to people who live near the school in Henrico County and asked them their opinion on the school dropping the moniker.

Many like Missy Bullock say it’s a good thing.

“I think it’s time for change and room for improvement and it’s a great start,” said Bullock.

Virginia high school drops 'Rebels' nickname
Henrico County Public Schools announced Thursday, August 6 that Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County will drop the name “Rebels” after community discussion (Photo: Courtesy DSFHS Baseball via WRIC)

She says friends and family members who attended the high school often felt hurt.

“They said it was hard at times,” Bullock added.

Some say ‘Rebels’ has racist associations because of the Confederate Rebel Soldiers that fought to maintain slavery during the Civil War. Others, like James Ray, say that has nothing to do with the mascot.

“There’s a lot of different kinds of rebels. There’s rebels from Star Wars and it kind of depends on what you’re rebelling against,” Ray said.

The mascot change comes after Henrico County Public Schools drew in more than 2,000 comments and around 1,500 responses through an online form.

“We recognize that changing a name on a uniform and some signs is just a small step toward becoming a leader in culturally responsive and anti-racist education, but it is a necessary step,” Marshall said.

Bullock says the next step should be changing the school name. Douglas Freeman was an American historian born in Virginia and is best known for winning Pulitzer prizes for his biographies of both Robert E. Lee and George Washington.

“It’s just racist,” Bullock said.

On the contrary, Ray said, “If we’re changing stuff, it’s people are always gonna wanna change things and everybody can be offended by different things so I don’t know if a name change is going to produce any actual change.”

Douglas Freeman High School principal John Marshall said, “These elements of our school’s culture are a part of our past. We do not wish to erase them from our history, but we do wish to learn from them.” (Photo: Courtesy WRIC)

School administration says they will work with the community on a mascot in the coming months. Some people say an animal might be a good option because they do not think it would be as controversial.

Once a new mascot is determined, the school will hold a fall “spirit-wear swap” where students can trade in Rebels gear for items with the new nickname.

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