South Albany High School has finished community discussions on its Rebel name and imagery and is moving forward with student discussions as it wrestles with whether to make a change.
The high school's team name, red and gray color scheme and flag-and-saber logo, though changed and downplayed over the years, have loose ties to Confederate imagery.
That prompted an outcry last summer, after a violent racial incident in Virginia* prompted officials in various cities to take a second look at names and images associated with the Civil War.
Principal Brent Belveal has been working all school year on how — or whether — to alter South Albany's team moniker and associated imagery. The most recent effort was three community meetings, led by consultant John Lenssen.
Participants were asked to break into groups of four or five people and answer a series of questions: What are some reasons for keeping the current mascot? What are some reasons for changing the current mascot? What recommendations do you have for the district?
A little more than 100 people in all gathered for the three meetings. They represented parents, students, alumni, staff and business representatives and shared a variety of perspectives, Belveal said.
"People have been very gracious in listening to other's opinions and thoughts," he said.
Next will come a similar procedure with students, using English classes for small group discussions, "so every student will have a similar opportunity," Belveal said. The idea is to have them finished before spring break, the last week of March.
Belveal said the discussions, both adult and student, are to gather perspectives and make sure everyone's voice is heard.
Jenssen is working with the district on a $3,000 contract all school year to help guide the Rebel discussion.
Belveal said when he's finished gathering information, "I'll package it and present it to the superintendent" so he and the school board can interpret the data.
As of October 2017, Belveal estimated the cost to change the Rebel name would be roughly $251,000: $187,250 to change out all the activities uniforms for the school's 19 sports, and another $63,750 to fix the turf on the football field, change signs, order new letterhead and cover other supplies.
Participants who came to the third community meeting, Feb. 27, included some who had been to earlier meetings. They included current and former students, parents and alumni.
Parent Denise Hughes-Tafen said she was surprised to learn, on moving to Albany from the Caribbean, that a school would want to be represented by a negative event in the country's past.
"That word and that visual is very much tied to the Civil War history. There is no denying that," she said.
Stephanie Dilbone, a 2016 South Albany graduate and valedictorian, said she now attends Goshen College in Indiana and has friends who don't understand how "South Albany Rebels" isn't considered racist.
"I don't know what to say to them. I don't know how to defend the Rebels to them," she said. "Are we going to put our pride over the safety and acceptance of our community?"
But Harry Kelley, who has two children and five grandchildren who either graduated from South or are currently attending, said he doesn't believe "rebel" necessarily has to have a racist connotation.
"You look at the Syrian rebels, the Kurdish rebels, what are they doing? They're fighting for their freedom," he said. "It isn't the name, folks. It's the culture."
Landon Sumpter, who works with West Albany High School, said he believes opinions should be gathered but the school as a whole should have the final say on how it is represented.
"The South Albany family ultimately should be the ones who make that decision," he said.
— *Editor's note: The print version of this story gave the incorrect state for last summer's racial violence. That has been corrected.