In the summer of 2017, as racial tension led to violence in Virginia, former South Albany High School Principal Brent Belveal started looking into changing the school’s mascot, which had been tinged with its own racial history.
Since 1971, South Albany students were known as the Rebels — a mascot that started out with Civil War themes and a Confederate flag. And while most of those elements were slowly stripped away over the years, the events in Charlottesville prompted a change that took effect this school year.
“We felt like we wanted something to set the tone for what the rest of the school would look like and have something the community can be proud of as the past, present and future coming together,” said Eli Nafziger, a leadership student and part of the 2019 graduating class — the first to toss their caps as RedHawks this June.
He and other leadership students are fundraising to complete a statue for the school as a legacy gift.
“RedHawks” was chosen as the school’s new mascot after several community forums were held and students were given a handful of options to choose from. Initially, said student Cheyenne Freeman, "NightHawks" was chosen but set aside after racial connections to the word surfaced.
The statue will stand 8 feet tall with a 14-foot wingspan and a plaque for donors’ names. The students have commissioned local artist Raymond Hunter to complete the project.
“They came to me and wanted to do this,” said current principal Nate Munoz. According to Munoz, seniors complete a legacy project each year.
Leadership students will be headed out into the community in the coming week to ask for donations. Student Nathaniel Hering completed a promotional video that will be hosted on the school’s website and social media to explain the project and solicit donations.
To complete the project, students will have to raise $35,000.
“We wanted to do this as a gift for graduation,” said student Gabriel Chavez. “Something to give to the community bringing together the past and future as the first RedHawks graduating class so we’re hoping to have it done in time for graduation.”