Signs around the South Albany football stadium have been changed to Redhawks.

You don't set aside nearly a half-century of tradition at a high school without ruffling some feathers, but it finally seems as if the community is ready to move on from the controversy sparked by the South Albany mascot switch.

You know the background: When South Albany opened its doors in 1971, the nickname "Rebels" made a certain amount of sense: The school was breaking away from a school that at the time was named Albany Union. It was opening on the south side of town. Choosing red and gray for the school colors was logical, and to a certain extent, so did the Stars and Bars battle flag the school used in its first few years.

But it didn't take long for those affiliations with the Confederacy — which, after all, seceded from the United States government and fought a shockingly bloody war in an effort to preserve slavery — to become uncomfortable. 

The school quietly took steps over the years to play down the Confederacy connection. A gigantic Confederate flag in the gym was removed. It started to use a large "SA" as its logo rather than a soldier brandishing a saber.

But controversy continued to bubble along, slowly heating up, over the increasingly unavoidable fact that the "Rebel" nickname had direct links to the Confederacy. The issue hung over South Albany, threatening to some extent to overshadow the good work being done there by teachers, administrators and, in particular, students.

Which likely is why Brent Belveal, nearing retirement as South's principal, decided to finally force the issue. Starting in the summer of 2017, he began what he termed "a thoughtful and inclusive process to consider a different mascot name that more closely aligns with the great things going on at South Albany High School."

Belveal followed through on that promise, crafting a carefully considered process that even included South Albany students traveling to Parkrose High School in Portland — a school with a diverse student body — to see what the students there thought of the Rebel mascot.

At the end of the process, it was Belveal's call to move ahead with a new mascot, with the support of the school and the district, to clear away the shadow for his successor and for everyone else at South Albany. After several rounds of votes, the name "RedHawks" emerged as the replacement.

In recent visits to the school, Democrat-Herald reporter Jennifer Moody found students had varying opinions about the new name and logo, but that most were ready to move on: "We have a new school environment, and I think that switch kind of brought the school together," said one.

That's encouraging.

It's also encouraging to see members of the community reacting in the same way — even though at least some sore feelings about the loss of the Rebel nickname will linger.

Businesses that have supported South Albany in the past are continuing to support the school, RedHawks or Rebels. And many South graduates feel the same way: "Rebel or RedHawk, we're a community. And instead of being divided over a name change, we should be united," said one.

And this graduate added, in words that are worth remembering: "What's important to me is community and supporting these kids in their education. That's really what it comes down to."

We couldn't say that better ourselves.

Nate Munoz is serving this year as the school's interim principal. For this critical year of transition, he commissioned T-shirts for the school bearing a simple slogan: "New Day, New Name, Same Family." It seems as if the school has mostly bought into the slogan.

It also looks as if the Albany community is ready to move past the controversy as well, and that's also good. Munoz understands that some people will continue to cling to the Rebel nickname. But there's a new bunch of RedHawks in town, and they still need the continued support of the community. (mm)

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