After Debate on Controversial School Mascot, Students Start Picking Replacement

Students in South Burlington, Vermont, have begun the process of naming a new school mascot after the city's school board decided the old nickname for sports teams caused too much discomfort.

High schoolers began whittling down a long list of dozens of potential new mascots Tuesday morning, voting between choices like the Blue Jays, Snow Hounds and Thunder.

"Students are really having fun with it," said South Burlington senior Isaiah Hines. "I want something that can really unify everyone.”

He's looking for unity because the previous name for South Burlington teams, the Rebels, has proven divisive in recent years. Some labeled the Rebel a painful, exclusionary reference that sounds like a holdover from the Civil War era. Others think the Rebel merely conveys a spunky attitude — nothing more — and have argued that complaints about it are overly politically correct.

The South Burlington School Board decided this past winter to replace the Rebel.

"For me, it's a symbol of slavery," eighth-grader Layla Rahmati said at a meeting of the school board last week. "And it's a symbol of many things I do not want to see at my school."

Stacey Savage, who is part of a group called the "Rebel Alliance," told necn affiliate NBC 5 News that she was very disappointed in the South Burlington School Board's decision to rename the schools' sports teams.

"We want to keep the Rebel name because we're very proud of our traditions," Savage said last month at an event where her group thanked the city's police force for its hard work during the investigation of a series of school threats in April. "Of course we want to keep that name; that's what we know."

Top student picks from this week's online survey are expected to go to the city's school board for its final approval.

But before it does that, the board has to deal with what football players may consider a Hail Mary move. A petition drive called for a city-wide referendum on the name change, so the public could vote on it directly, not just the board and students.

The school board agenda for its meeting Wednesday night shows the board expects to address the petitioners' request for public vote on the issue.

Four people necn spoke with Tuesday declined to appear on-camera, citing the divisiveness around the issue. However, those residents who declined on-camera interviews said they hope the community can emerge from this bruising debate stronger and focused on the future.

School leaders previously estimated that it would cost $50,000 to replace the Rebel name on school property with whatever new name is selected.

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