KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Students and staff at West High School are challenging the nickname the school has been known for since 1951.
West High has always had the nickname ‘The Rebels’ but some students say the name can have different meanings and connotations for different students. This year, a petition was started in hopes of getting the name changed.
Knox County Schools administrative procedure states that the only way the district will go through the process of considering a name change for a mascot is if a petition challenging the name gets 25 signatures. The petition to change the rebel name got 50 signatures, beginning the process for a new mascot name begins.
Over the next couple of weeks, students, staff and neighbors will have the opportunity to give their input on whether they think the name should stay or go. Some have a problem with the name because of its roots in the Confederate era.
“It’s our history as a school,” said Jeff Ownby, a 1985 graduate of West High. “The Confederate flag was done away with which I agree. I agree with that totally. The mascot was done away with so I agree with all that. But now we’re wanting to change a nickname and you’ll end up changing it to something that someone else is offended by,” Ownby said.
Two passionate groups are battling between starting a new chapter in West High School’s history, or preserving what’s been there all along. While there are some who want to see the current name stay, there are others who say if the name offends even one person, it’s not worth keeping.
“From the time I was pregnant, I knew that I was going to have a child that would attend West High School, the name rebel was looming and really concerned me. And just the thought of the experiences that I had growing up and thinking of having to explain to her how to discern pride for herself and pride for her school,” said Janetta Jamerson Mauer, a Knoxville resident and future West High School parent.
.”Ultimately I’m hoping for the name change. I would love for my daughter to be able to proudly wear the name on her chest, but more importantly, a deeper understanding of the experience of people who are different from us,” Mauer said.
“I hope that the current students get more of an understanding of why the name means what it does,” Ownby said.
The next steps will be a community wide survey that will go from the superintendent to the Knox County Schools Naming Committee, then to the school board who will make a decision to move forward from there. It could be March or early April before a decision is reached. Even then, if the decision is made to change the name, another approval process must be completed.
The next community meeting is Monday, December 6 at 5:30 at West High School.