The petition drive to change the Horlick High School nickname from Rebels to something else is surely well-intentioned. But it may be built on an incorrect presumption.
As detailed in a report in Tuesday’s Journal Times, the origin of the nickname was not the Confederacy, but wordplay: Horlick students in 1949 voted in the nickname in honor of Russell A. “R.R.” Rebholz, who served as Horlick’s football, basketball and track coach from 1946-51. Rebels as in Rebholz.
The Confederate flag imagery came later, as Milton Thompson, Horlick Class of 1971, said in the report.
“When I got to Horlick … it was inconceivable to me that a Northern high school would have a Confederate soldier as a mascot — no matter how you dressed him up, that’s who he was — and on top of that the school flag was virtually the Confederate flag,” said Thompson, now a retired educator.
The “Northern high school” aspect is significant: Not only does the Confederate flag represent those who took up arms against the United States government in the Civil War of 1861-65, men from Wisconsin fought against the Confederacy. Men from Wisconsin died defending America against the Confederacy. For a Wisconsin high school to have any representation of the “Stars and Bars” dishonors the memory of those brave Wisconsinites.
But the nickname “Rebels,” in and of itself, is not solely defined by the Confederacy.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were rebels fighting for their freedom from the British Empire.
So was Mahatma Gandhi, who wanted the British Empire out of India.
So was the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought with Hamilton and Burr, then returned to his native France to fight for freedom there.
So were Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, who fought for a woman’s right to vote.
“The Rebel title, catchphrase – you can keep the aggressiveness … by going at it with other images,” Thompson said. “You look at other schools that have the Rebel motto, tag name … and there are a lot of ideas out there that don’t deal with the Civil War and the Confederacy. It’s possible to get to the same place as far as ‘we’re tough, we’re the tough school,’ without having a Confederate soldier.”
Keep the Rebels nickname. Just get rid of the remaining imagery from the Confederacy and keep it out.
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