Smoky Mountain News (Waynesville, NC) Feb. 20, 2002
|Taking on tradition|
Cullowhee Valley eighth-grader wants to do away
with the school’s long-time Rebel
By Scott McLeod
Eighth-grader Annie McCord has a problem with her
school’s Rebel mascot, and she has begun working within the system
to have it removed.
“I don’t like prejudice of any sort. If
it can be interpreted that way, it should not be flaunted as the
school mascot,” the cheerleader and student council president said
from the cafeteria of Cullowhee Valley School, a K-8 public school
in Jackson County.
The mascot depicts a frowning
Confederate-era gentleman standing with his legs crossed and leaning
on a cane. The image is spread throughout the school, often
accompanied with the words “Home of the Rebels.”
society today, it is just not acceptable,” McCord said, her parents
flanking her and nodding in support.
Her parents, Dave and
Melanie, say they are proud of the position their daughter has
taken, but they’ve also warned her she may be in for a heated
battle. Her mother teachers at Cullowhee Valley.
County Schools Superinten-dent Mack McCary also fears that McCord
might be stepping into an “adult issue” that could lead to
“While I am pleased at her intelligence
to confront this issue, I don’t want to see adults hammering at
her,” said McCary. “I’m not sure that her and her parents are
prepared for this.”
to take a stand against the Rebel mascot was inspired by a visit to
Hunter Library on the campus of Western Carolina University where an
exhibit about the use of Native American symbols, names and images
as sports mascots is currently on display. She left that exhibit
contemplating her own school’s mascot.
So she began
discussing it with parents, other adults, students, and teachers at
Cullowhee Valley School. She brought it up at a Student Council
meeting, where she said most students did not feel that strongly
about the issue. The majority, she said, did agree with her. She
wrote a letter to the Sylva Herald where she discussed the issue and
her feelings about it in depth.
“One of my teachers said some
people had tried to get it changed when this school was opened seven
years ago, when we moved from the old Camp Lab School on WCU’s
campus,” McCord said.
Already, McCord said she has had
disagreements with her “best friend” on the issue. Her friend’s
mother attended the old Camp Lab and was “Miss Rebel,” and McCord
was told that petitions have been started to “Save the
And while she and her friend disagree about the
issue, McCord said they have remained as close as ever.
hasn’t gotten in the way of our friendship. She’s just like me —
strong-willed. We both like to get our way.”
That kind of
maturity was also evident in her letter to the Sylva Herald. In it,
McCord discussed the issue of heritage, the most common argument
among those who try to keep Confederate images like the flag from
being taken out of public places.
“People say (the mascot)
represents our heritage, and we should honor and respect it .... But
there is much about our heritage I am not at all proud of,” the
letter says, and then goes on to discuss slavery and segregation.
“It is time to shed this unfortunate image of the past and
to select a new mascot with positive imagery and associations,” said
The larger issue
Cullowhee Valley would not discuss McCord’s complaints, but McCary
said he has not heard one word first-hand about the mascot since he
came to Jackson County just over a year ago.
“I haven’t heard
any complaints from adults,” McCary said. “I heard indirectly that
some African-Americans do share (McCord’s)
McCary said that the Jackson County system is
facing many important educational challenges, and that this issue
was one that the community should deal with before it becomes a
school system issue.
“Now that we have so much diversity,
one of the difficult tasks is to learn how to build community
instead of pitting one group against the other,” he said.
McCary did say, though, that the mascot was important to
many associated with the old Camp Lab school.
“That is the
only symbol left from the old Camp Lab,” McCary said.
Moore lives in Cornelius, N.C., but was raised in Cullowhee. When he
read McCord’s letter in the Sylva Herald, he responded with one of
his own (Page 15). He said he resents the constant attacks on his
heritage and wants the mascot to remain.
“I will not stand by
and let a person trample on what I believe is right ... There has
been a constant badgering of us Southerners, and I am sick of it,”
he wrote in the letter.
For some, though, the symbol is one
that should go.
“In the public school system in particular,
we should bend over backwards to make them as welcoming as possible
for everyone — fellow students, for schools and students who may be
visiting, and for when we visit other schools,” said Monroe Gilmour,
a Buncombe County resident who heads a group called Western North
Carolina Citizens Against Institutional Bigotry. “In that spirit,
many schools have said good bye to rebels and rebel
Pat Merzlak lives in East Tennessee, but she was a
mother of students at Erwin High School when she filed a federal
complaint against that school’s Indian mascot and the use of the
words “Warriors” and “Squaws” to describe the sports teams. She said
that educators should be concerned about the messages they
“Everything in a school is part of the curriculum, and
symbols like these send a message to children that it’s OK to keep
things stirred up. It’s a stereotype, and stereotypes blur reality,”
McCord pushes on
Annie is adamant
about continuing her protest. She is a Southerner with two Southern
parents, and she thinks the divisiveness of the symbol outweighs the
arguments of those who say it is part of their heritage.
will fight as hard as I can until I get my way, or until someone
comes right out and says it won’t be changed,” she said.
McCord said the issues raised by his daughter are
“If she can get people thinking more deeply about
it, it can lead to change. Opening the doors to discussion is more
effective than any kind of belligerent stance,” he
“People who support the rebel aren’t racist. I don’t
think they intend any offense to African-Americans,” he said. “To me
that is beside the point. Whatever the intent is, it is offensive to
a lot of people.”
And so Annie McCord is proceeding with her
effort. She’ll try to get an official vote of the Student Council
and then take the issue to the school improvement team. Then,
perhaps, the mascot issue might go before the school board, which is
the body that would have to vote to change the mascot. She promises
to continue protesting the mascot after she moves up to Smoky
Mountain High School, and she has a team assembled to carry on after
“I’ll do all I can this year, but I have two brothers —
one in the sixth grade, one in the seventh. They will carry it on if
needed,” she says.
See the Smoky Mountain News editorial on this issue
Back to Indian Mascot Index Page