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Saint Johns School Changes the Name of its Mascot

Rick Archer, April 2004
Last Update: February 2007

As part of my business, I frequently write stories and articles for my dance studio web site.  Thanks to the Internet, the SSQQ Newsletter and the SSQQ Web Site have served a key part in the expansion of my business.  I write stories about the studio and see interest about the studio's activities increase in the process.

As a result, I have turned into something of a writer these past few years.

I get some nice compliments from time to time on my stories.  People say I am an excellent writer and are impressed with my
vocabulary. I tell these people without hesitation that I owe these skills to the magnificent education I received at Saint John's School here in Houston.  And I mean it - this school is incredible.

I went to Saint Johns from 1959 till graduation in 1968. To this day I consider the education I received from SJS to be the single biggest break I received in my entire life.

Saints Johns bills itself as a College Prep School and I assure you that they deliver on their promise. If you have a gifted child, Saint Johns is without a doubt the place to send your son or daughter.  Your child will receive the finest education imaginable at Saint Johns.  Not only will your child benefit immeasurably from competing day in and day out against other children with equal talents, he or she will be taught by a talented staff at Saint Johns.

The education is so thorough that as graduation approaches, your son or daughter will have a terrific chance of being accepted at Rice, Stanford, Vanderbilt, plus any of the amazing Ivy League schools.  That is the kind of education that Saint Johns is famous for here in Houston.  

Saint John's is steeped in tradition.  It is located in River Oaks, the home base for Houston's power elite over the past century.

William and Michael Hogg, sons of former Texas Governor Jim Hogg, and attorney Hugh Potter established River Oaks in the 1920s. 

Over time, River Oaks has become one of the wealthiest communities not just in Texas, but the entire United States.

Today the location of River Oaks is considered "Inner City", but it is amusing to note just how deserted much of the area was back in the beginning of the school.

Saint Johns School was founded in 1946 shortly after World War II.  1946 was a big year for Houston; coincidentally that is the year the Texas Medical Center was founded as well.  As you can see, that area was once deserted as well.

Saint John's was located in the heart of River Oaks on the corner of Westheimer and the oddly named Buffalo Speedway.  If you look at this 1921 map, there is a curious oval track where Alabama Street is now.  That spot appears to located across the street from today's Lamar High School.

From what I gather, that oval was an actual raceway out on the prairie on the western tip of Houston. Hence the name Buffalo Speedway.

As for the mighty Westheimer Street, back in 1946, Westheimer was little more than a mud road to nowhere which led primarily to farmland.  Today Westheimer is a major Houston artery. As Houston has grown, so has Saint Johns. 

Over the past 60 years, many children of Houston's business and political leaders have been trained at Saint John's.  Consequently any of Houston's current leaders can point to an SJS education as the secret of their success. 

And from the ranks of SJS graduates come many fine doctors, lawyers, and engineers.  SJS can even point to several movie makers  as well.

As its graduates reach the point in life where they can contribute to the building fund, Saint John's continues to gobble up surrounding real estate the moment it becomes available.  The school continues to grow both in prestige and size. 

It is hard to believe, but to current Saint John's students, this picture from the 1968 yearbook will surely seem pretty weird.  Look how small the school was back then!   No kidding.  When I graduated in 1968, there were only 50 students in my graduating class and perhaps 220 in the entire upper school.

Today in the 2000s, Saint John's is easily twice that size in acreage and enrollment.  Over the years, Saint John's has become recognized as one of the finest college prep schools in the entire country, a high honor indeed.

As one might expect, Saint John's is very expensive.  Saint John's was relatively inexpensive back in my day with tuition set at $1,000 a year. Saint Johns cost in the area of $15,000 a year the last time I checked in 2004.  I think that has now increased to over $20,000.   Good grief. 

Amazingly, money is usually not an obstacle.  Typically the students St John's are the children of Houston's wealthiest citizens who can well afford the tuition.  In addition, Saint Johns definitely goes out of its way to find scholarship money for any student smart enough to handle its curriculum, but whose parents may not be able to foot the entire bill.  

I should know.  I was fortunate to receive partial scholarships for the 7th and 8th grade.  As a reward for consistently making the Honor Roll, I was then given a full scholarship through high school.  Saint John's is very generous. 

I have already explained how grateful I am for my Saint Johns education, but there is more to the story.   Saint Johns did more than simply teach me reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Although this place is scorned by some as catering only to the rich, I know from first-hand experience this school has a big heart too.  Due to my broken home, I was a very angry kid.  I was always getting into trouble and fought their discipline tooth and nail.  Thank goodness the administration showed infinite patience with me.  I believe that my teachers saw that under my thin skin I was really trying hard to succeed at their school

I can think of a dozen different mentors who played a roll in guiding a potential delinquent toward a more constructive path (read the story about Mrs. Ballantyne). I owe much of my success in life to the education and guidance I received at SJS.  As one might gather, thanks to all the help I received, I developed an intense loyalty towards my school.


Despite its remarkable accomplishments in the academic arena and the remarkable decency of the people responsible for Saint John's many years of success, there was once a bizarre stigma that was allowed to persist at Saint Johns for over 50 years.

Did you know the Saint John's mascot was a "Rebel"?   We are not talking 1950's James Dean here.  Nor a 1776 Colonial Revolutionary either.  Our Rebel was a Confederate general straight from the Civil War. 

During the years I went to Saint Johns, the school yearbook was known as "The Rebel".

The theater program that put on the plays and musicals was known as "Johnnycakes".  

Leaving nothing to the imagination, during the Sixties, a huge, larger than life statue of a Confederate general was trotted out at the football games.  The statue was known as "Johnny Reb".  "Johnny Reb" was the school's official symbol. 

The phrase "We're Proud to be Rebels" was taken from the 1968 Rebel yearbook.  It was the unofficial motto of the school. 

Now that I think about it, I was proud to be a Rebel.  I was proud of my school and proud to be a student there.  If you want to know the truth, I actually liked the nickname.  I was about as rebellious as they come.  Hence the nickname worked well for me.  I only grew uncomfortable when they trotted the statue out at football games.  I would just look the other way.

My Years at Saint John's

Looking back, I guess I feel sheepish that I never raised much more than an eyebrow at the implications of the "Rebel" mascot during my time at the school.   I was immersed in an all-white culture and far more concerned with graduation than racial injustice. 

It never actually occurred to me, but Saint John's did not have a "Rebel" logo that I was aware of.  In other words, there was no artwork of a Rebel that appeared on any stationary.  Nor were there any Civil War paintings on the walls.

Had there been images such as the infamous Ole Miss Rebel logo, things might have been different.

I don't know if this was deliberate or accidental, but the lack of any logo helped to keep the issue in the background. 

Since there were absolutely no day-to-day images of any 'Fightin' Johnny Rebel' to bring the issue to the surface, I didn't give the name any thought.  As long as they kept that giant Johnny Reb statue out of sight (which they did for the most part), I never gave the Rebel nickname a second thought.  

If forced to explain my do-nothing conscience, I definitely think the fact that there were no blacks at the school made it much easier for me to look the other way.  I certainly understood the Rebel mascot would have been offensive to blacks, but since I had no black classmates or black faculty members, there was no one to offend. 

If it doesn't hurt anyone, what difference does it make?   It never even dawned on me that the African Americans who cleaned the school and worked in the cafeteria might have had an opinion.  I had a real blind spot on this issue.

Can I be honest here?  I am no better than anyone else.  Don't even begin to think of me as some lonely crusader crying in the wilderness for justice and social equality.  I never raised my voice once.  

Like most people, I was a product of my environment.  For example, I disliked Aggies intensely.  Why?  Because all my classmates disliked Aggies.  Not a day passed when I didn't hear a dismissive Aggie joke.  Not once did I ever question my bias.  Not once did it ever occur to me that no Aggie had ever done a mean thing to me.  I didn't even know any Aggies.  No matter.  I accepted my prejudice without question.  Aggies were someone to be made fun of.

For that matter, I was taught to dislike anyone from Kinkaid, our bitter rival.  It wasn't till later in the life that I realized some of my favorite people had graduated from none other than A&M.  Another "later in life lesson" was that I had a lot in common with the Kinkaid graduates I met.  Some of the most interesting people I knew were Falcons. 

On the other hand, my mother taught me to respect people of all races and religions.  I am grateful to her for that. 

We are all products of our environment.  I imagine that if I had been born and raised in the South just prior to the Civil War, I would have fought on the side of the South.  I would have treated slaves poorly and felt victimized by the evil Abraham Lincoln.  When one realizes how difficult it is to remove the blinders created by the culture one grows up in, it is a humbling experience.  At this point, it becomes much harder to point fingers and pretend to be better than anyone else.

Mark Twain once said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness... Travel helps us discover we are a family after all.

Amen to that. 

Here's a simple example of how one's environment can influence one's attitudes.  I had a 30 year career running a dance studio.  Thanks in large part to the movie Urban Cowboy, here in Houston, Country-Western dancing is not only popular, it can be very flashy with lots of turns and spins.  Plus it is common for men to dance backwards at various times.  Western dancing can be a lot more sophisticated than one might guess.   

One day in 1984, a girl friend took me to Cuero, Texas, to visit her parents.  That night we went dancing at the local VFW hall.  I stared in shock as the men made sure their women did nothing else but dance backwards for the entire night.  No spins, no turns, no men going backwards. 

I asked Jeff, my girlfriend's brother about it.  Jeff said, "These men have trained their women to go backwards for a hundred years.  That's the way its done here in Cuero.  And if you want to leave this place without a hassle, I suggest you make my sister go backwards for the rest of the night."   Noting the hostile stares directed at me, I followed Jeff's suggestion to the letter.

That was their tradition in Cuero.  If someone is stuck in one place with little outside influence, as the Country-Western song goes, don't go risin' above your raisin'.

When it comes to 'prejudice', it is one thing to see injustice and do nothing about it.  It is quite another thing to not recognize the injustice in the first place.  When one is surrounded by a limited point of reference, it becomes very difficult to see the larger picture. 

There was no obvious 'prejudice' at Saint John's that I was aware of that might prick my conscience.  Yeah, my school had a questionable mascot, but it wasn't hurting anyone.  In the total absence of any dissent, I accepted the Rebel mascot just like the rest of my community did.  That's just the way we do things around here. 

The Rebel nickname had been adopted a long time before Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.  The Rebel mascot was definitely a reflection of Houston's prevalent social consciousness at the time.   Houston was never as racist as Alabama or Mississippi, but let's not bury our heads in the sand.  Texas had fought for the Confederacy and still had its pervasive share of lingering bigotry and prejudice.  It was no surprise that Houston had its share of racist attitudes as well.

One would think that during the Sixties there was enough blood shed in race riots and police confrontations to make anyone with a brain and a conscience flinch about keeping "Johnny Reb" as the school mascot. But my head was buried in the sand.  I never paid much attention to those headlines.  My classmates and I were largely shielded from the changes taking place in society.  We lived in the Land that Time forgot.

As I have said, in nine years at Saints Johns, I never noticed any instance of racial prejudice.  Neither my classmates nor the faculty said much of anything on the subject.  I don't recall a single word about race ever taking place in class or in casual conversation. Consequently I never felt my school was prejudiced.

That said, some schools were obviously well ahead of Saint John's on the issue of integration.  For example, our athletic teams faced black athletes from other schools.  There is a picture in my 1968 yearbook of an SJS basketball player attempting a layup against a black athlete.  To the credit of the SJS athletes, I never heard any negative words spoken about their black opponents.

Unfortunately I never questioned why some schools had black students and Saint John's didn't. 

Yet at the same time, I felt the people at Saint John's were extremely open-minded.  For example, I had several Jewish classmates who were completely accepted at the school.  To my knowledge, they were never discriminated against.  So we clearly had religious tolerance.

Furthermore, the girls were treated with total respect in an era long before women's issues had begun to grab headlines.  Not once did anyone ever suggest the girls tone it down so the boys could gain more confidence.  I can honestly say with a wistful smile the girls would regularly kick my butt in class.  Saint John's was light years ahead of the curve in this regard. 

So why did the Administration have a blind spot on race?   This is a question I cannot answer.  You would have to ask an Insider.

The Seventies... and then the Eighties

My own awakening did not take place until after college.  In 1972, I had an unusual summer job maintaining the Houston city parks.  This was a rather humble job considering I was a recent college graduate, but I was new back in town and this was good enough until graduate school came along.

The workmates in my crew were five black men, each one a Vietnam vet.  I was the only white guy.  They were just as curious about me as I was about them.  We had some very interesting conversations. That summer I got quite an education on how African-American men are treated in modern-day America.

For my graduation exercise, I was told to go see a movie titled The Liberation of L.B. Jones.  The movie was about the ruthless assassination of an innocent black man by two white cops. 

I might add I was the only white person in a theater with at least 100 blacks.  No one said a word to me, but the hostile looks I got spoke volumes about the bitterness caused by two centuries of oppression.  After leaving the theater, my education on racism was complete to say the least.

However, my new-found enlightenment did not lead me to think of Saint John's.  As far as Saint John's and its Rebel mascot was concerned, nothing could have been further from my mind.  I was headed for graduate school.  I heard a rumor from a classmate that Saint Johns had decided to integrate in the early Seventies.  I do not know if that actually took place, but I hoped it did.  If so, I assumed at this point it would be a good time to phase out the mascot.  Right?

Wrong.  Saint Johns remained the Rebels throughout the Seventies. And the Eighties too. 


Fast Forward to 1990.  To be honest, I forgot about the Mascot problem for twenty years.  Out of sight, out of mind.

In the Seventies I finished college, went to graduate school, then rode the energy of Saturday Night Fever to start my career as a dance teacher. 

The Eighties went by fast as I worked to build my business.  

One day in 1990 I was asked to teach some adult education dance classes on the Saint Johns campus during the evening.

Nostalgic to see the school that had meant so much to me for nine years, for my first evening back, I arrived a couple hours early to look around.  It was time I had set foot on campus since graduation in 1968.  Oh sure, I had driven by now and then and marveled at all the new construction from afar, but I didn't have a reason to actually put foot on the campus. 

As I strolled around, I was pleased to notice several handsome, alert young men who just happened to also be black. Good.  And I noticed several lovely young women, just as alert, who also happened to be black.  Excellent.  I was equally pleased to notice quite a few Asian and Arabic students as well.

As I walked across the campus I could see all of these non-white students seemed quite comfortable wearing their Saint Johns uniform.   Saint Johns was clearly at the forefront of social change in this regard.  At that moment, I had never been more proud of my school.

And then I smiled as a pretty cheerleader walked by.  But then I saw the name "Saint Johns Rebels" on her cheerleader's outfit and completely froze.  I was stunned by the surprise. 

This can't be right.  I had taken it for granted the nickname had been phased out.

You have got to be kidding.  I shook my head in disgust. I could not imagine why someone in authority hadn't put their foot down and done something about this nightmare nickname long ago.  

How could the Saint Johns administration and trustees turn a blind eye to a problem of this magnitude?

In my opinion, the name was already an anachronism in the Sixties.  That was over twenty-five years ago!

As I watched a black SJS student talking with his friends, I could see the young man felt right at home at the school.  Then an odd thought crossed my mind.  I wondered how this young man would feel... and how the white students would feel... when the day came to study the Civil War in American History class.   Would the subject of "We're Proud to Be Rebels" come up?   If so, just how exactly would the teacher handle this particular awkward moment? 

Here is what I did not know.  According to Wikipedia, in 1990 the Upper School students voted to discontinue the mascot and nickname. A year later, all symbols of the Confederacy were disassociated from the School, although the nickname "Rebels" was retained with the hopes it could be connected with the American Revolution or more generally as an invocation of nonconformity and independent thinking.

I never knew this at the time, not learning of these events until 2013 when I updated my own story.

So I stand corrected.  Someone indeed was trying to deal with the problem.

Unfortunately, I imagine to an outsider the Rebel nickname would still raise automatic skepticism.   It was probably not a good idea to stick with the Rebel nickname even though it had been sanitized.  Why take the chance of letting a misunderstanding give someone the wrong impression about the school's excellent reputation? 

Let's Look at This Problem From Another Point of View

Think about this issue as an African-American mother and father would.  Both parents are descendants of former slaves.  Both parents are also college-educated professionals.  They are debating whether to send their talented son or daughter to a school whose nickname represents images of the Civil War, the bloodiest, most horrible era in American history

As the parents await an interview at the school, they are already uneasy about the "Rebel" nickname. If these parents take one look at the Rebel Mascot, who would blame them if they politely excused themselves from the interview and left the campus? 

One can assume these same parents would do everything in their power to find an equivalent school elsewhere.  Surely there must be another school in Houston where their child would feel more welcome.  Why take the chance of subjecting their child to racial prejudice?

Now if these same parents were to talk to me, I would tell them that Saint Johns is one of the most enlightened schools in the city.  I would tell these parents that despite the mascot, Saint Johns is color-blind.  And that opinion would be the truth as I know it.

But that "Rebel" nickname would still be staring them in the face giving them second thoughts.  Who could blame them?  To an outsider, the nickname clearly suggests the school tacitly harbors racist attitudes.  As they say, actions speak louder than words. 

It would be a shame if anyone thought that my school was prejudiced.  The Saint John's of my memory was ahead of its time.   Maybe there was a racist side to Saint Johns in the Sixties and I was just too young to see it.  But as I said, quite honestly I don't recall a single bigoted statement or incident in my entire nine years at Saint John's. 

I will gladly give my school the benefit of the doubt in the Sixties.  Attitudes were changing.  And I can forgive the Seventies as well.  Traditions don't go away that easily. 

But the Eighties?   And the Nineties?  And then on into the next Century?  C'mon now.  What possible reason could anyone use to justify clinging to this divisive image?

I understand very clearly what the image of the Confederate Rebel stood for.  This was a brave man who stood up and fought for what he believed in, something we can all admire.  His image would naturally be a source of pride to many.   'The Rebels' was a cool nickname in its day, but its time had passed. 

Why should the school take a chance that an outdated symbol could give any outsider the wrong impression? 

On a personal note, I have always admired the military prowess of the South. Those Rebels could really fight!  In many battles they badly embarrassed the larger, better equipped forces of the North.   And I admire the military genius of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  They danced rings around the North.  If Jackson had not died of the freak accident, who knows what would have happened?

I can definitely see why the Rebel Spirit makes these men heroes to many.  I don't agree with their position on slavery, but I can definitely respect the courage the soldiers fought with.  They were brave men and I understand that they fought for what they believed in.

I am simply saying that a black man or a black woman should hardly be expected to share in this pride.

To an African-American, at the most basic level, a Rebel was a man who fought for the right to continue slavery, the repugnant practice that assumed a human being was worthy of bondage due to the color of his skin.

To them, the Rebel flag and the Rebel soldier would stand for an era when black slaves were often treated with less dignity and respect than most animals.  The memories of their descendants would be much different....  whippings, beatings, rapes, lynching, and frightened children sold to other estates.  They would remember the constant humiliation of being treated as property, as less than human. 

The Nineties

As the turn of the century approached, Houston had come a long way towards putting its racist ways in the rearview mirror.  As racial tensions in our city eased, Houston was now a modern city well on its way to becoming an International power.  We had a black police chief in the Eighties.  We had a black mayor in the Nineties.  We would have a gay mayor in the 2000s.  Houston wasn't just keeping up with the times, it had become a national leader.  

But Saint John's was still the Rebels. 

Surely at this point someone in the school would be uncomfortable with the Rebel mascot.  Didn't anyone see the disconnect between the prevalent social consciousness of the Nineties versus the school's mascot that conjured images of racism, cruelty, and slavery?  Apparently not.

Or more likely no one had the guts to stand up and say something. That's my guess.  

Nor can I blame them.  I certainly didn't say anything, so who am I to point fingers? 

I imagine behind closed doors the subject was gingerly discussed, but it could not have been easy dealing with the "Traditionalists". 

I have little doubt the campaign to change the nickname was an ongoing uphill struggle.  The supporters of the Rebel Mascot would surely wrap themselves in the cloak of "Tradition" and defend the Rebel name's continued use as a symbol that connects the school's past to the present. 



Although the SJS mascot made it past the Millennium, by now its days were numbered.  

In 2004 the issue of the nickname was finally addressed in a public forum.

Early in 2004, various Saint Johns Alumni like myself were sent letters asking them what they thought about the Rebel nickname.  Apparently the current Headmaster, John Allman, was doing everything in his power to spearhead the change.

On January 12th of 2004, I put my two cents in:

"You have my vote to change the "Rebel" name and I hope you do it quickly.  It is, as they say, an anachronism.  

The Rebel name has absolutely no relevance in today's understanding. For any person with half a brain it is an ugly symbol of the darkest period in American History. To an outsider, it hints strongly of the school's support for racism.

I know for sure the school does not support or condone racism in any shape or form, so why open the door for senseless misunderstandings?"

One month later on Wednesday, February 18, 2004, I received the following news:

Dear Friends:

For the past several months, our School community has been reflecting on the significance and values communicated through our mascot. Deliberating this issue has given us the opportunity to examine the values that St. John's represents and to contemplate best how we express those values. St. John's today is a better school for having accepted this challenge and for having come to a decision together.

The Board of Trustees sought input from you: alumni, students, faculty, parents, and friends. With all voices heard, the time has come for a resolution that will enable St. John's to move forward. The Board has unanimously decided to select a new mascot, one that inspires affiliation, unity, and commitment within the St. John's community. In so doing, our school has the opportunity to find the right mascot to project our core identity to those outside the community. The following points guided our decision:

. Mascots are meant to unify. They are not meant to divide.
. A mascot that must be explained does not adequately represent a school.
. Our current mascot leads some to question our values and commitment to diversity.
. A mascot that demeans members of our community is inappropriate.

This week, a committee of students, alumni, faculty, and friends will be formed to direct an inclusive process for selecting a new mascot that will incorporate the school's traditional red and black colors. While the Board will approve the committee's selection of the new mascot, we encourage you to participate in this process by suggesting ideas that will rally our entire school community. The committee will soon let you know how you can get involved.

Ultimately, the committee must select a mascot that has broad appeal among students, alumni, and friends of all ages. Ideally, we would like the selection process to be completed before summer vacation begins, but we will take all the time needed to select the right mascot. Our School deserves a mascot everyone can support.

In making this decision, St. John's is not abandoning tradition, but seeking to confirm and project more accurately our school's most precious traditions and values. A new mascot can now bring together everyone in our community, convey the mission and vision of our school, and invite in new members whose contributions to St. John's will enrich us all.

Every Board member believes that this decision is in the best long-term interest of St. John's School, and we are hopeful that the process of selecting a new mascot will unify our community.

Respectfully yours,

James A. Elkins, III
Chairman, Board of Trustees
February 18, 2004

I got goose bumps reading this eloquent letter.  Somebody put a lot of thought into this effort.

I immediately sent the following letter to Mr. Allman, the Headmaster.

"Aha! Rebels no more. Thank you, Mr. Allman.

It is my understanding that you personally took on the challenge to bring St. Johns to its senses and help us get rid of the awkward "Johnny Reb" image. Congratulations on your success!

I have been ashamed of this name for about 30 years ever since I was old enough to realize what an affront the name was. For such an obvious move to have taken this long to bring about would make for an excellent tale, but I suppose we will never hear the inside story of the obstacles I imagine you were forced to overcome. I am so glad you stayed with this issue. You have every right to be proud of what you have helped to accomplish. And good for the Board to back this change unanimously.

I met you briefly this past fall at an Alumni Reunion. Had I been aware of the stand you were taking on this issue I would have taken the opportunity to thank you personally. You have proven your leadership ability.  You can count on my support for any more changes you think is necessary to move Saint Johns forward. Thank you again.

Rick Archer"

I have never been more proud of my school than I was that day on February 18, 2004.

They finally got it right!

I guess social change is never graceful.  Actually I think they got it right when they hired Mr. Allman.  

Isn't it marvelous what a good leader can accomplish?



Now it was time to find a new mascot.  They went with Mavericks as the new name.  At the time, I wasn't particularly thrilled with the name "Mavericks".  However, my attitude changed the moment I saw the new logo.  Wow!  My first thought was someone did a great job!   I was really impressed.

Then I took a look at who designed it.  It was none other than Lindon Leader, a classmate of mine from the Class of 1968.   We all knew Lindon had a genius for design back when he was our classmate.   Lindon is responsible for the classic Fed Ex logo

I smiled at the knowledge that Lindon had shared his talents with us once again. 

Lindon wrote this about his Maverick logo.

St. John’s School
Houston, TX

For 60 years, St. John’s School teams were the “Rebels.” Yielding to contemporary political correctness and pressure from many colleges and universities, the School’s board of trustees determined a name change was in order.

Leader Creative developed a graphic identity and implementation program for the newly renamed “Mavericks,” helping to overcome significant internal resistance from many students, parents and alumni reluctant to give up their long beloved “Rebels.”

Note:  here is some of Lindon's other work.  Fascinating!  I also noticed that Lindon didn't bother with a current picture, so here's one from our Senior year.

That's Lindon Leader serving as the announcer for a boxing match sponsored by the Class of 1968.  I always liked Lindon's slicked-back hair.  He made me laugh.

This is a very intriguing story.  One day in the Senior Lounge, Lindon and several of his friends decided to build a full-sized ring in the school's basketball gym and have a fight card with three matches.  It may sound goofy, but the event was very realistic. They got some guys to train and some pretty girls to dress up as fight babes. 

They did a great job of promoting the event.  That gym was sold out and those fights were a lot more serious than I expected.  Those were real punches thrown and when they landed, they hurt!   Each young man definitely fought to win.  

I never thought to ask at the time, but someday I want to find out how they ever got the SJS administration to sign off on this brilliant lunacy. 


Rebels in Other Parts of the Universe

2007 Walpole Rebel Controversy in Masschusetts

On February 12, 2007, I received the following email.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Monday, February 12, 2007 4:20 AM
Subject: link on my blog to your website...

Dear sir:
I hope you don’t mind...I’ve made a link to your website on my blog.

thank you for your honest perspective!

Mike Amaral

I visited Mr. Amaral's page and discovered he was embroiled in a dispute to get rid of the "Rebel" name from his own high school in Walpole, Massachusetts. 

I was surprised to see he didn't quote a single thing I said.  Instead he went straight to the eloquent letter signed by James Elkins on February 18, 2004.  On Mr. Amaral's web site I read:

".....The Board has unanimously decided to select a new mascot, one that inspires affiliation, unity, and commitment within the St. John's community. In so doing, our school has the opportunity to find the right mascot to project our core identity to those outside the community.

The following points guided our decision:

Mascots are meant to unify. They are not meant to divide.

A mascot that must be explained does not adequately represent a school.

Our current mascot leads some to question our values and commitment to diversity.

A mascot that demeans members of our community is inappropriate."

In other words, the wise decision made by the Saint Johns community in 2004 might help Mr. Amaral bring the people in Walpole to their senses as well.  I am rooting for Michael.


Rick Archer's Note: I received an email from Michael Amaral that expressed his frustration at the lack of progress in changing the Rebel Mascot at his own school.

He asked if I would say something, so I posted this letter on his website:

From: Rick Archer
Sent: Thursday, May 07, 2009 1:09 PM
Subject: RE: rebel update, walpole massachusetts

TITLE: in reference to the Walpole Rebel Mascot

My name is Rick Archer.  I am a 1968 graduate of Saint John's School here in Houston, Texas.

During my years at SJS back in the Sixties, we were the Rebels complete with a giant Johnny Reb mascot. 

In 2004, our administration decided it was time to change the mascot.  For the past five years, we have been the Mavericks.  The change was achieved with a minimum of fuss; everyone agreed it was long overdue.

I have never been more proud of my school.

The two darkest periods in American history were the brutal extermination of the American Indians and the slavery of the Africans.  Any references to either shameful period is offensive to many people. 

Today schools across the country - Stanford University for example - are exchanging their Indian mascots for new ones. Likewise a similar fate for schools with 'Rebel' mascots.

For example, in addition to my own high school, I see the Denver (Colorado) South High School dropped their Rebel mascot in 2009.

A similar thing has happened at Dixie State College in Utah in 2009.

"Dixie State College trustees voted to retire the school's Rebel nickname and mascot symbol because they are associated with Old South stereotypes invoking slavery and the rebel Confederacy."

Yes, there were protests over the name changes.  Personally speaking, I will always respect the courage of the underdog soldiers who fought for the Confederacy against all odds.  I have long admired Jackson and Lee as amazing military leaders.

But the entire concept of 'slavery' sickens me nonetheless.  And that is the deciding factor here.  Slavery is wrong.  End of debate.  Anything that reminds us of this period belongs in history books or museums, but not as a public symbol. 

Of course it hurts to let go of tradition, but it feels better to do the right thing.

A school's mascot is meant to unify, not offend. 

2013 Update:  Walpole is still the Rebels:

Confederate flag near Walpole HS sparks debate

Posted: 05/26/10

WALPOLE, Mass. -- The Confederate flag is at the center of a growing controversy in Walpole.

The Confederate flag, considered by many to stand for the Old South’s fight for slavery, was the symbol of Walpole sports teams for decades. The football team is still known as the Walpole High School Rebels.

The Walpole School board voted in 1994 to do away with the divisive symbol after a 25-year run.

As for the flag, “I don’t really like it. I think it should go down,” said Marven Jensimon.

Yet the flag is still being displayed on private property right next to the Walpole High School football field.

Property owner Joe Finneran says he does not want to remove the flag.

“It’s a whole lot of horse manure… If it bothers some people, too bad,” he said.

Finneran claims a friend asked him to put up the flag at the end of last summer in time for the football season.

“The kids loved it, and they were all having their pictures taken. Hundreds and hundreds of kids were taking photographs with the flag,” he said.

Yearbooks from the late 1960s contain photographs of the Confederate flag, displayed on the sports field and spray-painted on rival Dedham High School as a prank.

Finneran, a member of the class of 1969, was a Rebel football player and went on to serve his country in Vietnam.

“Only I and the Almighty know if there’s an evil in my art. As long as I’m OK with him, let everybody else take a hike,” he said.

Students and athletes today largely support the symbol.

“I don’t know. It’s just a symbol, There’s all kinds of symbols out there,” said Judy Feldman, one local woman.

Other teens are passing around a petition to get rid of the flag.

“I think the flag is completely inappropriate. It should not be a symbol for our school. It basically represents racism,” added Ara Nerssessian, who did a project on the flag.

The Walpole school system released a statement acknowledging the flag’s divisiveness.

“The school district makes an announcement prior to athletic events explaining that the flag’s display is not endorsed by the district,” said Superintendent Lincoln Lynch.

A lawyer for the school system who helped draft the statement said there is not much the school can do, because government entities are prohibited by law from abridging a private citizen’s right express himself or herself.

Source of Story

Although no longer an official Walpole High School symbol,
a Confederate sign in a nearby private yard still looms large.
(Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe)

Confederate symbol near school is a divisive link

By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / May 25, 2010

WALPOLE — Past clapboard houses with white fences, in a tree-filled yard next to the local high school is an unusual sight: a large sign painted to look like a Confederate flag.

In most other parts of the country the flag is a searingly divisive symbol of racial segregation. But here, it is also a display of pride for the Walpole High School Rebels.

For years, Confederate flags filled the bleachers at football games while fans sang “Dixie,’’ the Old South anthem. Yearbooks were emblazoned with the flag, and a celebrated coach went by the nickname General Lee.

Most of that ended in 1994, when school officials declared the flag an inappropriate symbol and eliminated it as an unofficial team emblem. But affection for the flag has lingered, and in the fall it appeared in the neighboring yard, resurrecting what some say is an uncomfortable era in the school’s history. Games at cozy Turco Memorial Field now come with a disclaimer, read to the crowd to preempt tension and distance the school from the controversial display.

“The Walpole School Committee apologizes to anyone who may be offended by the private citizen who chooses to display a Confederate flag in close proximity to the Walpole High School field,’’ the message goes. “It in no way reflects values that we support.’’

School officials rue the flag’s presence, but say the neighbor who hung the flag from a tree in his backyard, a Walpole High School student in the 1960s, has the right to display it on his property. The owner of the house where the sign is displayed could not be reached for comment.

“We wish this proud Rebel would take it down,’’ said John Desmond, chairman of the school board. “It’s unfortunate it was ever used.’’

Many in town say fondness for the flag, which for years was emblazoned on the team’s uniforms, runs far deeper than one defiant graduate. From the 1960s, when a coach named John Lee came from Tennessee to lift the team to prominence, until the school dropped the symbol in 1994, Confederate flags were flown openly at games, and team photos were taken in front of a large mural of a flag near the field.

Even today, when the blue-crossed Confederate flag is widely seen as a painful reminder of the nation’s history of racial injustice, the occasional fan will wave the banner from the stands, as they did at a 2008 championship game at Gillette Stadium.

“The cover of my yearbook was a Confederate flag,’’ recalled Mike Amaral, a 1971 graduate who laments the school’s strong affiliation with the flag and has urged the school to choose a new mascot. “Some people can’t seem to let that go.’’

For supporters, the Rebel nickname and the flag symbolize school spirit, and serve as an important link to the school’s past. Walpole could hardly be less Southern, but some interpret the flag as some white Southerners do, as an expression of pride, valor, and determination.

That has been especially true for the football team, which has won an impressive 20 league championships and seven Super Bowls, and had numerous undefeated seasons in the past four decades.

“It’s pride, not prejudice,’’ said Dylan Murphy, a junior, and one of a number of students who support the Rebel nickname and flag. “That’s what it means to us.’’

Murphy said some students waved a Confederate flag at a football game last fall, but a coach quickly spotted it and stormed into the stands to take it away.

One black student at Walpole High, quoted in a video report by the school newspaper, The Rebellion, said she is not bothered by the flag’s use at games because “I know people in the school are not using it against me.’’ But another said, “As a man of color, I find it offensive.’’

Others agree the flag is offensive, at least to some. But they regard the Rebel nickname as sacrosanct and view efforts to discard it as mere political correctness. That is especially true among students.

“It’s Rebel pride,’’ said Will Krumpholz, 15, who added that “players like it more than their parents.’’

Walpole High adopted the Rebels’ moniker — replacing its old mascot, the Hilltoppers — in the mid-1960s, at the centennial of the Civil War and amid the bitter strife of the civil rights movement. At first the nickname carried no connection to the Confederacy. But when John Lee took over as coach in 1968, the Rebels fandom took on a distinctly Old South tone. Newspapers called the team “General Lee’s Rebels,’’ and Confederate flags became popular. In yearbook pictures from the era, flags fill the stands. Such images continued well into the 1980s.

“To speak against it was to speak against the team,’’ said Charles Hardy, a longtime social studies teacher at the high school who retired in 2002. “It always seemed pretty insensitive, but people just persisted with it.’’

In the latter part of that decade, a group from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges expressed concern about the use of Confederate flags, saying the banners “may be inappropriate due to its historical ramifications.’’ That led to the end of its official use as a symbol.

But debate over the nickname persists. When asked about the flag, school officials barely deviate from prewritten statements.

Amaral, a member of the town’s historical commission, said the nickname trivializes Civil War history, romanticizes the Confederacy, and dishonors the sacrifice of Union soldiers, particularly those from Walpole who died for their country.

“This isn’t our history, it’s somebody else’s,’’ he said. “And these are heroes that deserve better.’’

(source of story)


Rick Archer's Note:  This story has a strange coincidence to it.  I find it very eerie that Walpole became the Rebels in the Sixties when they got a football coach named "Lee".  Longtime Saint John's alumni like myself will recall with fondness our very own football coach was Skip Lee.  In fact, our football field is now named for Coach Lee. 

That odd factor somehow links these two stories.  Two schools had the same problem with the Rebel mascot.  One school broke from its past, the other school is still mired in controversy 20 years later because they did not get rid of the "Rebel" nickname. 

Reading these stories, I am struck by the fact that this entire town of Walpole is divided over this "Rebel" issue.  I think both articles speak to the fact that whether we like it or not, racism continues to exist in our country.  Can you imagine the reaction if someone suddenly began waving the Confederate flag at SJS football games? 

Had it not been for the wisdom of John Allman, these same arguments might still plague Saint John's today. 

I do not know the inside story of Mr. Allman's quest, but I would be fascinated to read his account someday.

That said, I think the collective Saint John's community should be grateful that Mr. Allman led the way to free our school from the dark legacy of the Civil War.   And compliments to the Saint John's Board of Directors as well. 

Rick Archer
September 2013


Four Stories About Saint Johns Saint John's and the Mascot - My high school comes to its senses The Genetic Curse - My most painful high school memory
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