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Symbolism: Ritchie County Rebels deserve a good mascot

Symbols can be tricky. They mean different things to different people. Sometimes they are hijacked by new groups of people who give them a meaning never intended by the originators. Just ask Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and anyone else who understands the ancient Sanskrit symbol for “well-being.” That would be the swastika. With the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, the swastika became a symbol of violent hatred, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and the entirely fabricated notion of “Aryan” supremacy.

Its original meaning no longer matters. Most of those who see it are now repulsed. It elicits uncomfortable feelings and its use is rightly avoided by those who do not want to be associated with the ideology by which it was hijacked.

Ritchie County Board of Education members must tread very carefully, therefore, in finally designating an official mascot to represent the name “Rebels” in association with Ritchie County High School. It was a mistake not to do so decades ago. The absence of an official mascot left the door wide open for those who wanted the Rebels to be represented by a “Civil War soldier.”

There is only one group of Civil War soldiers who called themselves rebels, and they were fighting for the Confederacy. Surely those who took it upon themselves to create the character understood that then, and understand now why that character is not an acceptable or appropriate representative of Ritchie County students.

Board president Torie Jackson may well be correct that the word “rebel,” in and of itself is not problematic and does not represent ties to racism or the Confederacy. (It does, however, mean one who renounces or resists by force the authority of one’s government.)

But if the intent is to keep the name, with the hope that it will be interpreted as meaning simply that the school’s athletic teams have an unruly fighting spirit, board members had better be darned sure they take ownership of the symbol that accompanies it. It must represent ALL Ritchie County students.

In fact, given that Ritchie County is after all a West Virginia county, perhaps a more appropriate mascot would be any of the many Mountain State leaders who rebelled against those in Richmond, Va., who did NOT represent their values or best interests. Those men knew nearly 160 years ago that remaining tied to the Confederacy was a terrible idea.

Board members have their work cut out for them. After all, an Arthur I. Boreman costume is not likely to get students fired up at pep rallies. But they owe it to Ritchie County students present and future to get this right.

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