Fort Smith, say hello to your Southside High School Mavericks.
In a lopsided vote at Monday night’s (Oct. 12) mascot committee meeting, the 28 members in attendance (on a committee of 29) voted 25-3 to embrace the Southside Mavericks name, though it was a decision that did not win a majority of support from SHS students.
In a Monday morning vote, the student body chose Spartans as the new mascot with 493 first-place votes and 338 second-place votes. Mavericks was a close second as a No. 1 choice with 470. Second-place votes were 366, giving it a slight overall edge of 836-831.
Other mascots receiving student votes were Patriots (597 total), Marshals (494), and Mustangs (209).
Of the 28 who attended the meeting, 25 voted for Mavericks as the next mascot for Southside High School.
The controversial and often emotional process to change the mascot began in late June with a School Board committee vote. The Fort Smith Public School Board then voted 7-0 on July 27 to change the mascot and end use of the “Dixie” fight song that has been associated with the school since it opened in 1963. The Board voted to discontinue use of “Dixie” as the Southside High School fight song in the 2015-2016 school year and to drop the Rebel as the Southside mascot in the 2016-2017 school year.
Southside High School was formed in 1963 and over the years there have been attempts to change the mascot. One of those happened in the late 1980s when a school board committee pushed for a change. The effort failed to gain support from a majority of those then on the Board.
The 30-person group tasked to find a new mascot for Southside High School in Fort Smith first met Monday (Sept. 21). The 30-person committee included the 14 people who recently selected Wabash Cannonball as the new Southside fight song.
Student representatives on the committee were unwilling to endorse Spartans as a nickname, pointing out the negative connotation associated with its history and believing that many voted for the name because of its connection to the hit film 300.
The committee spent much of Monday’s meeting discussing barbaric Spartan practices — its violent culture, a focus on military might over the rights of the individual, and the ancient people’s accepted practice of infanticide for babies with deformities or weaknesses.
Ultimately, committee members Pam Weber and David Humphrey put a motion on the table to remove Spartans from the voting. The motion passed 28-0.
There was also some question as to the weight of the student vote on the final decision. To that point, SHS Principal Wayne Haver reemphasized a point he made at the Oct. 5 meeting — that he was “hesitant” to allow a group of students to select a mascot name for years to come just because “they’re the ones here at the time.”
“Many of these kids could care less what the mascot is, at least they don’t show it through their involvement,” Haver said. “Look at football games, you’ll see 600 to 700 kids out of about 1,600 cheering or playing in the band or on the field. Basketball games, you have less than 500. I think this committee needs to be attentive to what students want, and there are student representatives on this committee. But the final vote should be this committee.”
As for that final vote, Haver believes it will not require final approval from the Fort Smith School Board as the Board had granted the committee power to “make the call” on a new mascot provided the new mascot was “chosen responsibly.”
Such choice would include removing references to the Rebels, “Dixie,” and the Confederate flag, Haver told The City Wire during the final vote tally.
Gordon Floyd, deputy superintendent of Fort Smith Schools, also believed that a final Board vote would be unnecessary, telling The City Wire that he believed they could vote to affirm the new name, but it was unlikely they would reject it. No board members were in attendance at Monday night’s meeting to offer a final word.
In a vote at the Sept. 28 School Board meeting, newly elected Board member Wade Gilkey presented a motion to rebrand the Rebels name, but that effort ultimately failed 3-3 with Gilkey, Bill Hanesworth, and David Hunton voting to keep the name and Yvonne Keaton-Martin, Deanie Mehl, and Jeannie Cole voting against it.
Board member Susan McFerran was not in attendance, but had previously voted to end use of the Rebels mascot.
With that and Monday night’s decision, it appears Southside High School is closer to burying the controversial name it has worn for 53 years.
What isn’t known, however, is how a pending lawsuit filed by Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen could affect the Southside Mavericks nickname.
McCutchen’s lawsuit challenging how the School Board voted on the mascot change was recently dismissed by Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox, but McCutchen confirmed to The City Wire on Oct. 5 he plans to press the suit to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Now that the committee has decided on Mavericks, the next step will be to lock down a logo. A majority of the committee were in agreement during discussions shortly before the vote that whatever name won out, they did not need to rebrand the school with a human mascot.
Some suggestions included a horse, a bull, a jet (to play into the city’s history with the 188th Fighter Wing), or something more abstract that better reflected the modern age.
Haver acknowledged that the “Dixie Belles” name would have to go as would the “Johnny Reb Singers,” but said the school’s yearbook (The Southerner) and its newspaper (Southworld) would remain.
The public will get a better idea of these and other changes/non-changes at the next committee meeting, which takes place Oct. 26 at the SHS Cafeteria.