The effort to bring back the Rebel mascot at Southside High School appears to be over, with Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen saying Friday (May 27) he will “suspend my fight for the REBEL tradition at Southside.”
Fort Smith School Board Member Bill Hanesworth also on Friday joined fellow Board Member Wade Gilkey in announcing he would not support any effort to overturn the controversial mascot change at Southside High School. Hanesworth and Gilkey were considered two board members supportive of changing the school’s mascot back to the Rebel. They supported a September 2015 board vote to return to the Rebel mascot. The vote failed on a 3-3 vote.
The Fort Smith Public School Board voted 7-0 on July 27, 2015, to change the mascot and end use of the “Dixie” fight song 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. A “Maverick” mascot has been adopted, and “Wabash Cannonball” is the new fight song.
McCutchen has been an active opponent of the change through a social media campaign, encouraging people to vote for pro-Rebel mascot board members, and pursuing lawsuits against the school district over the issue.
Gilkey said Thursday he would not “support any measure” to “re-introduce the former mascot.”
“There for awhile, we might have been able to do that (compromise). … But what’s happening now is that every time this thing comes up, it sucks the oxygen out of the room for everything else,” Gilkey told Talk Business & Politics.
Hanesworth issued this statement Friday: “Almost a year ago to the date I made a decision to run for School Board. My original motivation was simple, I wanted to be more involved in my kids’ education. After my announcement I quickly developed a platform based on meetings with parents, educators and community leaders. From those meetings the talking points of my campaign emerged.
“Once elected, the immediate focus shifted to the two newly elected board members and the mascot issue. During those first two months, I worked hard to seek a compromise on the issue to no avail and those efforts failed. After that vote I publically stated we needed to move on and work on the bigger issues facing our school district.
“Now one year later the mascot is still the center piece of the upcoming school board election and our community is now more divided over this issue than a year ago. Looking forward our school system is at a cross roads. A defining moment. We are in the process of recruiting a new leader for our district, faced with a need to raise our millage, and seek a better understanding of how to meet the changing ways children learn in order to prepare them for a very different work place. Finally we must find a way to get our community more involved in setting the vision for a future school system.
“Given these issues and many more facing our district, it is time to move on beyond this issue that has divided our community. It is time to focus on making our school system a model for other districts. We owe our children, our teachers and our community the best educational opportunities available. That should be our single united focus. Having said that I want to go on record to restate I will not vote to overturn the decision voted on by this board last September.”
Following is the bulk of McCutchen’s announcement he posted on his Facebook page.
“With the announcement yesterday by newly elected school board member Wade Gilkey that he will not revisit the REBEL controversy in September, I have made one of the hardest decisions in my life, which is to suspend my fight for the REBEL tradition at Southside. I believe Wade’s motivation is pure and he truly wants to continue his battle to improve graduation rates and school report cards, and improve transparency and accountability in the Fort Smith School District.
“Since it is an impossibility to win our REBEL name back without Wade’s vote, I have decided it is better for my family, my friends, and my community to continue the passionate fight for open and honest government, academic and financial accountability, and other God-given rights instead of pursuing the fight for the Southside REBEL name. The fight for the traditions at Southside is more than just a ‘support your high school campaign,’ it is a fight for the philosophical ideas expressed in our Declaration of Independence.
“I believe we, in Fort Smith, have learned many valuable lessons from this chapter in our history. One of the lessons I hope we have learned is what Allen West, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently wrote about when he said:
‘Our children are not being taught or instructed using critical thinking skills: they are being indoctrinated. And this phenomenon is now getting into our local education systems, K-12, because we fail to realize that the most important election in America isn’t for president, governor, congress, or state legislature – it’s for school board.’
“Please Remember in September!
“I want to thank the thousands of folks who have participated in this sometimes intense debate. One final lesson we should have learned is that without an energized and well informed citizenry, we lose our rights.”