WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — At Lee High School football games, you can’t miss it: ‘Rebel Country’ painted in big print on the back of the stadium score box. But now, the Godfrey-Lee school board in Wyoming is considering changing the longtime mascot.
Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Board of Education President Eric Mockerman told 24 Hour News 8 officials recently created a strategic plan and decided it was time to examine the future of the Rebels mascot.
“We thought, ‘Yeah, it’s time to have a conversation about this,'” Mockerman said. “We want to again take the pulse of our community, take the pulse of our stakeholders and see does it fit with who we are now?”
While many alumni have a strong connection to the mascot, Mockerman said the board has heard concerns from others who associate it with the Confederate South and slavery and believe it’s racially insensitive.
24 Hour News 8 flipped through old Lee High School yearbooks from the 1960s and ’70s that showed students flying the Confederate flag and wearing it on their uniforms. Mockerman said the school stopped allowing that in the late ’80s amid growing concerns.
In 2006, there was more controversy over a mural of a Rebel soldier in the gym. The Lee alum who painted it, Arturo Araujo, decided to make the soldier’s skin darker, saying it better reflected the diversity of the district.
“It was always a white guy standing over us and we wanted to be represented. I wanted to be represented,” Araujo told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday.
But at the time, the school board said that wasn’t the image that was approved.
“If we change or if we don’t change, how do we heal the hurt that some people have?” Mockerman wondered. “Because no matter the decision that we make, someone’s potentially having their feelings hurt, having strong feelings about it. Any way that we move.”
The district hosted the first of two community meetings Tuesday night to get input from the public. District officials blocked 24 Hour News 8 from entering. Despite a quorum of school board members attending, they said it was not public.
Carlos Medina, a 2016 graduate of Lee High School, was among the small group of students, alumni and community members who shared feedback on the current Rebel mascot. Afterward, Medina told 24 Hour News 8 most urged district leaders to ditch the mascot imagery.
“That’s not who we are as a school,” he said.
Medina is now majoring in history at Grand Valley State University. For him, the Lee Rebels seem dangerously close to Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy — though the district was not named for the general.
Araujo, the 2006 mural artist, said he empathizes with people who are offended by the mascot. He believes it could better represent his diverse community.
“There’s a lot of love for teaching and learning at this school. There’s a lot of teamwork going on at this school, so it’s surprising that at this point we’re even talking about this,” Araujo said.
Medina stressed that the imagery bothers him more than the name.
“The name? We don’t mind it,” Medina said. “It’s just the mascot. It doesn’t represent us as a school.
“Society tells us you’re not going to go anywhere in life, you’re not going to succeed. We say no, we’re going to rebel against the limitations society puts on us,” he continued.
Medina told 24 Hour News 8 that he didn’t hear any support for keeping the things as they stand now.
The next community meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.