Go Rebels? No Rebels? Georgetown high school considers changing controversial team name

Since the 1960's the Georgetown "Rebels" have won many-a-provincial championships from team sports to track and field but the Confederate flag that once emblazoned their jerseys is coming back to haunt nostalgic alumni who are now fighting to keep the team name alive.

Rebel alumni say the name was never about race, despite the early use of the Confederate flag

Dennis Martel, number 91 in this 1962 photo of the football team, helped design the original logo. (Submitted by: thegeorgetownvault.com)

Since the 1960s, the Georgetown Rebels have won many high school provincial championships — but they could be losing their name. 

The Halton Hills area team dropped the Confederate flag from its jerseys in 1989 and the Georgetown District High School's equity committee suggests the same should happen to the team's name.

"Georgetown is a town in transition," says principal Paul Daignault. 

The team's current logo does not feature the confederate flag. (Georgetown District High School website)

The proposed change would reflect the growing cultural diversity in Halton Hills, the principal said, an area that has been predominantly white. 

"This is based on a perceived history," Daignault says.

If you flip through the team's history in old yearbook photos where athletes pose with the Confederate flag, denying a racially-charged connotation could be a hard argument to win.

School dropped the Confederate flag in 1989 

Georgetown District High School pin from the 1960s. (MARI PEARCE Submitted by: thegeorgetownvault.com )

But there are also nostalgic alumni who want to keep the team name alive.

For three decades, the Confederate flag would appear on team merchandise and equipment. Athletes would often pose with a flag alongside their trophies. 

"As far as I knew back then, it was just a battle flag," says Ernie Pearce who won a schoolwide contest in 1961 to change the team name from the G's.

'Memories are being casually trampled on'

Pearce, 74, says he wasn't aware of the weight the rebel name would carry today.

"We needed our football team to do a little better," he says, laughing.

Pearce is among other alumni and original logo designer Dennis Martel who are opposed to changing the team's name.

"Those who were part of the original search for a new name and symbolism back in the sixties feel as though their memories are being casually trampled on," wrote Martel on a Georgetown Facebook group where an online discussion has sprung up about the proposed change.

'Rebellion was fashionable'

The designer's original logo of a fox with an eye patch did not include the flag. 

"It was this image of the valiant underdog, the fearless fighter, the humble warrior that tugged at our emotions," Martel wrote. "But, also, rebellion was fashionable among teenagers back then."

Athletes, like the 1980s swim team shown here, would often pose with a Confederate flag. (Submitted by: thegeorgetownvault.com)

Pearce won not only the bragging rights of naming the team, but he also scored a lifetime pass to football games as part of his winnings. 

He says he was inspired by pop culture at the time. Rebel Without A Cause starring James Dean was well loved among his classmates. One of Pearce's favourite songs had been Duane Eddy's Rebel Rouser, which debuted in 1958.

"It was made to give the team a little lift," he said, insisting that the team was never associated with the racism the Confederate flag represents for many today. 

A timely discussion

Daignault says he welcomes the discussion, noting that the school is a long way from deciding whether to change its name.

"It's more than just the name," he said. "It's the whole experience of what is happening within education."

Since word spread of a possible name change earlier this month, those loyal to the Rebels started a petition that now boasts nearly 800 signatures opposing the change. The group plans to deliver it to the school board and other stakeholders. 

About the Author

Ali Chiasson

Reporter, CBC Toronto

From teleprompter to Associate Producer, Ali Chiasson worked many desks at CBC News Network before stepping in front of the cameras at CBC Toronto. Ali covers a wide range of breaking and feature stories and has a special knack for people profiles. Off the clock, Ali is happiest walking through Bloordale with headphones on, picking through local produce markets, sipping bubble tea and snapping pics of street art.