by Bonny C. Millard
of The Daily Times Staff
Maryville High School students said Thursday night the Rebel flag represents school spirit and not racism during a meeting to rally support against a recent school board decision.
“All I ever wanted to do was to be a part of that,” rising senior Miranda Navartil said. “This is about supporting our team. We’re not going to be the Maryville Rebels without the Rebel flag.”
The Rebel flag is also known as the Confederate battle flag.
The Maryville Board of Education voted in June on first reading to ban flags, noisemakers, laser pointers, banners, horns, hand-held signs and other items as part of event safety in the policy manual.
The board is scheduled to vote on the issue in a second reading at Tuesday’s monthly meeting. However, earlier this week, Director of Schools Mike Dalton said the city attorney has recommended some wording changes in another part of the policy, which would mean it would have to be heard again on first reading. The board will have to decide what to do about the changes.
About 100 supporters of the flag gathered Thursday night at the Blount County Public Library to discuss ways to fight the ban. Gary Young, an organizer, said this is the fifth attempt to remove the flag and other things have already been taken away such a cafeteria mural and food trays with the image of a Confederate soldier. Those changes have been made within the last 10 years.
“You can’t believe the number of people who’ve called and who are passionate about this,” Young said at the beginning of the meeting.
Young said school yearbooks and class rings have shown the Rebel flag as a school symbol for years, contrary to Dalton’s contention that it’s never been a school symbol. Dalton has said it’s never been an official school symbol.
Young said he invited Dalton and all the school board members to Thursday’s meeting. No school officials attended the meeting.
Senior cheerleader Katelynn Olvey said football games will not be the same without flags, signs or noisemakers. Olvey, who has been a cheerleader since her freshman year, also said it had never been intended to be a racial issue.
“It’s not significant because of the Civil War. We’re the Rebels, and it’s a Rebel flag,” Olvey said. “It’s taking away part of the game. We do not want this flag taken away.”
Several adults spoke, some of whom are graduates of Maryville High School and have long ties to the school system, and some who have moved into the community.
Pamela Waters Speed, class of 1971, said some current authority figures thought it was OK to use back then.
“We weren’t thought of badly then, and its our elders who chose our mascot for us,” Speed said. “This is a strong, deep tradition.”
The school board is taking it away from everyone, she said.
Young encouraged everyone from the group to attend the school board meeting and let board members know how they feel about the issue. The phone numbers of all the school board members were announced and participants were encouraged to call them.
A voice silenced
A young man, who said he attended Maryville High School as a freshman and sophomore, said people from the outside look at the flag differently and don’t realize the flag is used for team spirit. When he mentioned talking to the principal a couple of years ago about removing the flag, Young threw him out of the meeting.
Young threatened to have him arrested and called in a Maryville Police Officer to escort him out. Young said it was not a meeting for debating the issue, but only for supporters and that the room had been paid for.
The young man left without further incident.
Several members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans attended the meeting and pledged support for the fight.