Wells man questions USC ‘rebel’ mascot

Thursday, February 12, 2015
By Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press

WELLS — A Wells man has called into question the appropriateness of United South Central Schools’ rebel mascot, which is not only modeled after a Civil War Confederate, but sports a large, white mustache.

The figure is painted all over the school and stamped onto the concrete walls of its new gym, Michael Virnig said. But he can’t, for the life of him, figure out what it represents or what kind of message it is intended to send.

“I’m trying to figure out where it came from and who made it,” he said last Thursday. “What does the rebel represent?”

He asked school board members the same thing Jan. 20, during the public comment portion of their regularly scheduled meeting.

Virnig doesn’t have any children at USC, but said there are two major issues with the mascot: it is an inherently masculine figure, incapable of representing the district’s female athletes, and it represents the Confederate South.

(The current mascot has a red and blue uniform, but nothing else to indicate that he is a Confederate. A prior mascot was armed and looked more like a soldier.)

Superintendent Jerry Jensen doesn’t know either. The mascot was chosen 22 years ago, when USC was consolidated and long before Jensen was even hired. None of today’s school board members were in office then either, though Steve Navara said he remembers how the mascot was selected.

“There was a student group from the former South Central High School, the Wells Easton School and a representative from the Freeborn school,” he said. “There were National Honors Society students who presented different options to the student body, who voted on it.”

Navara’s never heard anyone complain about the mascot. Emphasizing that he could not speak for the School Board as a whole, he said he personally doesn’t have any problem with it and thinks it has represented the school well.

Several other school districts and colleges have rebels as mascots, including the Southland School District in Adams.

“I have very strong feelings about the preservation of our mascot, though that doesn’t necessarily reflect the feelings of other school board members,” Navara said.

The school board’s Vice Chairman Dale Stevermer said it was a shock to hear anyone speak out against the mascot. Most recent changes to the rebel have made it more of a cartoon-like figure than anything else, and it no longer looks like a Confederate.

While he hasn’t heard any complaints about the mascot, community members have spoken out in support of it.

“People like it,” he said. “People want to keep it. And it is at a point where it would be hard for us to change.”

At this point, the school board has no plans to change the mascot, Stevermer said. But Virnig said he won’t back down. Even if he can’t get the mascot replaced, he hopes community members will begin to question its meaning — and whether or not it does justice to the district’s female athletes.

“Their lip isn’t hairy, and their athletic achievement shouldn’t be treated as secondary,” Virnig said.

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