Windsor high school adopts new team name over racist roots of 'Rebels'

·4 min read
Riverside Secondary School in Windsor, Ont., is one of several schools to abandon the
Riverside Secondary School in Windsor, Ont., is one of several schools to abandon the

Riverside Secondary School (RSS) has chosen the Stingers as its new team name after abandoning the Rebels' name and logo earlier this year over its links to white supremacy and anti-Black racism.

The east end Windsor high school announced the new name in a video posted to YouTube earlier this month in what the principal is describing as a soft launch.

"I think that we made the right decision. We're doing what we feel is right for our students and for our staff and community," principal Dina Salinitri told CBC News. "We're understanding the importance of inclusion and equity."

Angelina Ebegbuzie, a former Riverside student and member of the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) Anti Black Racism Advisory Committee, said the name change was due — though it should have happened sooner.

"It's a really great day," she said. "It's about time."

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

History of the name

The decision to change the name came about as a result of students who flagged concerns in December 2021, a school board official previously said.

Last winter, the board said that the name "Rebels" refers to Confederate soldiers, who fought to maintain the enslavement of Black people in the U.S. They were referred to as "Rebels" or "Johnny Rebel."

"The connection between pro-enslavement, anti-Black hate and the Rebel name is conveyed in RSS yearbooks and a newspaper article that have been discovered from the 60s, 80s and 90s," the GECDSB said.

"These records display the Confederate flag as RSS' "school spirit" flag, and a mascot dressed in KKK garb carrying the Confederate flag."

Riverside Secondary School/YouTube
Riverside Secondary School/YouTube

A white supremacist country singer also uses the name Johnny Rebel.

In 2021, the school changed the mascot's name from Johnny Rebel to Captain Rebel, a decision that the school board apologized for in its statement explaining that the Rebel name would be removed altogether.

Other schools, including several in Ontario, have similarly stopped using the Rebels name, the board said.

Creating a welcoming place

Ebegbuzie, who is also president of the group Black Women of Forward Action, said that 30 years ago when she was a student, the associations surrounding the name were known.

"We really did not like the name, especially when we found out where it came from," she said.

"Just imagine going to a school and finding out that the mascot that you have to wear on your jersey and you have to chant to and all these other things with school pride has to do with somebody who really hated you."

She said that those who don't support changing the name should consider the reasons behind the change, and why it was so important to do so.

"I would hope that even the ones who have the nostalgia behind the name still truly understand that yes, you were a Riverside Rebel and that's what you graduated as, but the people to come now will be Riverside Stingers," said Ebegbuzie.

"Let's make sure that it's a place that everybody feels welcome," she added.

Dave Cooke, a Riverside alumnus and former board trustee and Ontario education minister, said he supports the name change as long as the current students are happy with the process behind it.

"If the students support the new name and symbol, then I'm quite happy to support it as well," he said.

He took issue, however, with how the school went about removing the symbols. They returned to in-person learning to find the logos and crests removed or covered up, which he said caused upset. He said the school could have used it as a teachable moment.

Salinitri, the principal, said there was a presentation on the day students returned with a question and answer session to communicate the change to them.

School worked from more than 50 suggestions

The Stingers was picked out of more than 50 suggestions, which were eventually whittled down to a shortlist of four, the school said.

A rebranding committee made presentations on each choice and consulted with staff, students, parents and alumni before making a decision in June.

The team name allows the school to keep its gold and black colour scheme — something the rebranding committee had considered a requirement.

One of the factors that sold them on the name is that it lent itself to the concept of the school community as a hive, said Salinitri.

Salinitri said the official launch of the rebrand will take place in September.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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