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Column: TF South can make a statement in choosing its new nickname

The Lansing Journal welcomes thoughts and opinions not only from our readers, but from our writers as well. The following column is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of The Lansing Journal.


LANSING, Ill. (July 11, 2021) – When the Thornton Fractional Township Board of Education rejected “Redwolves” as the new nickname for TF South High School, it triggered a reboot for the entire process.

So, now what are they going to do?

Before long, the fall sports season begins and TF South might very well remain a school without a nickname. Just how important is it to have a new nickname chosen by the start of school? Moreover, how should TF South go about the process this time? Well, if the former school nickname “Rebels” had so much meaning that the school board would see fit to remove it during the height of Black Lives Matter protests last summer then, yes, it is exceptionally important.

When the school board rejected “Redwolves” by a 4-2 vote at its June meeting, I took it as a reaction to the seemingly uninspiring name itself, as well as the process by which it was conceived and chosen. “Redwolves”? Are there actually “red wolves”? “Red fox,” sure. But “Redwolves” feels like a default name, a way to keep red as part of the school colors. Besides, I think many of you would agree that “Redwolves” falls flat as representative of the school spirit that TF South has exhibited over its history.

Students and teachers alike have addressed the school board in recent months asking to them to reconsider not only the name but the process of choosing one. And they listened. We shouldn’t cast blame on Principal Jacob Gourley or the students on the naming committee for the current state of affairs. Their effort was in good faith, but a pandemic was raging, students were consumed with remote learning, and the virtual meetings that the naming committee conducted put that dialogue at a disadvantage. Given that less than 20% of students actually voted in each of two online polls over which name to choose, no wonder there are people not happy with “Redwolves” and the board took the action that it did.

What’s in a name?

TF South has another chance to get it right, and I’m talking right in a big way. But it’s a process that cannot, unfortunately, be rushed. In fact, I think it’s a choice that could be bigger than the current student body, not to say they are incapable of choosing the new nickname themselves.

Oh, there are plenty of cool names out there — sharks, eagles, lions, take your pick of animals. But I hope TF South can choose a name that truly makes a statement about the values and spirit that embody the institution. After all, the school board made a strong statement by doing away with “Rebels” and thereby divorced itself from the “breakaway republic” persona of the Civil War Confederacy. The “Richie Rebel” symbol is long gone, but it will inexorably be linked to the name “Rebels” inside the halls of TF South.

When you put it in the context of individuality, nonconformity, dissent and resistance, “Rebels” sounds like a pretty neat school nickname, and I know students who would agree. But enough of them are offended by “Rebels,” and rightly so, and thus it came time to change the name, however long overdue that may have been. I applaud board member and retired TF South teacher Richard Dust for leading on this issue, but it’s time to dig in and reinvigorate that leadership.

If Black Lives Matter has taught us anything, it’s the importance of inclusion and truly considering other voices. Students, teachers, administrators, alumni (yes me, class of 1981) and the people of Lansing and Lynwood themselves should have an opportunity to offer suggestions. By including more people in the conversation, we live the ideals of inclusion and diversity. TF South can choose a nickname that not only drives school spirit but makes a larger statement about advocating for those marginalized or oppressed in our society, now and in the past — a nickname with purpose and meaning.

So, what’s the word that encapsulates those ideas? Who of you out there has it? And how can the greater TF South community best come together to engage in constructive debate and arrive at a consensus? It’s a tall order, and it should be. If TF South aspires to a nickname that really says what the school represents and the type of people we want our students and graduates to be, then we really need to think long and hard about it.

Reconciling the past

More people involved, fresh ideas, and broader consensus can produce a nickname that doesn’t just roll off the tongue well or makes teams sound like we’re winners but informs on the reason why “Rebels” had to go in the first place. Imagine people of all persuasions coming together for a common purpose in a manner that elevates school spirit and pride — through the act itself. In the end, we’ll leave it to the students to take that all-important vote. Let’s just make sure everyone votes this time.

With students back in the classroom this fall, these discussions can be much more convenient, engaging, and fruitful. I suppose homeroom would be a good place to start. But, like I said, I hope TF South can open up the dialogue up to the wider community. A simple email link on the TS South website to solicit ideas would be a good place to start. How about conducting a community focus group, as well as one for just students, to foster a more inclusive process? Would a naming contest help bring forth more ideas?

TF South, you have the opportunity to choose a nickname that echoes for as long as the school will exist. Including more voices and opening up the process outside the student body will help reconcile with what gave cause to turn away from “Rebels.” Let’s think big and bold. Students past, present, and future deserve your best effort.


Jim Masters
Jim Masters
Jim Masters grew up on 191st Street in Lansing. He attended Nathan Hale Elementary, was a member of St. Ann Church, graduated with the first graduating class at Heritage Middle School, and graduated from TF South High School in 1981. Inspired by his journalism teacher Joe Hyde, Jim earned a BA in Journalism from Northern Illinois University. He has more than 25 years of experience as beat reporter, specializing in government, politics, criminal justice, human interest stories, and education.


  1. As a TFS alum neither I or anyone else I know associated Rebels with anything remotely racial. But in a time of revisionist history even a cartoon character named Richie Rebel gets canceled. But that’s the way it is today. “if BLM taught us anything”? Yeah they taught us if we don’t get our way we burn, loot, and destroy innocent people’s lives. Great lesson. Changing the mascot to appease cancel culture is one thing but please don’t attempt to lift up and praise BLM.

    By the way, will you be changing your last name? “Masters” since it of course racially insensitive. Asking for a friend.

    • Roman
      Your response is great and represents more people than you know. A lot of people are getting sick of cancel culture to erase history while using it to “educate” people on another version of history.
      Why can’t the different versions of history coexist?
      They both have for hundreds of years even if one has not gotten the recognition that the cancel culturists believe it should have.
      Cramming these ideas down peoples throats causes more diversity rather than the healing that the cancel culturists think.
      They think they are part of a great awakening, but they are creating a great resistance when they cancel the familiar rather than blending this lost information with the common knowledge that has existed for centuries.

  2. I would like to suggest the TF South ‘Flying Hangers’ or ‘Flyers’ in reference to our Historic Henry Ford Hanger at the Lansing Municipal Airport. This way it gives hommage to our heritage without any social injustice implications.

  3. How about “Phoenix”, representing a new beginning. A logo could be drawn up using the red and grey as the primary colors.

  4. I am also an alum, class of 1969. I don’t understand how Rebels went from two schools being North and South and the competition between the two became misrepresented as the North
    and South. Richie Rebel came into being as our school mascot because a teacher asked a student to draw a character named Richie Rebel. If that cartoon figure had been a high school figure baring his teeth and carrying a flag that simply said Rebels would this even be a problem? Rebels never meant what people have corrupted it to represent. We were and always will be Rebels. The Rebel ideal is to stand up to injustice, to change things for the better hopefully, to be strong and believe in our school. This isn’t about history or black lives matter or anything except a school that was one that split into two, TF North and TF South. Where did race or slavery or anything except a school and it’s spirit come into this? Who said it was about the war between the states or anything else??? Who started this? You are doing what is happening all over the South now, erasing history. Do you not understand that history is real, you can’t go back and change it. You could have simply changed the mascot, changed the flag to a school flag with the new mascot. If you want a new name the represents the school spirit, try SPIRIT, TFS SPIRIT. Then show your Spirit by supporting your teams, go to the games, go to the PEP Rallies. Quit bickering about the name Rebels, after all you are the embodiement of the word. You are all Rebels, like it or not, you are Rebelling against what you percieve as a wrong you must right.

  5. The first thing I thought of was how to change the mascot and not disrupt the school fight song. That being said, Raiders, Rangers, Rockets would be decent substitutes.

  6. The names Flyers and Flying Aces were suggested in reference to the Ford Hangar and Lansing Airport. Phoenix was also suggested as a symbol of a new beginning. Flying Aces actually came in third in the voting. These names will probably be under consideration again during the continuing process.

  7. Has anyone considered that maybe it isn’t about changing a ‘derogatory’ word/name but about getting someone to do that for you–good, bad, or indifferent, then taking the glory for having done so. Just to be clear, those that imply ill intent to get their way shall remain nameless. After all perceived negativity has been cancelled, and all past atrocities forgotten, what will be left is a generation that adamantly says, “You’re a liar. That never happened.” According to Scottish historian Lord Tytler, the stages of democracy are such: bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence, and finally from dependence back to bondage.

    “A rose by any other name…
    I did not grow up in Lansing nor did I go to TFS/N. I went to a school of less than 60 children in my junior high graduating class. We were the Wildcats. In my senior high graduating class of over 1600 students, we were the Thunderbirds. Like all mascot names chosen, they represent fierceness, competitiveness, pride, and courage to stand up for all. This quality goes by many, many, many names each as individual as those giving the name who live by this code. Keeping the name Rebel and using that name as a platform for justice for all speaks volumes. Not only did you not have to remove the obstacle, you rose above it despite the obstacle to find love and respect for fellow man. Now that is winning spirit.
    …would smell as sweet.”

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