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BY JIM MASTERS – EDUCATION REPORTER
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.