The Times Have Changed and so Must the Mascot

Logo until 2009

Logo until 2009

By Maeve Downs and Sonali Blair, Journalists

Logo until 2009
Logo from 2009 to present

South High School has a surprisingly controversial past dealing with racial insensitivities: despite South’s modern cultural unity, the school previously sported an offensive figure that was not dealt with until 2009. Johnny Rebel was this figure; a Confederate soldier from the civil war era. Historically, “Johnny Rebel” represents the southern succession, as this mascot not only was a symbol that supported slavery but also made students of color at South High School feel belittled.  Johnny Rebel represented South up to the early twenty-first century, where the student body of 2009 took charge in finally creating a symbol that reflected the appropriate values. 

When Denver Public Schools formed the four high schools, which represented the North, South, East and West, many of them chose their mascot and drew inspiration from the vicinity where their school was founded. For example, West chose the cowboy and continues to represent it today. “South High School took imagery from the Civil War, specifically from the Confederate States of America. This included taking the Johnny Reb head as its mascot, and using the Confederate Flag and the song Dixie.” (*). The use of the flag and song was revoked in the matter of one night from when the district implemented racially integrated busing, ending almost 50 years of tradition. However, by this time anyway–1970 to be exact– controversy over the Johnny Rebel symbol arose by itself. 1980 soon came around and South High School had their first African American principal, Harold Scott. Scott addressed this racist symbol and protested for changing the mascot. While Scott proposed to change the mascot to the penguins, the student body had such a deep connection with representing a rebel that they practically overruled Scott. This left the topic to be addressed in the future. Over two decades later, In 2008, students staged a walk-out that they hoped would help the status of this shameful mascot, but it was not until 2009 that matters changed drastically and for the better. 

In 2009, students were in agreement to change the mascot–while still keeping the rebel name for sports teams—to a gargoyle that was chosen to specifically represent a creature that protects the community as well as match South’s iconic statues in front of their school building. One student in particular, known as Donavan Hilton,–student body president–took charge to make this change happen, stating “[t]he times have changed and so must the mascot”(Hilton, 2009*). The protest led  was supported by the vast majority of the school community. Mr. Brooks, who has run senate for well over a decade, was very much present during this protest as he acted as the bridge from the students to the school board. Furthermore, Brookes helped Donavan write a school wide speech addressing the change of mascot in 2009. Donavan appealed to the board by stating that “[p]eople have turned a blind eye to this racist image, and when a blind eye is turned to things that are unacceptable, unacceptable things can happen.” (Hilton, 2009*). When speaking to Brookes about Donavan’s demonstration, he explained that both the student body and teachers who stood behind this cause were responsible for the overall change. The only adversity that was faced when making the switch was the disapproval from a group of alumni who felt the tradition of the school was being tampered with. However, what they did not consider—or in a way flouted—was how minority students felt when stepping on the offensive mural each morning. The cost estimated to change the mascot and symbol represented in every DPS school was roughly 15,000 dollars. Though, Kevin Patterson (a school board member) stated “Do it,” establishing full support in this well-awaited change. As stated by Dr. Rinaldi, another long time teacher here at South, “ ‘Rebels’ doesn’t have to correlate with confederacy, it can simply mean a group of people who aren’t opposed to change and advocate for what they know is right.” As of now, South students are referred to as “rebels” but with a renewed meaning. 

The irony behind it all is that South is known as one of the most diverse schools in Colorado, with around 30 languages spoken daily. South has developed into a school with an accepting mindset as well as a community that bonds over others’ cultures and traditions consistently. Most students are significantly involved in South’s community to the point where many are student-athletes, performers in the arts, or leaders of multiple clubs that continue to contribute to the growth of the school. One major event that takes place at South, with the help of many students, is the Culture Fest. In the annual tradition, South takes a day to appreciate all the different cultures present, that make the school what it is. While speaking to Dr. Rinaldi, she emphasized “I am so proud to work here. In a world that is so divided, South gives me insight into what the world is supposed to look like… I see kids everyday who are beautiful and who are accepted.” South continues to thrive as a culturally unifying school with the abundance of different curricula, performances and clubs that are connected to certain cultures. When interviewing Mr.Brooks, a previously mentioned figure, he stated that South represents acceptance, diversity, inclusion, world perspectives on issues and kindness.  

South’s culture continues to grow through our exchange program, where many come to South from different countries in order to find an Americanized high school experience. Rather, they encounter the opposite where they experience different cultures and where they themselves contribute to the diversity. The significance of this distance we have come, and the irony accompanying the journey, truly defines what South High School is: a community that resembles what values the world should practice daily. 



Luning, E. (2009, February 20). Denver’s South High sends Johnny Reb packing, picks new mascot. Retrieved from

South High School (Denver). (2019, May 31). Retrieved from