Symbols, anthems, and mascots play a role in defining a group’s unity. They bring the group together and unite them when in opposition to another. Schools use symbols in athletics to convey the characteristics and attributes that define the institution. A mascot holds meaning for the students, administration, and staff. It signifies a united front. Symbols and anthems tend to convey a tenacity and ferociousness, typically seen as positive, and a prideful representation of the school.
The BOBCAT is such a symbol, the mascot for unity at Refugio ISD. From the time a toddler is taken to an athletic event they see the tenacious BOBCAT, agile, fleet, highly adaptable, sleek, and attractive. A cat with over twenty thousand years of evolutionary history from the Eurasian Lynx.
But, let’s consider the anthem, the fight song, paired with the irrefutable BOBCAT, Dixie. If a marketing expert looked at this pairing, they might question the branding. Because we were carried into the stadium as toddlers, and everyone rose to their feet when the band fired up this Confederate tune, (like Pavlov’s dogs the sound of something can cause a visceral reaction) some of us continue to get goosebumps at the sound of it, and others get knots in their stomachs. Wait, let’s go back to the first paragraph. Anthems help define a group’s unity, unite them in opposition to another group. So, depending on your race, your culture, your privilege, your historical background, you may not be inspired by this anthem. In fact, it may do just the opposite. It may be a reminder of oppression, abuse, torture, a tragic history, and slavery.
The University of Mississippi recognized Dixie didn’t represent the core values of the institution, and the band discontinued playing it in 2016. At the athletic director’s request the band adopted a more modern theme, relevant, and appropriate for all fans and athletes. “Modern times require new symbols and anthems," an alumni stated in her support. As Maya Angelou so beautifully said, “When you know better, you do better.” If something is offensive to one of us, it should be offensive to all of us. Wait, let’s go back to the first paragraph. Symbols and anthems convey the characteristics and attributes that define the institution, they signify a united front, they bring the group together.
Now, I just want to say something personal, and I know it doesn’t apply only to me, because I’ve talked with others who admit they have the same problem. I never have liked the sound of Dixie. I stood because others around me did, and to be truthful, I was embarrassed. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t say this out loud when I was 17, or 30, or 40, or 50, or 60. It’s not about me, and I would say the same thing to anyone who says, but “I had relatives in the Confederacy, and I want to honor their history and sacrifice.” It’s not about you either. Let’s go back to the first paragraph. It’s about bringing a group together to unite them in a prideful and positive way.
In the late 1960’s I played in the RHS band every year until my Senior year. I could not bear one more day of playing Dixie. I didn’t get goosebumps. The first thought I would have was that some of the football team were young black men. Gifted athletic young black women stood with others and clapped at the first notes, ran the races, spiked the volleyball, attended the pep rallies... . They were proud of their abilities, I’m sure, dedicated, hard-working, and diligent. But, in the background behind every score, every victory, every chance for encouragement, they had to hear that anthem to someone else, someone unnamed, unlike them, having nothing to do with a BOBCAT. So, as a silent protest, I refused to play that tune one more time. I didn't sign up for band. I was the editor of the Bobcat Blab my senior year (1969-70). I could have written an editorial, I could have listed my complaints, and stood up for something. Lots of people were doing that, protesting, taking up a cause. I was a chicken, and I didn’t have the words. I did write them down a few times, but I tore them up, mainly because I didn’t want to be by myself. If I couldn’t say it out loud, how could it be written? I wanted other people to like me. I'm sure there will be push back from this little piece of my mind. That's okay, "I'm older and I have more insurance." This next school year will be the 50th anniversary of my graduation from high school, and this fight song still bothers me. That tells me it wasn't a phase or silly, youthful thoughts. In my opinion, playing Dixie at school events is wrong.
I’m not running for Ms. Congeniality. I don’t really care anymore if I’m popular. So, let’s go back to the first paragraph. The anthem should unite the institution and the students with pride and convey the characteristics of the core values: “The Refugio Independent School District (ISD) is committed to providing an appropriate learning experience for every child in the district, designed to motivate and assist each child in the attainment of his or her maximum potential intellectually, physically, socially, economically, and morally.” (This taken from the RISD Handbook). Any toddler carried into an athletic event should be able to Google the fight song later in life and see how it directly relates to the mission and goals of this institution, and what it means to be a BOBCAT.
Just because we always did it, doesn’t mean we should always do it. Sometimes there are better ways, more compassionate, respectful, relevant, inclusive, honorable, uniting, positive, prideful, celebratory, and ferocious ways. BOBCATS eat chickens.
In the 1961-62 school year, Lottie Nell Richardson's fourth grade class at Barefied studied the slavery in our American history. They knew about the confederacy and what the flag and Dixie meant. Ms. Richardson wrote a letter to the RISD administration and each of her students signed it. They never received a response. Did no one read their concerns? I would like to believe this is a different time. Recently, Elijah Cummings, a great legislator died and he left us with many great quotes, many of them relevant to this issue: "When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do ...?"