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Counter petition started to keep Rebel mascot

While a group of Boyle County alumni recently started a petition to remove and replace the Boyle County High School Rebel mascot due to an association with the Confederacy and promotion of racist ideology, another BCHS alumni has started a petition to keep the mascot that has garnered a significant amount of support.

Austin Norvell, a 2017 graduate of BCHS, started the petition online on Monday through a platform called change.org, which allows people to start online petitions and campaigns for a variety of causes. 

As of Monday morning, the petition had been signed by nearly 3,000 individuals. 

Norvell said he didn’t expect the petition to gain that level of support in such a short amount of time. 

“I sent it to a couple friends trying to get five or maybe 10 signatures,” Norvell said. “I went and did some stuff around the house that I needed to do and when I came back to refresh the page, there were more than 100 likes. It was just a wow moment. Then it was 200, then 500, and just kept going up from there.” 

The petition is addressed to Boyle County Schools Superintendent Mike LaFavers and Boyle County High School Principal Mark Wade, who chairs the school’s site-based decision making council which is tasked with being the first step in the process of changing the mascot. 

Norvell said he’s proud to be a graduate of Boyle County High School, which is one of his motivations behind starting the petition. 

“I love the school,” Norvell said. “It was the only high school I went to. I spent all four of my years there.”

Norvell has been an active supporter of BCHS athletics going back to his high school years, serving as videographer for the BCHS football team for three years. 

“I became well-acquainted with the team and the players at the time, and he’s retired now but I got to know Coach Smith really well,” Norvell said. “Working those hours and spending so much time with the football program really inspired me to start this petition.” 

Norvell said he came across the petition that has been circulating with the goal of changing the Rebel mascot, and began wondering if there were any petitions or other displays of support for keeping the mascot. Finding none, Norvell said he decided to start his own. 

“I thought about it for a couple days,” he said. “I work night shifts and when I came home from work, I decided I was going to make one and just see how it goes.” 

While the alumni group that is seeking to change the Rebel mascot claims that the Rebel promotes a racist ideology and ties to the Confederacy, Norvell, who is 20 years old, said he never experienced any of that in his time at BCHS. 

“All I know is what I have seen in person,” he said. “Three football seasons, I went to every football game, every practice, and I have never seen any Confederate memorabilia or Confederate flags at any games or practices. I’ve not seen anything related to the Confederacy from my perspective. I’ve talked to several alumni who have signed my petition and they are echoing the same things as well… you know, I’m 20 years old so I can only vouch for what I’ve seen myself.”

Norvell said he’s spoken with many of the individuals who have signed his petition and sees a recurring theme in their sentiments. 

“They’re proud of their school and how far our school has come over the years,” Norvell said. “Before the late 1990s, everyone kind of looked down on us, especially our high school when it came to athletics. We were always the team that was looked down on but that didn’t stop us from continuing and pushing on and pushing forward. The rebel mascot, you know a rebel is someone who stands up for what they believe in, no matter the odds. As I’ve spoken to other alumni, the rebel is a fitting image of our school history because of how far we have come.” 

BCHS Principal Mark Wade said last week at a meeting of the school’s site-based decision making council that he and other members of the council needed to talk with minority students before coming to any decision about the future of the mascot, and Norvell said he agreed that minority students need to have their voices heard. 

“First, let me say that as far as the minority voices go, they do need to be heard, especially with everything going on across our country,” Norvell said.

He also added that he has some concerns that many of the signatures on the petition in favor of changing the mascot came from individuals who are not alumni or students of BCHS, which he said is an important factor in the discussion. 

“I’m not saying all of them didn’t attend the high school, but I’ve been informed that some of them who signed that petition did not go to the high school,” Norvell said. “That changes things for me, and I’ve talked to some other alumni and that is a strong point for them wanting to keep the mascot. Of the people I’ve talked to who signed my petition, they don’t want to be dictated by someone who did not go to the school.” 

Daniel Morgan, the author of the petition calling for the removal of the mascot and one of the organizers of the group advocating for the change, supplied a document to the Advocate-Messenger with a list of signatures and background information on the individuals who signed. That background information is supplied by the individual signing the petition. 

While some of the individuals that signed the document were not current or former students of Boyle County High School, nearly every individual listed a connection with the school, either as a former teacher or administrator or having children or other relatives currently at the school. 

As for the next steps, Norvell said he plans on submitting the information from the petition to LaFavers, Wade, and other school district officials, but outside of that, he said he’s playing it by ear moving forward. 

“I really didn’t expect it to gather this much support this quickly,” Norvell said. “I haven’t really had time to make a proper roadmap going forward and I’ve never really done this before, so I’m kind of learning as I go and listening to the people who sign the petition. I’m talking with them back and forth about what we’re going to do. Someone proposed holding a rally at the high school, but we do hope to make the board of education, the council, and other school administrators aware of the petition. Getting them to know about the petition is the main goal.”