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Anaheim high schoolers to start 2018 as new kind of 'Rebels'

A mural at Savanna High School showing their mascot, the Rebel. The mascot was painted over in November 2017. Jill Replogle/KPCC

When students at Anaheim’s Savanna High School begin the new year, they'll be replacing the school's controversial Johnny Rebel mascot while reimagining the Rebel name.

The image of the Confederate soldier around campus led a group of mostly African-American students to complain to the school board that the mascot was offensive and suggested a defense of slavery and white supremacist ideology. 

The debate flared as protests against Confederate monuments and other relics emerged across the country, including in Charlottesville where in August clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters ended in one death. 

In October, the majority of the Savanna High student body voted to abandon the Confederate soldier as mascot but to keep the name "Rebels." The school board agreed to the move.

Over the Thanksgiving break, several images of the mascot on campus were painted over. Student basketball players no longer dribble underneath what once was a 25-foot image of a Confederate soldier in the school's gym. 

A giant cartoon depiction of Johnny Rebel painted on the outside of the gym is also gone, as well as a Confederate flag in a patio mural and a pair of Civil War canons in the school’s quad. Some school uniforms that bore the Johnny Rebel image have also been replaced. 

Principal Carlos Hernandez said students, teachers and alumni will begin discussing the school’s Rebel mascot and identity in January. 

"We are the Rebels. What does that really mean? What’s our identity? What are our values? What are our beliefs? What brings us together?” Hernandez said, ticking off the kinds of questions the school will need to contemplate. 

He said alumni, some of whom were upset with the decision to abandon the Johnny Rebel mascot, will play an important role in the rebranding.

“We don’t want them to be disengaged and disconnected,” he said.

Hernandez said Disney has volunteered to help design a new Rebel logo. Still, the school estimates that its new brand will cost about $50,000.