August 2020

My high school (Priory) adopted The Rebels as the name of its sports teams in 1961.  It was an era when teenage rebels featured prominently in American culture.  The 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause had made James Dean an icon of adolescent alienation, a status that was cemented by his untimely death in his speeding Porsche the same year.  It was the same archetype that was celebrated by The Crystals in their 1962 hit “He’s a Rebel”:

He’s a rebel and he’ll never be any good.
He’s a rebel ‘cause he never does what he should. 

As much as the Priory boys may have been influenced by these depictions of teenage rebels, they were not the model for our school mascot.  The inspiration for the Priory Rebels could be found in Johnny Horton’s 1959 song “Johnny Reb,” about a Confederate soldier who “fought all the way,” and in The Rebel, a television series that aired from 1959 to 1961 about a Confederate veteran named Johnny Yuma, who roamed the American West  fighting various forms of injustice.  The United States was commemorating the centennial of the Civil War and my alma mater got caught up in this spirit.

Fifty-nine years later the school leadership realized it was time for a change.  The Rebel mascot has been removed and a search for a replacement is underway.  My suggestion is that the school teams be called The Brewers.  As some alert readers (ARs) probably know, Priory was founded by Benedictine monks, whose traditions of scholarship  date back over 1,500 years.  Throughout the Middle Ages the study of science flourished in their monasteries and led to the establishment of some of the premier breweries in the world.  What better way to celebrate the intellectual heritage of the Benedictines than to name the Priory sports teams in honor of one of their greatest achievements, brewing world class beer?

As some ARs undoubtedly realize, this brilliant idea of  mine is probably a  non-starter.  In an era when school dress codes routinely forbid clothing with beer logos; and when governmental and societal opprobrium is directed towards breweries whose advertisements are viewed by too many teenagers, I’m afraid that a mascot like The Brewers would be far too controversial for any American high school to adopt. The consensus of public opinion seems to be that brewing and drinking beer are activities reserved for adults over the age of 21 and should not be promoted in any way to anyone younger.

Appropriate High School Mascot?

So far it still seems to be politically acceptable for a professional sports team to be called The Brewers.  At least I’m not aware of any outcry against the Major League baseball team with that name. The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, have finally succumbed to public pressure and announced that they will change their name.  Presumably other teams named for Native Americans can be expected to follow suit, meaning the eventual disappearance of the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks and San Francisco Warriors.   While fans of these teams may lament the loss of their beloved mascots, I can think of several precedents in my lifetime of professional sports teams that have changed their names to conform to prevailing attitudes of political correctness.  The Houston Colt .45s and the Washington Bullets respectively changed their names to Astros and Wizards to accommodate sensibilities about firearms.  The Cincinnati Reds became the Redlegs at the height of McCarthyism and then reverted back to Reds when the Red Scare had subsided.

It’s interesting to consider some of the team names that have so far escaped the crosshairs of public indignation.  The Raiders, Vikings, Pirates and Buccaneers celebrate rapists and murderers who pillaged, plundered and burned villages.  The Celtics’ logo is an ethnic caricature that might offend some people of Irish descent.  The Saints trivialize Christian eschatology and The Padres make a mockery of Roman Catholic clergy.  Cue the outrage.

Some of the schools that Priory played in sports have changed their mascots since I graduated. The teams from University City, not surprisingly,  are no longer the Indians, but are now the Lions.  In a switch that cannot be explained by political correctness, Chaminade changed the name of its teams from Flyers to Red Devils.  At the same time, some team names that might seem suspect remain unchanged.  Lutheran North (which was called Lutheran Central in my day) is still The Crusaders despite the protests about the statue of King Louis IX. And, most surprising of all, at least to me, is that John Burroughs is still The Bombers.

While I know several ARs who are alumni of Burroughs, none has given me an authoritative explanation of the mascot’s origins.  I had always assumed it was inspired by the aircraft like those that dropped bombs on Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and other enemy cities during the Second World War. Without confirming this speculation, no Burroughs alumnus or alumna I know has disputed it either.

By the time I was in high school any mention of Bombers evoked the threat by General Curtis LeMay to bomb North Vietnam back into the Stone Age.  The name later became associated in popular imagination with terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and the IRA and sociopaths like Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh.

If there’s a more benign explanation for the name Bombers, I’d be happy to hear it.  In the meantime, I think most ARs would agree that piloting airplanes in combat and dropping bombs on cities are activities reserved for adults, as are brewing and drinking  beer.  For some reason it’s appropriate for teenagers to celebrate one and be shielded from the other.

 

Tom Schlafly

Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery