Hey Reb

Something (or rather, someone) caught my eye last night as I watched the NCAA men’s basketball game between Illinois and UNLV on TV (the Fighting Illini won, for those who missed it!).

The “Rebels” of UNLV have a mascot that looks amazingly like Ole Miss’s Colonel Reb!

How is it possible that this school of more than 28,000 students located hundreds of miles from the Deep South can still have a Confederate-based mascot and Ole Miss had to ban ours?

So I did some research. “Hey Reb” debuted in 1983 and underwent several makeovers. Today, he wears UNLV’s school colors of scarlet and gray, a Confederate gray hat, and has a flowing white handlebar mustache. He even was named one of 12 All-American mascots.

UNLV got its start in the 1950s as an extension campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1965, it became Nevada Southern University, adopting the “Rebels” name and Confederate-styled symbols as a way of breaking free from its northern neighbor. Its first mascot was Beauregard, a winking Confederate-styled cartoon wolf that played opposite to UNR’s Wolf Pack mascot.

Beauregard was ditched in the 1970s after a group of black athletes complained about its connection with the wrong side of the Civil War. The student senate selected the human “Hey Reb” mascot and it stuck, sending UNLV to the top in college apparel licensing in 10 years.

I hate to belabor the point, but it’s all about Tradition.

Obviously, a cartoony college mascot dancing on the sidelines of an athletic event isn’t a big deal in the overall scheme of things. Not when you consider all the grave events taking place in our world today.

But that mascot symbolizes something to past and present students. It unifies them the way songs and slang unify generations.

Outsiders have a right to dislike a school’s mascot, but does any outsider have a right to strip an institution of its long-held, much-loved traditions?

I think not.

Ole Miss’s new mascot

For those who haven’t heard, my alma mater Ole Miss has a new mascot, a black bear.

bear mascots

A bear? In Mississippi?

Yes, or so they say. Biologists estimate the number of black bears in Mississippi at 50 (max). This, despite the high density of black bears a century ago — witness Teddy Roosevelt’s “saving” a black bear while hunting in Sharkey County.

The bear is also a reference to native son William Faulkner’s short story of that name — but Faulkner’s bear has a ferocious and growling personality when black bears tend to be shy and easily frightened. Great, just what Ole Miss needs — a scaredy-cat mascot.

The rest of the SEC must be trembling in their boots.

And personality is just one of the problems with this mascot “election” and “selection”. Here are some more:

  • The Administration says the bear was chosen by vote of students, alumni, faculty, and staff. However, only 13,000 or so votes were cast, meaning most either didn’t like any of the options or refused to have anything to do with a “rigged” contest. Col. Reb (the school’s mascot since the 1930s) wasn’t even one of the choices!
  • The Administration says Colonel Reb was too representative of the “Old South.” However, it’s really a stretch to see any of the three contestants — bear, land shark, and two “Muppet-like” creatures to be known as Hotty and Toddy — as prototypes of the “New South.”
  • The Administration says Colonel Reb made recruiting of African-American students difficult. However, even as far back as 1996, the Ole Miss faculty was 20 percent black, and in 2002, black student enrollment totaled nearly 13 percent, mirroring that of the nation itself.
  • The Administration says Colonel Reb is offensive. However, historians say the Colonel was modeled after a black man, Black Jim Ivy. Ivy was a fixture on the campus from 1896 until his death in 1955.
  • The Administration says the monikers “Ole Miss” and “Rebels” will remain. However, there is growing sentiment that they, like Col. Reb, will be brought to a slow (or swift) death. As one student was quoted, It doesn’t make sense to call ourselves the Rebels and have a bear mascot on the field.

The backlash against this change has already started (and only threatens to increase). A “Save Col. Reb” petition is out there, as is a “Save Col. Reb” Facebook page and a Colonel Reb Foundation. One alum has posted his plea on YouTube; a Col. Reb is My Mascot tribute video is available as well.

Count me in! Whatever it takes, we need to stand tough together to STOP this brick-by-brick eroding of our traditions. Without our nickname, our songs, our mascots, our flag, what’s to differentiate Ole Miss from any other public university in the nation?

Who’s the mascot for anyway? The students. And if the students are so solidly behind Col. Reb, so be it.

I don’t think any of us can count on the suggestion that, if the black bear fails to garner support, the Administration will have to reinstate Col. Reb. More likely, they’ll simply leave us mascot-less, the way we’ve been for too many years already.

But why should we force the students to fight this battle alone? Perhaps it’s time for alumni to join in — and, in this age of shrinking state funding, hitting the university in its wallet via a cutback on donations is the best way I know how.

So what do you think, Rebels? ARE YOU READY???

Col. Reb, Ole Miss

Save Colonel Reb!

Don’t Kill Ole Miss!

I received something in my e-mail this morning and am still distressed over it.

It seems my alma mater, Ole Miss, hasn’t had a mascot on its athletic fields since 2003. That’s going on a decade, people!

We used to be the Rebels. Our mascot was a white-haired, suited-up Southern gentleman called Colonel Reb. Our main fight songs were “Dixie” and “Rebel March.” Our flag was the flag of the Confederacy.

So much has changed since I was a student.

And it’s not for the better.

Now I realize in this politically correct culture that certain things had to go by the wayside, but everything?

If I — raised in the North — could rally behind Southern traditions, could embrace them whole-heartedly, could (in short time) fall in love with this university, then anybody could.

Those who can’t should choose another school — period — rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

A similar thing happened at the University of Illinois a few years back when a very adamant minority convinced the administration that Chief Illiniwek, their student-portrayed Sioux mascot, was “offensive” and “racist.”

I didn’t think so. Still don’t.

But they banned the Chief, leaving the Illini without a mascot.

Just like us Rebels.

Recently, I received an online survey asking me to weigh in on the list of proposed mascots someone had come up with to represent Ole Miss. Talk about a joke! Who in their right mind could rally behind a horse or a lion or two goofy thing-a-ma-bobs named “Hotty” and “Toddy,” for cryin’ out loud??

It infuriates me that this great university has fallen to such depths. No wonder enrollment is down. No wonder students don’t feel any camaraderie there. No wonder alumni are frustrated and frantically searching for ways to inject life into an institution they love.

Some students at Ole Miss have even begun a campaign to select Admiral Ackbar as mascot. He’s got lasers, they say. True, but he’s also this gosh-awful ugly catfish-looking creature from Star Wars.

You can’t blame the kids for trying, but why mess with a good thing?

I don’t believe students choose a university based on its mascot. Nor do I believe they refuse to attend a university based on its mascot. Just take a look at some of the silly mascots on college football fields today — mules at West Point, blue devils at Duke, Stanford’s tree, Syracuse’s orange, the Ohio State buckeye.

Still, there’s something to be said for Tradition. Something to be gained by binding generation after generation with the same songs, cheers, mascots, and symbols.

Something to be mourned when traditions die.

Those who seek to abolish all traces of what Ole Miss stands for need to be stopped in their tracks.

And the only way I can think of to stop them is by hitting them where it hurts — their wallets.

So the next time that perky student calls to ask for your donation, politely tell them ‘No, not until today’s Ole Miss returns to the glory that was Ole Miss.’

HOTTY TODDY!!! GO REBELS!!