For a good many years, Fairfax High School's student mascot was a Confederate soldier who wore a forage cap, carried a red and blue battle flag, and was known as "Johnny Reb."
Not everybody, of course, could relate to Johnny Reb. Black students, in particular, complained that Johnny Reb reminded them of the days of slavery.
Finally, this year, Principal Harry Holsinger decided students should choose a new symbol, one in which everybody could have pride.
Johnny Reb is going down the tubes, but apparently not without a fight.
Members of "The Fairfax Citizens For Johnny Reb" are planning a rally at the school tonight, to which they hope to draw student, alumni and citizen supporters.
"This is America," said Lou Frank, chairman of Fairfax Citizens for Johnny Reb. "People express their views." He complained that the community wasn't consulted on dropping the mascot, and neither were most of the students.
Richard Powell, an alumnus, said Johnny Reb isn't racist. "This little guy stands for bravery and fight on the football field and basketball court," he said. It is, he insisted, a question of tradition.
But Glenwood P. Roane, president of the Fairfax branch of the NAACP, said the symbol discourages black students from participating in school activities.
"We know we have a tradition of segregation and discrimination in Virginia," Roane said. "There's no reason for that to continue ad infinitum."
It didn't help, he said, that Johnny Reb's battle flag colors were changed in 1978 to blue and grey. "It's still the symbol of a Confederate flag. Even if they painted it green, black and red, the symbolic Black revolutionary colors, it would still be offensive to us."
Student feelings are mixed, but they say the issue is not as important as getting into college or finding summer jobs. Already, the "Confederettes" have been changed to "The Drill Team," and the only official school uniforms that depict Johnny Reb are the freshman basketball warm-up jackets.
"I don't think it's offensive to anybody," said Justin Ross, 17. "It has been around for 50 years. If they wanted to change it, they should have changed it 50 years ago."
Angela Tucker, 16, said Johnny Reb offends whites as well as blacks. "There are people who feel strongly about it, but they're rednecks, so you can't pay too much attention."
The Johnny Reb issue resurfaced recently during discussions with parents on how to improve minority achievement, a top School Board priority.
School Superintendent Robert Spillane recommended the elimination of any symbol that might be construed as racist, but left the final decision to Principal Holsinger.
Holsinger plans to hold a student competition to pick a new mascot. Whatever the mascot is, there's some feeling it will have to reflect the spirit of Fairfax High School's athletic teams. They're "The Rebels."