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Walpole Rebel: A History of Its Confederate Connections

February 8, 2009

Part 1

In late 1993, a little-known 1971 Walpole High School alumnus named Mike Amaral wrote a letter to The Walpole Times. In it, he expressed his concern over an issue that had “bothered” him since his high school years. “The subject,” he wrote, “is the use of the Confederate flag as a standard to represent Walpole High School and its sports teams.”

At the time Amaral was writing the letter, students were in the habit of waving Confederate flags at Walpole sporting events, a practice that still goes on today. “I guess what bothers me is that I still feel as I did 25 years ago…the Confederate flag represents the symbol of a failed attempt to break with our Union as created by the fathers of this country, and also as the symbol of a state which did not recognize that all men are created equal,” Amaral wrote in his letter. “It was and still is inappropriate to use it as the logo for a public school such as Walpole High,” he went on.

Amaral, who still feels the way he did when writing this letter, maintains a blog where he tries to lay out the case for changing the name of Walpole’s sports teams to something other than the Rebels. Amaral is passionate about his case, and he writes compelling arguments: “By maintaining the cartoon likeness of a “gun-totin’ Reb” on the stone on the high school lawn and calling it’s mascot “Rebels”, all the while saying “we don’t wave the Confederate flag” when in fact that is the roots of the Rebel name in Walpole, mocks Confederate history and Walpole’s own contribution during the Civil War, when squads of Walpole men helped in ‘…Maintaining the Union and Freeing an Oppressed Race…’.”

At the time Walpole sports teams were first named the Rebels, the name was chosen innocently and without regard or connection to the Confederacy. The “Hilltoppers,” as Walpole sports teams were known, apparently became an old and boring name by 1965, and a contest was held to determine a new name for Walpole’s athletic program. The term “Rebels” was chosen, and at first no Confederate flags were used as symbols and no Southern references were used in Walpole. However, as Betsie Tarbell Smith, a 1968 Walpole High graduate, recounted in a letter to The Walpole Times in 1994, “the Rebel flag came later when one of the custodians gave one to my friends and me since we were at all the games. It was to promote school spirit, nothing else.”

In 1993, then-Walpole School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Cibotti, told the Walpole school committee that in 1968, when John Lee became head coach of the Walpole High School Football team, “the newspapers started calling the team General Lee’s Rebels and shortly thereafter, the Confederate flag came into use.” Lee, who had previously played football at and coached at the University of Memphis (in the South) brought a Walpole Rebel football team in disarray out of the dust and into glory, going .500 his first year there. Confederate flags were being waved and the song “Dixie” was being performed at sporting events. As the Walpole football team became even more powerful, this continued well into the 1980s.

In 1988, however, a NEASC visiting committee, as part of the 10-year accreditation process, made a visit to Walpole High. Their report indicated they were concerned about the use of the Confederate flag. A quote from their report reads: “Although the football team’s use of the symbol of the Confederate flag may not be in the visiting committee’s jurisdiction for evaluation, the committee felt that it should comment. Regardless of how innocently the symbol evolved, or even if the community of Walpole looks upon it as a symbol of pride, spirit, and unity, the use of the Confederate flag may be inappropriate due to its historical ramifications.” It was it this point that all Confederate symbols were removed from Walpole athletic uniforms and apparel, although apparently Confederate flags still were waved at Walpole sports games, and continue to be waved to this day.

Part 2 will be published on this blog at a later date in the near future.

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