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The Mascot That Just Won’t Die

By Sandra Knispel | Published 26 Sep 2011 08:39am | comments
Banished from the sidelines at Ole Miss in 2003, Col. Reb just won't fade away, with ardent fans mounting yet another initiative to resurrect their beloved mascot.

With their third loss in four games and yet another initiative to bring the old mascot back, the University of Mississippi’s football season is off to a rough start. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has more from Oxford.

It looked like a typical football weekend with seas of red: the Grove filled to the brim with party tents and elegant fans and a Colonel Reb impersonator walking amidst the crowd. Yep, the old mascot who was banished from the sidelines in 2003 and replaced last year with the Rebel Black Bear, still has his ardent fans, unwilling to let go.

“We felt that it was extremely unfair, and un-American and undemocratic for the obvious frontrunner, Col. Reb, to be forcibly left off the ballot in the university election of October 2010. “

Arthur Randallson, a Southern Studies graduate student from Southaven is the director of the new Colonel Reb Political Action Committee.

“So, once we realized the injustice that had occurred to the tradition and heritage of this noble institution, the only way to save this bit of our heritage was to take it to a statewide vote after Col. Reb was unfairly kept off the ballot," says Randallson.

The idea is to get the issue as a special initiative onto a statewide ballot to amend the Mississippi Constitution, making Col. Reb the university’s mascot in perpetuity. To get there, the action committee needs the signatures of roughly 100,000 registered Mississippi voters. Brian Calton, a propane gas driver from Iuka just put his signature on the list.

"It’s always been that since I was a kid. Coming up here and stuff and going to the football games," Calton says. "It’s always been Col. Reb. It ain’t never been a black bear. And why change it?”

But Reed Gilbow, a Physics and Spanish senior at the Honors College, opposes the idea on principle.

“I believe that creating a constitutional amendment to force the university to use Col. Reb as a mascot, even though the University of Mississippi is a state university, it would contradict the auspices of autonomy that universities need in order to operate in an academic setting.”

Initiatives that seek to change the Mississippi State Constitution have been rare. That is, until now. This November, voters have no fewer than three before them – personhood, eminent domain, and voter ID. But to get onto the ballot the Col. Reb PAC has to get enough backers, says Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

“You have to obtain 12 percent of the vote for the last gubernatorial election and you have to obtain that from five different congressional districts – the old five," Hoseman explains.

Meanwhile, at Rebel Bookstore just off the Square in Oxford, manager Richard Lowe, despite extensive stockpiling last year, is quickly running out of Col. Reb merchandise, which companies are no longer allowed to produce.

Reporter: “So, in hind sight, do you wish you had bought more?” Lowe: “Sure, yes!” Reporter: “It’s hurting the bottom line, is it?” Lowe: “It will once all this is gone. I mean we’ll still have University of Mississippi items but the Col. Reb merchandise has been, you know, [a] hot mover.”

Not that he could sell the new stuff. To date, no Rebel Black Bear merchandise has arrived in stores. That’s left those fans empty handed who actually have embraced the university’s attempt to change its public face – away from an old geezer who some say looks like a white plantation owner of the Old South to a more modern, racially neutral mascot. Michael Thompson is the university’s senior associate athletics director of communication marketing.

“We’ve been patiently waiting to get our marks, our new logos put through licensing as well as legal and trademark and there’s just a lot of back-end stuff that has to be done," Thompson says. "You will start to see more items, merchandise, apparel, gifts and things like, that that are very much geared at children, starting with the next month of two.”

Meanwhile just to pour oil onto the flames, the football team’s poor season start has caused another fan group to take out whole page adds in newspapers across the state, demanding essentially that the Ole Miss administration be fired. Again Thompson.

“It’s just not good for Ole Miss. Dragging the Ole Miss name through the mud like that is just not healthy for any brand.”

Clearly, whoever said “it’s just a game” did not know any Ole Miss fans.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.

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Banished from the sidelines at Ole Miss in 2003, Col. Reb just won't fade away, with ardent fans mounting yet another initiative to resurrect their beloved mascot.


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