The mascot at Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond’s West End is no longer the Rebels, and a team of Brandcenter students are behind the creation of a new, more inclusive team name: the Mavericks.
In June 2020, Freeman High School made the decision to change their school nickname/mascot from “the Rebels” to something that better reflects the Freeman community. For many, the name—a nickname for Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War—evokes a negative association and has been a polarizing subject for years. The school leadership aimed to match the core values of the Freeman students and community: Family, Pride, Excellence, Intensity, Diversity, Community, Independence, Tradition and Leadership.
Freeman High School, which opened in 1954, isn't alone in its decision to move away from a controversial identity; from universities to pro sports teams, much of the country is reexamining names steeped in problematic history.
The Freeman administration reached out to the Brandcenter at VCU for assistance on the identity development, which ultimately sparked a multi-month volunteer project for a team of nine students: Hamza Ali (AD, 2021), Hannah Berling (AD, 2021), Matthew Cavallo (AD, 2021), Hunter Mott (ST, 2021), Joseph Mrava (XD, 2021), Ellie Proctor (CBM, 2021), Charlotte Robins (ST, 2021), Allison Weiner (ST, 2021) and Amanda Yoon (CBM, 2021).
The cross-concentration team was also supported by two volunteer mentors who are alums from both Freeman High School and the Brandcenter: Steven Ebert (ST, 2016), Lead Strategist at Sylvain Labs New York, and Newman Granger (ST, 2015), Strategy Director at Wieden + Kennedy New York.
In September, Brandcenter Strategy students started the project by conducting a significant amount of research: interviews, focus groups, an online survey, and more with Freeman students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.
“Names and mascots matter,” says Allison Weiner (ST, 2021). “They need to reflect and include the people inside of them. One stakeholder quote rings the truest: ‘No one at Freeman is included until we all are.’ This brought about a new opportunity to rename the mascot but not strip Freeman of its values and tradition.”
From their research, the students developed four name options—the Pioneers, Mavericks, Trailblazers and Freeman United—which the Freeman principal opened up for a vote amongst Freeman students.
“After speaking with the students, one thing that really stuck out to me is that Freeman has a nickname, not a mascot,” says Charlotte Robins (ST, 2021). “They don't have someone in a costume running around the field during games. Because of this, they feel as though the nickname was a bonding element to their already tight-knit community. The students personally feel like THEY are the school's identity. They are passionate about the diversity of the community, so this project was extremely important to them so that everyone feels safe and included.”
The top two nicknames—the Mavericks and the Trailblazers—were given a series of design treatments by Brandcenter art directors and designers.
Freeman High School student and administrative leaders made the final name and logo selection in early November. They chose the Mavericks: someone who stands apart from the crowd, leads, and shows independence in thought and action.
The new identity was unveiled to the Freeman community via a Freeman-family video on November 12. In the video, students define Mavericks as individuals who stand up to the status quo to champion innovation, forward-thinking and inclusion.
“I hope this change brings the students and community closer, and that no one feels alienated,” says Matt Cavallo (AD, 2021). “I want the Freeman community to be proud to wear this for years. I know there was a lot of disagreement surrounding the identity change. I’m not expecting everyone to become happy overnight, but in time I know that the Mavericks identity we created for Freeman will resonate with the entire student body and the greater community.”