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Refugio ISD responds to 'Dixie' controversy

Austin Ochoa of the Refugio Bobcats
Refugio football
Posted at 12:24 PM, Nov 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-27 23:03:45-05

Refugio High School alum John Bland II said when he saw the statement from the Refugio Independent School District about its 5-2 vote to keep "Dixie" as its fight song, his first thought was that "they still don't get it."

The statement was released late Wednesday morning in response to opposition by a local group, to which Bland belongs.

It reads: "For decades students and graduates of Refugio High School have united behind the fight song Dixie," it reads. "Recently, the District has received several inquiries about the continued use of the fight song and recognizes that it holds different meaning for some within our diverse student body and community. To most students and alumni, the tune has been a source of school pride and unity. In the eyes of the District, the song has no other application.

"In the months to come, the District will consult with stakeholders, including current students, regarding the use of the song Dixie. In the interim, the District encourages our community and alumni to unite in support of our students and players who have worked tirelessly to advance to the next round of the UIL 2A Division 1 playoffs and not let negative discourse on social media serve as a distraction."

The release then invites people to attend the football team's playoff game at 7:30 p.m. against Shiner at Converse's Judson Stadium, outside San Antonio.

Bland said the school is pushing a narrative.

"They focus on Refugio High School being a place that rallies behind the song," he said. "We grew up with a sense of 'Dixie' pride because we were told to. We were never aware of what it means when we were in school."

By 4:30 p.m., the post was no longer visible on the district's Facebook page.

The issue has caused debate in the Refugio community. The high school football team, ranked the No. 1 team in the state in Class 2A, has a significant number of black and Latino players. Some football team parents are threatening to keep their student-athletes out of Friday's game.

"Dixie" has long been associated with racism and the confederacy. It was composed in 1859 as a minstrel show, a popular form of entertainment in the day in which white actors wore blackface. It has been called the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, and was featured in the 1915 movie "The Birth of a Nation," which is credited with rekindling the Ku Klux Klan.

The University of Mississippi, whose Pride of the South Band had played the song and become synonymous with it since 1948, stopped playing it in 2016.

The Refugio High School band hasn't performed the song in three weeks, in order to allow a decision to be made. It reportedly is played when the Bobcats score a touchdown, but it is unknown whether the band will play it during Friday's game.

To Bland, a member of the Class of 1998, trying to paint "Dixie" as unifying is disingenuous.

"Young minorities are playing a song that represents their repression," he said.

Bland lives in Houston. He drove into Refugio on Monday night for the school board meeting, and drove back home after.

He's heard people say it's not his business, because he doesn't live in Refugio anymore, but he still has family who live in Refugio and attend its schools. He said he and his wife have long wanted to move back to the town where they both grew up, but won't do it while they have school-age children.

"It's not just for us," he said. "We have to fight for the next generation. My family is enough for me to fight."