Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Rebel flag controversy leads to resignation of long-time Fort Smith athletic director

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 4:17 PM

JIM ROWLAND
  • JIM ROWLAND
Fort Smith lawyer Joey McCutcheon's effort to restart the Civil War over a School Board decision to end use of a Rebel as the Southside High mascot led to the resignation last night of the Fort Smith School District's athletic director, Jim Rowland.

He went out with his head held high and some choice words for the turmoil McCutcheon continues to cause. The year has seen the defeat of two School Board members who thought it was time to end the racially inflammatory mascot; the retirement of an effective veteran superintendent, Benny Gooden, and now Rowland's departure. Will one man's bitter crusade to have the South Rise Again in Fort Smith? Time will tell.

But I'd like to memorialize some of the things Rowland said, as recorded by Chad Hunter of the Times Record.

"I don't want to make myself too important for sure, because I'm not," Rowland said. "But my goal tonight was to stop this controversy. This issue has been about a symbol, a mascot, and we're much, much more important than that."

... Rowland has supported the decision to retire the rebel and adopt "mavericks" as the new mascot.

"There is no doubt that change like this can be controversial," he said. "But in our case, we have seen one individual motivated by questionable motives, including a thirst for power and publicity, use the mascot issue to incite a small number of followers to turn a whole community against its school representatives."

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, a 1981 Southside graduate, is leading the charge for a rebel revival. Rebel supporters, Rowland said, have used social media "as the most vile weapon presenting half-truths, innuendoes and outright lies to discredit those who have worked long and hard to make a better school district."

"In all of my years as a coach and as an administrator, I've never seen such a poisonous atmosphere as there is in our school system at this time," he said.

His resignation was announced by football coach Jeff Williams, who said the only harder speech he'd ever given was at his father's funeral. Southside Principal Wayne Haver also lamented what's been said about Rowland, a 53-year coaching and administrative veteran, and others.

"He's accused me, Mr. Rowland and others of being 'yes' men because we've been loyal to our superintendent and the board and done what you've asked us to do," Haver said. "Well, he's got his 'yes' men, too. And he wants to get two more 'yes' men. He's going to be the puppet master who pulls the strings, and this city better wise up. We need to put a stop to this."
Haver got a standing ovation from the crowd.

McCutcheon, among other things, flew a banner over graduation promoting his Rebel cause.

A long-time friend notes that Rowland was a member of the Lost Class of '59 of Little Rock schools. He'd started at Central, transferred to Hall when it opened in his 11th grade year but then was scattered with the rest of Little Rock seniors in 58-59 when the desegregation crisis closed the schools. Some small irony that a Confederate idolator brought him to grief at the end of a fine career.

Here's a link to video of the full board meeting. The public comments come in the second half. Lots of them. Emotional. Grown men crying.

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