First, Dixie M. Hollins High eliminated any symbolism tied to the Confederacy, including the removal of the Colonel character as a mascot. Then the school redesigned its logo, eliminating any full reference to the Rebels nickname.
Last week, school administrators, in response to student advocacy, took their most dramatic step, dropping Dixie from the name and retiring the Rebels moniker.
The official name of the school still is Dixie M. Hollins High, but administrators and district officials are referring to it as Hollins High. The makeover includes a new nickname with Royals replacing Rebels as the official mascot.
The faculty was notified of the decisions this past week. A formal announcement will be made once students start classes on Aug. 24.
Still, the school wasted little time in remaking the school’s image with signage, social media pages and athletic uniforms already being modified to reflect the changes.
These latest moves come a month after students at the school started a petition asking principal Robert Florio, Pinellas County superintendent Michael Grego and the Pinellas County School Board to change the name and the mascot of the school. The petition has more than 800 signatures.
Florio acknowledged the request and a pair of meetings with student leaders at the school to discuss what moves could be made.
“This was something that was always at the forefront for me,” Florio said. “We had already eradicated most of the Confederate symbols, including many that belonged with the Rebels mascot, so there was not much for the students to rally around.
“I just felt with all the social unrest that was happening and with so many young people being active, the time was now to make this happen. I wanted to make sure this was student-led and they were unanimous with wanting to move forward with the changes.”
There also was plenty of alumni who wanted the name and the mascot to remain. Last month, an online poll done by Prime Time Preps showed overwhelming support of keeping things status quo with 858 voting for no changes and 98 voting in favor of making them.
“I’m sure there was some reticence, some reluctance among alumni, many of whom grew up with the name and the mascot,” Florio said. “We were never on board with eliminating the school name. It’s still there and people with yearbooks and other memories can still call the school by whatever name makes them feel comfortable.
“But as long as Dixie and Rebels were still tied to the school it was always going to be linked to the Confederacy no matter how many changes we made. So we had to move forward, for our current and future students.”
The school, which opened in 1959, was initially called Northwest High but was soon changed to honor Dixie Martin Hollins, the first superintendent of Pinellas County Schools. He championed the rights of Black students and his estate still contributes to the school’s music program.
In the 1970s, the school was embroiled in civil unrest because of integration and a school ban on the use of the confederate flag. For years, locals referred to the school as Dixie and the athletic teams as the Dixie Rebels.
Jen Cox, the great-granddaughter of Dixie Hollins, supported the name change and talked Florio, as well as the school board, about ways the family can help.
The petition, which has more than 800 signatures, asked to get rid of the first name as “a way to still honor the man the school is named after while still cutting off the deep-rooted hatred attached to the symbols the school currently uses.”
Florio also stressed the changes help highlight the legacy of Dixie M. Hollins rather than diminish it.
“We want to accentuate the positives of our founder, who was a very progressive, forward-thinking leader,” Florio said.
Dixie Hollins is one of just two public high schools in Pinellas County named after someone. In nearly every local and national instance where schools are named after an individual, the references are to the last name. Take Gibbs High, which is named Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, a black man who was Superintendent of Public Instruction and Secretary of State in Florida during the Reconstruction era.
The students also wanted a different nickname, something “with less controversial tones (that) would help push the school in the right direction. All of this is an attempt to portray our school in the best light possible and to acknowledge the current activist movements.”
The recent changes at Dixie Hollins reflected a wholesale rejection of Confederate iconography.
The only things that remained were “Dixie” and “Rebels”.
The references are gone, too, from a school that now calls itself the Hollins Royals.
“I think the changes give the school some new life,” Florio said. “Hollins Royals sounds more like an academy or a boarding school you would find in Connecticut. There’s some sophistication to it.”