Kelowna school retires team name, adopts less controversial ‘Thunder’

A Kelowna school’s team name is being retired in favour of something that has less controversial associations.

The Rutland Senior Secondary Voodoos will now be the Rutland Thunder, a change that students and school officials say has been a long time coming.

The Voodoo moniker has been in place since the ’60s. The name was a nod to a Canadian warplane but it is more readily associated with an Afro-Caribbean belief system. Notably, school’s mascot was a caricature of a witch doctor from the latter, though many just called it “the pineapple guy” because it bore a striking resemblance to the fruit.

Around 2017, rumblings about the name and mascot’s appropriateness started to make the rounds among the student body, and they got teachers on the same page.

“A number of students came to me expressing concern about the appropriateness of the school mascot, so I was of the mind to learn more,” principal Hugh Alexander said. “Therein started the education of the adults at the bidding of the students.”

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Alexander said teachers and parents learned how the term voodoo, a corruption of a word that represented a Haitian religion, was co-opted as far back as the U.S. Civil War by those who opposed emancipation and the extension of voting rights to people of African descent.

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It wasn’t the first or last time the term voodoo was used to disparage and undermine Afro-Carribean people.  The fearsome images the word conjures are even why the Canadian military named some of their warplanes such, Alexander said.

When a better understanding of the word, related imagery and how it’s been used came to light, the decision to change was imminent. The pandemic, however, scuttled the process until Monday when a vote was made.

A vote was undertaken and Thunder was adopted.

“It was really exciting for students to drive a change that will shape the identity of our school,” said Katrina Graham, Grad Council Vice-President and one of the students who made the announcement.

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Graham said that the good thing about thunder is, while you can’t see it, “it’s loud and you know it’s something big.”

She said the concept is adaptable and can be extended beyond sports teams to other groups, like the choir.

Thunder is a popular name in B.C. sports. According to the app, TeamSnap, more youth soccer teams are named Thunder than in any other sport. Close to 10,000 teams registered on TeamSnap are using Thunder as their nickname and B.C. has more teams using Thunder as its team than any other province in Canada.

While the appeal of the name is widespread, the mascot may be unique.

Alexander said that the teachers and the students are looking forward to coming up with something new.

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