FORT SMITH (KFSM) – After 53 years in the Fort Smith school system, athletic director Jim Rowland has resigned.
Rowland, who took the position in 1991, led both Northside and Southside athletics for 25 years before handing in his resignation on Monday (May 23).
Rowland resigned amid a mascot change that will take affect at Southside this fall. Tensions have continued to rise over the change of the current mascot ‘Rebels’ to ‘Mavericks’, which will take affect at the start of the 2016-17 school year.
“This is issue has been about a symbol, a mascot and we’re much more important than that,” Rowland said. “I felt like it was necessary for me as director of athletics and student activities to step up and say what I think is right. And I appreciate all my coaches being here tonight. I didn’t ask any…I didn’t even know they were going to be here. It’s not about Jim Rowland. It’s about the Fort Smith Public Schools. We’ve had the best superintendent, Dr. Benny Gooden, for the last 30 years, and he is outstanding. We couldn’t get a better superintendent than Benny Gooden. And I just think that that statement had to be made and we need to put this thing behind us, and go forth and do what we’re capable of doing in Fort Smith, Arkansas.”
The school board asked Rowland to reconsider his resignation.
“I’ve prayed about it and dreamed about it,” Rowland said. “I think too much of this school system for it to continue to have strife in it. We’re better than that, and I just couldn’t see that continue to happen without sending the message that we need to get with the program, and we need to do what is right. That’s what all this is about. It’s not about me, I want to emphasize that. It’s about our school system and the programs that we have to offer. We are a 14,000 diverse school district that meets the needs of every single student in our school system. We have some of the best programs that you can have. We have a great choral music program, band program, great athletic program, great academic program. And we don’t want to go backwards in that. And that’s what this is all about.”
During the school board meeting, some school officials pointed their anger in the direction of Fort Smith Lawyer Joey McCutchen, who has been outspoken against the board’s approved mascot change. Many would say McCutchen lead the charge in trying to reverse the decision. McCutchen said he would like to see the decision be put before voters in a special election.
“I think I’ve taken that role because I think a lot of people particularly on this side of the issue are really really scared to speak out. They’re scared they are going to be called racist. I think in our nation we’ve got political correctness that has taken hold and we’ve got to have everyone included at the table. Just because it offends someone, because it offends one person that doesn’t mean you take it away,” he said.
McCutchen spoke out about the board meeting.
“I want to thank coach Rowland for his years of service. He means a lot to me and he has been a mentor to me. I want to wish him well in his retirement,” McCutchen said. “The school board meeting last night, it just seemed to me it was a well orchestrated attempt to divert attention to Joey McCutchen. When I think the voters are smarter than that and thousands of people are behind the Rebel, and we all know it’s not racist. It’s part of our heritage.”
McCutchen said he met with Rowland days before the school board meeting in an effort to ask the athletic director to be a mediator on the mascot issue.
Rowland was inducted into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.