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Owen County Historical Soceity: ‘Rebel Fight Song’ has roots in the 1950s

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By Bonnie Strassell

“They always call our boys the Rebels
They fight, fight to the end
They can dribble fast or slow
Give them the ball and just look at them go
Hip Hip Hooray for Owen County Rebels
They’re gonna win it tonight
So give a great big cheer
For the heroes of the year
For Owen County High”

For 60 years the Rebel Fight Song has reverberated from the walls of gymnasiums. For a few years less, it has echoed across baseball diamonds and football fields.
Most Owen countians know the song, and it isn’t unusual to hear even the youngest members of families belt out a chorus or two.
Like all Owen County history, the Rebel Fight Song has its own story to tell; and its tune and lyrics harken back to the 1950s.
Many changes took place in Owen County during the 1950’s. As the decade materialized, war with North Korea created a patriotic fervor among Owen countians who stepped up and volunteered their services.
Though rationing was not in affect, from time to time The News-Herald  published a long list of Owen servicemen and asked that the people of the county donate a pint of blood for the injured in Korea.
Indicative of the extreme cold in Korea at that time, many of our soldiers suffered frostbite along with their other injuries.
The Owen County farming scene also changed in the 50s as much of the hand labor, especially relating to the planting of tobacco, was a thing of the past.
Farm machinery and fertilizers added to productivity; and in 1955 the of Eden Shale Area Test Farm was exciting news for area farmers.
Educational opportunities for young people flourished, and to achieve a better cohesive bond between communities, as well as being cost effective, the three remaining Owen County high schools consolidated in 1952. The schools, Bethany, New Liberty, and Owenton, merged into one school: Owenton High School.
Cyrus Greene was the principal and met with the student council for the purpose of choosing school colors, a name for the athletic team (which at that time was just a basketball team), and a school song.
The junior class had been studying the Civil War, and inspired by Stephen Crane’s book Red Badge of Courage, one student suggested the name “Rebels.”  Mr. Gwillin, who was the  junior class English teacher, homeroom teacher, and class advisor, was a motivating force behind Owenton High School’s first years of operation. He was young and energetic and breathed life and energy into the whole student body.
When the junior class became seniors they dedicated their year book, The Southerner, to this devoted teacher, lovingly referred to as “Buddy” Gwillin.
Originally the colors for the school were old rose and gray, but somewhere along the line the old rose evolved into maroon, the color sported by all the Owen County High School teams today.
They lyrics for the school song – The Rebel Fight Song – were composed by two Owenton High School cheerleaders. One of those cheerleaders, Willetta Hawkins lives in Frankfort and remembers helping write those timeless words. It is most likely that Marvin Stewart, who was music director of the school at that time, set the words to music.
My thanks to Liz Dunavent, Gene Allen Thomas, and all the other contributors whose combined memories afforded us a glimpse into the first years of Owen County High School. Today Owen County High School colors, team name, and The Rebel Fight Song, serve as a reminder of some of the most poignant memories cherished by so many Owen countians.
The historical society is asking for help from the public in locating someone who would be experienced in placing UV coating on windows. We have many artifacts and pictures in the museum which should be protected from the effects of UV light. If you can help please call the museum at 502-484-2529.
The historical society is excited to announce the addition of a genealogist and family researcher to our museum staff of volunteers. Christie Kennedy will be available at the museum on Wednesdays from 10-3 to help anyone find information on his/her ancestors.
An important board meeting will be held tomorrow evening at the I.O.O.F. hall. All board members and committee chairpersons are asked to attend.