Southeast Missouri State University student publication

The forgotten face of one SEMO athletics mascot

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
SEMO Red cheers teams on with the crowd at a game at the Show Me Center in 1988. Michael Benz portrayed the mascot SEMO Red in 1988 while he attended Southeast Missouri State University.
Photo courtesy of SEMO Archives

Many people know Southeast Missouri State University’s mascot used to be the Indians and then changed to the Redhawks, but in the 1980s, the university’s mascot saw a few changes to its face.

By 1985, a national outcry against using Indians as a mascot made its way to the SEMO campus, and efforts began to transition to a more socially-acceptable mascot. SEMO Red, a man with a large yellow head who wore a baseball cap covering bright red hair, a tracksuit, and began cheering on SEMO athletes.

SEMO 1987 alum Michael Benz found himself behind SEMO Red’s mask after the person who originally acted as the mascot was sidelined with an injury. Benz said when he was serving as Student Government Association president, a university official asked him if he could fill in for the role, and Benz agreed to step into the suit.

Benz said he took on the role for a “solid two and a half years.” He said he remembers the change from Indian to Red took place during his first semester at the university.

“I remember someone going through the stands, acting like he was scalping people and someone put the brakes on and said let's not do that,” Benz said.

After taking his role as SEMO Red, Benz said he would attend one or two home games a week, depending on travel. Compared to mascots like Rowdy the Redhawk, where three different people in rotation put on the costume, Benz said there wasn't a rotating cast of mascots.

“Just me,” he said.

He toured with various Southeast’s athletic teams, seeing some make it to the Final Four. Benz noted the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., was the largest venue he attended with the basketball team.

Through all of his home games and touring, Benz had many memorable moments, one specifically involving a rival team's mascot. He said the mood of a game changed when the Cheney State Red Wolf started to get rough with SEMO Red.

SEMO Red and the cheerleading team pose for a photo on the field at Houck Stadium.
Photo courtesy of SEMO Archives

“He just came over there, and he just started messing with me,” Benz said. “Next thing I know, he punches, and I'm like, ‘Dude, what's up?’”

Benz said there wasn't a lot of padding in the suit besides the big head, which also held a cooling fan powered by eight D-sized batteries. Benz said the fan and the batteries made the suit very heavy, which caused him to be “outmaneuvered” by the rival team’s mascot.

“The band actually stopped playing to come over and pull him off of me, because they could see he was getting too rough,” Benz said. “I wasn't hurt or anything like that, but he was too rough, you know. It wasn't just play stuff.”

Although he was exhausted after his appearances at games, Benz said it was fun.

After Benz’s time as mascot, the university went through other mascot changes, including one named Thunderbird and time without a mascot.

According to a Southeast Arrow article, SEMO couldn’t seem to find its face for a while after changing their Indian mascot.

“For 15 years, the campus was left without a mascot to represent the athletic teams and university. The brand itself was a mixture of Native American nicknames without matching symbols,” the article stated.

A 1996 Southeast Missourian article stated the university was in search of a mascot after moving away from both SEMO Red and Thunderbird.

SEMO Red lines up for a picture with with the Southeast Missouri State cheer team in front of the Show Me Center.
Photo courtesy of SEMO Archives

“After abandoning its traditional Indian chief and princess mascots 10 years ago, the school experimented with two other mascots. Both proved unpopular and were quickly dropped,” the article stated. The search for a mascot led to the unveiling of a new bird in 2005.

SEMO graduate and assistant director for International Student Services Brooke DeArman became the first Rowdy the Redhawk during her sophomore year in January 2005. DeArman said she remembers the night she debuted as the new mascot to the community at the Show Me Center.

“Everybody wanted to see what does this new mascot look like,” Dearman said. “We had choreographed all this stuff and the cheerleaders raised me up.”

DeArman said she recalls birthday celebrations for Rowdy that featured the mascot appearing in a tuxedo alongside his friends, which included St. Louis Cardinals mascot Fred Bird and Memphis Redbirds mascot Rockey the Redbird.

She said the Memphis Redbirds mascot Rockey the Redbird also would come to celebrate the birthday. DeArman said along with being at the anniversary, the Red Bird mascot would come into train the Rowdy mascots.