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For nearly a century, Red Peppers have brought spirit to Sikeston

Red Peppers Greet Football Players
Melissa Jacques
The Red Peppers line the field entrance in Sikeston, Missouri, on Oct. 1. The Red Peppers cheer on the football team as they enter the stadium.

When Rogé Modicue joined the Red Peppers at Sikeston High School, he was part of a near-century of history. Modicue was one of a few male Red Peppers in the group’s history.

The Red Peppers are a nearly all-female pep squad from Sikeston, Missouri, a town of around 16,000 people in the southeast corner of Missouri. The Red Peppers have excited and energized their town since the 1920s.

The Red Peppers are an organized student and spirit squad for Sikeston High School. Members are required to attend home games for volleyball, football and basketball.

About 25% of students participate, and they wear uniforms similar to that of a century ago. The group maintains a similar organizational structure, including the executives’ names — Cayenne and Vice-Cayenne. The Red Peppers are a cultural touchstone for the city of Sikeston.

For decades, the Red Peppers was as an exclusively female organization, but a few male students joined in the 1990s and 2000s. By 2017, Modicue was still one of a few.

Original Red Peppers
Melissa Jacques
The original Red Peppers pose for photo in Sikeston, Missouri, around 1928.

The Red Peppers claim to be the oldest all-female pep squad west of the Mississippi. For the last 93 years, the group's history has left a lasting impression on the town of Sikeston.

“The Red Peppers are a pep club that does the decorating for the game,” Wanda Throop, a former sponsor of the Red Peppers for more than 30 years, said. “They do a lot of community things… A lot of the Red Peppers help when we do a cancer drive.”

“I think the two people that influenced and pushed me to join the organization was Jeanie Williams and, my best friend, Michaela Glaus," Modicue said. “When Michaela ran for Red Pepper Cayenne her junior year, I was like ‘If you earn Red Pepper Cayenne I will join it.’”

After Glaus earned the Cayenne position, Modicue approached the sponsors of the organization to see if he could join.

Modicue was instantly accepted by the community and the Red Peppers.

“[Modicue] was not the first [male] since I had been a sponsor,” Sarah McGill said. “But he’s probably been the one that’s grown so much; he’s a cheerleader at Mizzou now.”

Sarah McGill
Rylee Fels
Sarah McGill stands in the school library in Sikeston, Missouri, on Oct. 1. She is one of the Red Peppers’ sponsors. She has been a sponsor since 2005 and was a Red Pepper in high school. “I like to be a part of helping teenagers discover their leadership skills, and their organizational skills, and just watching them make memories," she said. "It's just neat to see students feel accomplished with something when they have an idea and then they see it all the way through. And so that's really what's kind of kept me going.”

“I think it was just a great group of people to be around,” Modicue said. “Especially on game days, we feed off each other's energies.”

When he joined the Red Peppers, Modicue was so enthused, in fact, that he was awarded “Peppiest Pepper” that year for his lively and spirited outfits.

“He came decked out in red shoes with red peppers all over for the Red Pepper Banquet,” McGill said.

Incoming Red Peppers are known as Greenies. They must wear green shirts and go through an initiation process. That tradition changed since the group’s inception in 1928. The initiation process Modicue went through is nothing like the ones Peppers went through in the decades prior. Modicue was also unique in that he was a Greenie in his senior year, while most are freshmen.

“Being a Greenie is super different from being an initiated member,”said Rory Jaynes, former Red Pepper and MU student. “They have to make a T-shirt that says ‘I heart Red Peppers’ and wear it to school one day, and it used to be a lot more intense, but that was considered hazing, so we had to switch our traditions around a little bit.”

Instead of the initiation process, Greenies only have to buy a Red Pepper T-shirt and show up to the games.

In the past, their traditions included requiring senior Red Peppers to sign the shirts of Greenies. They also were told to follow the direction of all senior boys for a week in order to be initiated. They also wore a special, unique Red Pepper sweater. In the past decade, the company that made those sweaters shut down, and they no longer wear them.

Red Peppers with Victory Bell
Melissa Jacques
Photo of the Red Peppers with the Victory Bell in Sikeston, Missouri circa 1960.

Now, some students still wear sweaters passed down from their parents and other family members.
“What they’re wearing now is different than what they wore,” said Kate Meredith, a former Sikeston Red Pepper from 1998 to 2001. “That’s OK as long as it’s still keeping up the integrity of the Red Peppers, and I think more of that is the cultural support for each other and our school rather than what they’re wearing now.”

Many of those older rituals have changed within the past decade, as the initiation process became more welcoming to all. Initiation traditions or not, the Red Peppers served a positive role in the lives of students like Modicue and Jaynes.

"I think being a Red Pepper was a great opportunity for me to have,” Modicue said.