ANNAPOLIS, Md. — There’s a “big man on campus” at the United States Naval Academy — and he’s not the star quarterback, the captain of the lacrosse team or even the Brigade Commander.
Everyone knows him as Bill, and wherever the kid goes people call out his name. Admirals and generals gather around him for photos. And he commands a prime sideline spot at Navy football games even while gruffly flaunting the military school’s strict facial hair policy.
Bill’s beard is long and thick.
And like any BMOC worth his weight in mohair, he never goes anywhere without an entourage. His “staff” is aptly called Team Bill.
Bill, of course, is a live Angora goat and the iconic mascot of the 172-year-old Naval Academy. And, yes, Bill the Goat is cared for at Navy football games by Team Bill — a small group of student handlers that includes a Latter-day Saint returned missionary, Midshipman Cathryn DeLong.
(If you spot two goats on the sideline at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, you’re not seeing double.
Bill the Goat is actually plural. The current iterations of the Academy’s animal mascots are Bill #36 and Bill #37. The goats are said to be full of spunk, energy and, of course, “vitriol toward Army.”)
Head football coach Ken Niumatalolo may be the face of Navy football, but he’s not the only Mormon at the Academy with a coveted job. Being a member of Team Bill, said DeLong, “is actually pretty exciting — a lot of people want to be a part of it.”
DeLong and her fellow Mids’ gameday duties are pretty straightforward: keep the Bills well hydrated; get them out of the sun if it gets too hot; and, of course, clean up after the goats do their business.
Team Bill also protects its thick-fleeced charges from the plebes (that’s Navy-speak for freshman) who rush toward the end zone to do push-ups whenever Navy scores.
“The plebes aren’t thinking about watching out for the goats when they run out on the field, so we have to make sure the goats don’t get run over,” said DeLong.
Being part of Team Bill has been a welcome diversion for the State College, Pennsylvania, resident during her final year at the historic academy. In a few months she will graduate in operations research, be commissioned an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and begin training to fly C-130 transport planes.
A testimony of the restored gospel and its principles keeps the future Marine aviator well grounded. DeLong’s studies at the Naval Academy were put on hold for two academic years while she served a mission in Russia. “I enjoyed every second of my mission,” she told the Church News. “It was hard work, but I loved it.”
DeLong will soon leave Annapolis with rich memories — including the many Saturday afternoons she spent caring for a couple of popular goats named Bill.
“It’s been a lot of fun being on the sidelines this season,” she said. “It’s exciting being so close to the games.”