Motherhood of the Brotherhood

Navy football moms lift up team during resurgent 2019 season

Ensign Sean Williams ’19, USN, and Ensign John Gillis ’19, USN, were among family as a light mist fell on a raucous party outside Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA, on 14 December.

Music boomed. The food was delectable and plentiful. Rainfall couldn’t damper the spirits or camaraderie during the Motherhood of the Brotherhood tailgate. For Williams and Gillis, the Army–Navy game was more than a football contest. It was a reunion with surrogate family. Gillis, who came to the Naval Academy from Lawrenceville, GA, said the Motherhood—a tight-knit group of about 35 Navy football players’ mothers past and present—provides support in a myriad of ways to midshipmen. Gillis said the group, known as the “cheer moms,” helped ease his transition to the Academy. He said they provide emotional support and give out-of-state midshipmen a home away from home.

“It meant everything to all the players that you had 30 more moms,” Gillis said. “They would do anything for you. It’s as if your mom was right there.”

The former cornerback said homesickness was tempered by home cooking and the knowledge that a friendly face was just a call away. Many of the cheer moms live in Maryland and host midshipmen during football season tailgates.

Williams and Gillis enjoyed the tailgating experience about seven hours before Navy completed its 31–7 thrashing of the Black Knights in the 120th Army–Navy game. The Midshipmen finished 11–2 in the season, and they reclaimed the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. They were 7–1 in the American Athletic Conference competition and finished the regular season ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll and earned a bid to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN, on 31 December. (They beat Kansas State 20–17 to hit a program-record-tying 11 wins.)

The remarkable one-year turnaround saw the Midshipmen win eight more games in 2019 than 2018. Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry ’20 was named the AAC’s offensive player of the year, while Ken Niumatalolo was the conference’s coach of the year. Perry rushed for 213 yards in Navy’s Liberty Bowl victory. Bijan Nichols ’23 kicked the bowl’s game-winning 23-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Perry set a new single-season rushing record for quarterbacks by finishing with 2,017 yards in 2019.

‘Motherhood of the Brotherhood’

Cheer moms were with the resurgent Midshipmen throughout their magical run. Their tailgating tent—located between the Classes of ’91 and ’92 on Taylor Avenue, at home games—is hospitality central. These dedicated moms are often surrogates for out-of-state parents. They rally around midshipmen, and not just at football games. They make trips to the Yard to deliver care packages for ailing midshipmen. They sit bedside in hospital rooms as midshipmen await their parents’ arrival before surgeries.

On 26 November, the cheer moms hosted a Thanksgiving Day feast for about 100 midshipmen who were staying on the Yard as the football team prepared to play at The University of Houston. The group also included members of the National Society of Black Engineers. During games, the cheer moms shower words of encouragement on players as they enter and exit the field from their seats in the south end zone side of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Michelle Pittman, whose son Ensign Jordan Pittman ’18, USN, was a wide receiver, said the players appreciate the “family” support.

“It’s important, especially for the players whose families aren’t local,” Pittman said. “They look over and see their ‘moms’ cheering.”

Williams, a former safety at the Academy from Cordova, TN, said having the cheer moms support system in Annapolis helped him adapt to the rigors of attending the Academy. Players knew assistance was just a call away, he said.

The players appreciate the way the Motherhood of the Brotherhood steps up, whether it’s with a post-game meal, a ride to the airport or delivering medicine to the Yard.

“They didn’t hesitate to get anything you needed,” Williams said. “It meant everything.”Lending a helping hand to midshipmen might be the most visible role cheer moms play, but it’s not the only one. Perhaps equally important is the counsel and guidance they provide to new Naval Academy football families. Often, plebe parents don’t know what to expect for their sons as they are dropped off on I-Day.

The Motherhood welcomes new families into the fold.

Parents learn about the restrictions on plebes and are offered advice for helping their children through the stressful time. Charlotte Morris’ son is backup quarterback Dalen Morris ’21 from Huntsville, AL. She said the Motherhood of the Brotherhood helped her family navigate the transition into Academy life.

“If you’re not used to it, it is a culture shock,” Morris said.

Morris now shares her experiences with the next generation of cheer moms. They learn what to expect, what resources are available, how the sponsor family program works and how to support their midshipmen when those intense calls home come. Bonds forged during those times last longer than just their sons’ time in Annapolis.

“It makes you feel like you’re a part of things,” she said. “It’s amazing the camaraderie we have.”

Pittman said her mission is to sustain the Motherhood and help it grow. She said four slotback moms with sons in the Class of 2017 initially launched the effort. Marshella Cass, Tiffany Smith, Felicia Keno-Romine and Shellaree Twitty laid the foundation in 2015 for what is now a growing endeavor.

In addition to hosting a tailgate party at each home game, the Motherhood delivers Halloween goodie bags and Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Pittman, who lives in Bowie, MD, said she was welcomed by the slotback moms and now it’s her mission to expand the Motherhood.

“They were so good to me, I wanted to continue the tradition,” she said.

Cheer moms exemplify their name on Saturdays at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. They scream and shout their support from the south end zone stands.

Sharrone Ryan, whose son Second Lieutenant Jarid Ryan ’19, USMC, is a former Navy cornerback, said out-of-state families rely on the Motherhood. Often, that support translates into a warm meal, but sometimes it’s a much more personal and lasting deed.

“Even if it’s just a photo we send to them, it means so much to [parents],” said Ryan, who lives in Pasadena, MD. “[The players] really appreciate the hugs.”

CIC Trophy Returns to Annapolis

The return of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to Annapolis began with a 34–25 victory over Air Force. It was clinched as Perry dominated Army with 304 yards and two touchdowns. Navy effectively knocked out Army with the “Navy Special.” Perry started the play by running left, pitching the ball to Chance Warren ’22, whose 1-yard-touchdown pass to Jamale Carothers ’22 gave the Midshipmen a 14–7 lead just  before halftime.

Navy opened the 2019 campaign with a 45–7 victory over Holy Cross. The Midshipmen scored at least 40 points six times during the regular season. Navy’s year-over-year turnaround can be attributed to its ground-game dominance. It led the AAC in rushing offense (363.7 yards per game) and rushing defense (110.8 yards per game).

Perry finished the regular season with an AAC-best 1,804 rushing yards.

Coach Niumatalolo said during the post Army–Navy game press conference that his team’s character shined throughout the year. They are humble and hard-working, he said. Those traits paid off with a spectacular season.

“I’m happy for our team, but I feel most proud that our guys did it the right way,” Niumatalolo said.

The Midshipmen wasted no time taking possession of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. They paraded it to the locker room after singing second in Philadelphia and celebrated being the top service academy football team.

“We had to get that back,” Niumatalolo said.

Navy opens the 2020 season on 29 August with ESPN’s College GameDay program broadcasting from Dublin, Ireland, as the Midshipmen meet Notre Dame for the 91st time. The Midshipmen’s 2020 schedule includes home games with Houston, Memphis, Tulsa and Temple. They play at Air Force on 3 October in Colorado Springs. The Army–Navy game will be on 12 December in Philadelphia, PA.

2019 Results

(11–2, 7–1 American Athletic Conference)           

31 August       Navy 45, Holy Cross 7

4 September   Navy 42, East Carolina 10

26 September Navy 23, Memphis 35

5 October        Navy 34, Air Force 25

12 October      Navy 45, Tulsa 17

19 October      Navy 35, South Florida 3

26 October      Navy 41, Tulane 38

1 November    Navy 56, UCONN 10

16 November  Navy 20, Notre Dame 52

23 November  Navy 35, SMU 28

30 November  Navy 56, Houston 41

14 December  Navy 31, Army 7

31 December  AutoZone Liberty Bowl Navy 20, Kansas State 17

Looking Ahead:

Changes to American Athletic Conference football schedules were announced in fall 2019 in the wake of the University of Connecticut leaving the conference. The Midshipmen return to the gridiron on 29 August 2020 in Dublin, Ireland, against Notre Dame. ESPN’s College GameDay will broadcast live from the game.

Navy’s AAC opponents for the next two seasons are:


Home: Houston, Memphis, Temple, Tulsa

Away: ECU, USF, SMU, Tulane

(will not play UCF, Cincinnati)


Home: UCF, Cincinnati, ECU, SMU

Away: Houston, Memphis, Temple, Tulsa

(will not play USF, Tulane)