GREENVILLE – Rocky is a typical young Dorset Horned sheep most days, dining on grass and kicking up his heels in the pasture at Magnolia View Farm in Orange County.
But when there is a nip in the air and autumn leaves are falling, Rocky, with his horns painted a particular shade of light blue, is led into Kenan Memorial Stadium in front of a cheering crowd and becomes Rameses XX – the most famous ram in the state.
Like 19 other rams before him, Rocky is the ram mascot for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s football team – the only live animal mascot in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 8-month-old ram assumed the mantle – really a light blue blanket with the university’s interlocking NC logo – this football season, after the untimely death of his predecessor, 2-year-old Bam Bam.
There would not be a Rameses without the Hogan family.
They have been the caretakers of the UNC rams since the live mascot tradition began in 1924. It’s a job the new generation of Hogans takes seriously, as did their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them.
And the sense of responsibility transcends university allegiances. Several members of the Hogan family graduated from the Agricultural Institute at N.C. State University and others – including Greenville’s Lorrie Basnight – have ties to East Carolina University.
Basnight, a pediatrician on the faculty of ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, was in charge of Rameses’ appearance at the ECU-Carolina game in Chapel Hill Sept. 22.
“There has always been a main individual who had the responsibility of the ram – Clay Hogan, my great-grandfather; Henry Hogan, my grandfather; Bob Hogan, my uncle; and then Rob Hogan, my first cousin,” Basnight said. “Rob died unexpectedly in 2010 after a fall on the farm. Since Rob’s death, various cousins have taken on the shared responsibility. I most recently took him to the UNC vs. ECU game with my brother, Don Basnight.”
What is a typical game day like for Rameses and his handlers?
“Taking the ram to the game is an all-day commitment,” Basnight said. “His coat is cleaned and horns are painted either the day before or the day of the game. He has a blanket made by my Aunt Carolyn that he wears to the game.
“The transportation is always fun, as you can imagine, because people are always surprised to see a live animal coming through town in the bed of a truck,” Basnight said. “He is taken to the Bell Tower at least two hours before the game so fans can ‘meet’ him and have their pictures taken with him.
“We then go to the game and stay with him on the field during the game,” she said. “It’s amazing to go onto the field – actually the NCAA doesn’t allow him on the field, so we stick to the sidelines. It’s fun to see all the blue in the stands and to be so close to the action.
“At halftime, we take him outside the field at the base of the stands for more pictures and rubs for good luck,” Basnight said. “After the game, he goes home and is released to his pasture. A typical (game) day is about eight or nine hours long.”