Whether he is working the crowds inside Carnesecca Arena, or cheering along with fans at Madison Square Garden (MSG), it is not difficult to spot William “Billy” Rabold—math teacher by day, Red Storm super fan by night.
He is the one in the bright red suit.
Mr. Rabold, who teaches at The Mary Louis Academy, has been cheering on the Red Storm since he was a teenager in nearby Glendale, Queens.
“When I was a sophomore in high school, I got tickets to a St. John’s game at the Garden for Christmas,” he recalled. “It was such a spirited crowd, and I loved every minute."
"After the game, the fans rushed onto the court, and I said to my friend, ‘wherever I go to school, I want to be a part of something like that.’”
Two years later, it was time to choose a college, and the memory of his first St. John’s game weighed heavily on his decision. “My first priority was to choose a school where I would get a great education,” he said. “A close second was going someplace where I would have fun. St. John’s offered me both.”
He continued, “Academics is by far the most important factor in choosing a college, but it is still only part of the equation."
"Athletics played a tremendous role in my decision to attend St. John’s. The thought of going to games at Madison Square Garden on a regular basis was huge!”
At St. John’s, Mr. Rabold quickly became acclimated to life as a Johnny. He was a member of Catholic Scholars and the Vincentian Initiative to Advance Leadership program, as well as a Eucharistic minister. Not surprisingly, he was also a member of St. John’s RedZone, the University’s official student fan group.
Sitting in a student section at a basketball game, Mr. Rabold was inspired to transform himself from a fan into a fanatic.
“I was having a great time at a game with my friend when I said to him, ‘I want to take this to the next level,’” he recalled.
“We started by wearing red suits to games both at Carnesecca Arena and at MSG during our sophomore year,” he explained. “Then, we decided to mix things up a bit, and for games at the Garden we wore bow ties because we thought it would class it up. I realize now how ridiculous that actually sounds.”
Somewhat to their surprise, the idea was a huge hit with fans. “We thought of it as more of a gag at first, but everyone loves it,” he said. “At every game people walk up and high-five us. Kids from six to 66 ask to take pictures with us. It really has been incredible.”
Throughout his undergraduate and graduate years at St. John’s, Mr. Rabold continued wearing his red suit to games, doing his best to stir the fans into a frenzy at home, and when possible, on the road.
“The first time I went on the road was in 2017 when I saw St. John’s play Arizona State at the Staples Center in Los Angeles,” he recalled. “I flew out Friday morning at 9 a.m., landed at 12:30 p.m. LA time, checked into the hotel, and made it to the game by 5 p.m. The next morning I hopped on a 7 a.m. flight home. I think in a day and a half, I traveled the span of the entire country twice to see the Johnnies play.”
Mr. Rabold has only missed three home games over the past four years. “Two of those games took place on report card nights when I needed to be at school to meet with parents,” he said. “The funny thing is, I received text messages from people asking if I was okay. I had to explain to them that the red suit thing is not really my full-time job.”
According to Mike Cragg, Director of Athletics, Red Storm athletes benefit from the energy that fans like Mr. Rabold create. “When Billy is in the stands, there is a heightened level of excitement in the arena,” he said. “It is like having a ‘sixth man’ out there. The fans love it and the players do too."
"We’d love to have about 500 more students like him next season because his enthusiasm for St. John’s Basketball is contagious.”
The administration and faculty of The Mary Louis Academy are well aware of Mr. Rabold’s alter-ego, and they fully support it.
“When I told them about what I do at games, their reaction was, ‘Billy, this is the best thing ever,’” he recalled. “It was such a relief that everyone was so positive. Last year, 21 faculty members came to a game at Carnesecca to show their support. It was amazing.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. Rabold brings as much enthusiasm to the classroom as he does to the arena. “The students feed off of your energy, and if it is not genuine, they will call your bluff,” he said. “I just try to be myself in the classroom and speak to them like adults. That is probably why I have such a good relationship with students.”
Mr. Rabold recently was named Assistant Athletic Director at Mary Louis. When his name came up for consideration, his principal said he could have the job under one condition—it could not interfere with his commitment to St. John’s and the red suit.
“I kid you not,” he said.
When he is not cheering on the Red Storm, he is cheering for the young women of Mary Louis, albeit in a much more subdued fashion.
“I try to attend at least one home game or match per sport per season, because I want to make sure the bowling team is appreciated as much as the basketball team,” he said. “I never thought I would go to a badminton match, but there I am, cheering for them.”
A New Yorker through and through, Mr. Rabold is proud to still call Queens his home. “I went to Sacred Heart Catholic Academy of Glendale and Archbishop Molloy High School, earned my degrees from St. John’s, and now I teach at Mary Louis,” he said. “You could say that the first 25 years of my life have been spent in a 4.5-mile bubble, but clearly, I love it here.”