Friday, January 27, 2012

Logan's Hero: Meeting "Wild Bill"

LOGAN, UT - Jenn Sterger isn't the only college fan sports fan that has used skimpy outfits to parlay face time on ESPN into fame.

Utah State superfan "Wild Bill" Sproat is easily recognizable. He's the big-bellied Aggie fan that has become a cult icon for his costumes, which range from a teapot to a hula dancer. Since Utah State plays in the WAC, Wild Bill's prominent spot directly behind the basket earned him plenty of TV time and, given the uniqueness of his appearance and his outfits, plenty of attention. He left the 2010 WAC Tournament early to fly to ESPNU studios in Charlotte, flying back out to Spokane for USU's NCAA Tournament appearance. After that trip, he immediately joined up with MTV's show "Thrill Billies", traveling around the country with Travis Pastrana and his crew.

Unfortunately, Wild Bill's body was failing him, and the stress of all that travel was doing him no favors. It got so bad that he was admitted to the hospital, spending a week in a coma and coming very close to dying. He pulled through -- as the story goes, when he first awoke from the coma, the first thing he said to the nurses was "There better not be any BYU fans in here or I'm going to die" -- but life is different now.

He's no longer a nightly presence on the baseline at The Spectrum. Its not because he doesn't go to the games -- he does -- but he's in a different seat. You see, Wild Bill works for the Logan River Academy, a school for kids between the ages of 12-18 that have emotional issues, problems at home and autism. He works Saturday through Wednesday, so when Utah State has home games on those nights, he's sitting up in the stands with as many as 20 of his students.

That's not necessarily a contractual obligation, either.

"I didn't have the best child hood growing up," he said, "so I like trying to make life better for them."

That's just the kind of guy he is.

The first to extend a hand, quick to share a laugh. We got to The Spectrum a good hour and a half before Utah State's game against Hawaii and he first person we see when we walked in the door was Wild Bill. Our Logan chauffeur, Kraig Williams, who writes for the Deseret News, knew him and immediately introduced us. Wild Bill welcomed us with open arms, giving us all the background we could handle on the basketball team, the town of Logan and himself.

Calling him the King of Logan would be a fair statement, and that's a compliment. Wild Bill's personality is just so inviting and he's so outgoing, its hard not to feel like old friends from the moment you meet him. That's probably why he knows everyone.

Literally. Everyone.

We told Bill where we went to eat -- Mo' Betta Steaks -- and he explained how he was related to the people that own the restaurant. We mentioned the hotel we were staying at, and he told us we should ahve gotten in touch with him because he friend works at a hotel across town. While we were standing in the lobby of The Spectrum talking, four members of the Utah State team walked by. They all said hello to Bill. The President of the University walked in next, and he stopped to greet Bill.

Perhaps most surprising, we watched the Hawaii team walk in. As soon as they did, Bill walked over to head coach Gib Arnold, giving him a hug and catching up for a few minutes. It was incredible.

We were lucky. We happened to come to town for a Thursday night game, meaning that we would be able to see Bill and his crew in action. During the game, Bill wandered wherever he wanted to go. He came down and sat on press row with us. He walked along the baseline of the court during timeouts. He said hello to ushers, writers and hundreds of fans. I was half-expecting him to wander over to the bench and provide a couple words of encouragement.

Wild Bill acts as an ambassador for this Utah State program.

Think about it. How many of us would know as much as we do about Utah State hoops if he didn't show up on ESPN? How often would they get national coverage? Part of the reason that he gets as much access as he does is because of the amount of attention that he brings the school. The rest of it is simply his innate ability to put people at ease. He's just an all-around good guy. The President of the school may not have the same wardrobe, but he can trust that Bill isn't going to cross that line between funny and inappropriate. The school's SID can know that while Bill may wander along the sideline, he's not going to be running out on the court during the timeouts.

That's not him.

Hell, he's not even a basketball fan.

"I actually hate basketball," he said. "I only started going to the games because my friend (Tai Wesley, who started at center last season) played."

Wild Bill has toned it back a bit at the games. His health, while better, is not strong enough for him to be going all out at every home game.

But he will be at the two ESPN home games Utah State has. And he will be in costume.

Wild Bill told me what those costumes are. I've been sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you this much: one of them may top the teapot costume he wore last season. Seriously.

You'll just have to tune in and see for yourself.

You know you will.

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