They're midshipmen, straight-backed, book-cracking, Naval officers in training.
They're also teen-agers and, as such, they carry strong appetites for Nintendo, MTV and many sandwiches washed down with case after case of soda. To hear Mike Mulloy, a second-year middie from Truckee, Calif., there's no better place to lunch on four turkey-and-cheese-on-kaisers than the Morans' house in Severna Park.
Shirley Moran says she draws stares at the supermarket deli counter, but she finds her orders of pound upon pound of lunch meat funny. She'll also pick up candy because each of the four middies who have become like sons to her has a sweet tooth.
Some 700 area families "sponsor" midshipmen -- that is, provide a sort of home-away-from-home for them on Saturdays and short holidays. But while most families stop at sponsoring two middies, the Morans have opened their home, their hearts and their refrigerator to four young men, and they are looking forward to the prospect of adding two more next year.
"Four is a lot," said Lt. Thomas Calabrese, plebe sponsor coordinator for the Naval Academy. "They've taken on quite a load, that's for sure."
Calabrese said the program allows plebes to slip into some civilian clothes, get away from the discipline of the military environment and relax. The plebes are generally free to visit their sponsors on Saturdays, Calabrese said, adding, "Usually a relationship will begin during the plebe year and it will grow."
Frank Moran, 44, is vice president and general manager at Admiral Pontiac in Glen Burnie. He said most of his neighbors sponsor midshipmen, but his first attempt to get in on the program two years ago was a flop.
One of the two plebes assigned to the Moran family was a family friend of an admiral assigned to the area, and the other was from Maryland, Moran said. Thus, the Morans weren't really needed for the plebes' Saturday escapes from military life.
So when the Morans tried again last year, they asked for four plebes in hopes that "two would stick," Moran said.
As it turned out, all four stuck. "Our house is their house," Frank said. "They're there every weekend."
Frank said a couple of the middies joined the Morans on a vacation trip to Ocean City and three of them were on hand for Thanksgiving dinner last year.
Midshipman Mulloy recalls that Thanksgiving. He says his father, an Army man stationed at the time in Kansas, also joined the Moran clan.
"It was really pretty classy, going around the table with everyone saying what they're thankful for," said Mulloy, an 18-year-old oceanic engineering major. He added, "They really have become a second family to me."
Frank Moran says he feels like he has four sons. The Morans, it should be noted, have three daughters, Melissa, 20, Mandy, 12, and Dena, 9.
"Even our dog's a girl. And we had a girl bird," said Shirley, 38, a master barber at the Your New Image salon in Pasadena. Both Morans said the middies have been a good influence on their young daughters, helping them, for example, to fine-tune their study habits.
Shirley said the four middies have such different personalities that she doubts they would have "connected" at the academy, but they have become friends since being thrown together with their sponsor family.
The Morans also sponsor John Millman, who is from Iowa, and Mike Gallagher and Ray Hendrix, both from California. All are in their second year at the academy.
Ask Mulloy about the differences among the group, and he shows his age. He distinguishes each by their taste in rock music, noting that one likes classic rock, one likes heavy metal, while he prefers progressive.
But one trait they share, Frank said, is an intensely competitive nature. Whether playing Nintendo with the girls, Jeopardy with the family or basketball with Frank, these guys always play to win.
"I give it back to them," Frank says. And there's another natural rivalry. Frank, it turns out, is an Army man, having served as an interrogator in military intelligence for two years in Vietnam.
"It hasn't come up as much as I thought it would, but that may be because I don't bring it up," Frank said. But he recalls last year's win by Navy in its annual grudge match with Army on the football field, and he laughs when says, "Of course, Navy got lucky last year."