WASHINGTON – For one day, at least, the unofficial mascot of the White House was the Terrapin.
That day was Thursday, when the University of Maryland women’s basketball team, newly crowned national champions, presented President Bush with an official Terrapins jersey as Bush welcomed them and the school’s two other National Collegiate Athletic Association champion teams to the White House.
Members of the men’s soccer team and the women’s field hockey team, both of which won titles in the fall, joined teams from nine other schools as part of “Champion’s Day” on the South Lawn.
“We have three teams today from the great state of Maryland,” Bush said, drawing a loud cheer from the audience. “Perhaps one theme of Champion’s Day is: Fear the Turtle.”
During his brief remarks, one of the first teams Bush congratulated was the women’s basketball team, which recovered from a 13-point second-half deficit Tuesday to beat rival Duke 78-75 in overtime for its first national title.
“Less than 48 hours ago, they were cutting down the nets in Boston,” Bush said. “Here they are soaking up the sun in the White House. We welcome you here. We marvel at your dramatic overtime win, and we thank you for being such fantastic athletes.”
As the players took turns meeting the president, sophomore Crystal Langhorne, who scored 12 points against Duke, handed Bush a red Maryland jersey.
Head coach Brenda Frese said meeting the president at the White House was as special as winning the title itself.
“It ranks right up there on the list of things you could ever do,” Frese said.
The women’s field hockey team knocked off Duke as well, Bush noted, and the NASDAQ ticker in New York read “Go Terps” after the men’s soccer team defeated the University of New Mexico 1-0 for its championship last year.
Bush also praised the Terrapins for their work in the community. The basketball team raised money for breast cancer research, the field hockey team worked as counselors in girls’ summer camps, and the soccer team took part in a food drive, he said.
“What I’m telling you is we’ve not only got fine athletes with us, we’ve got fine Americans with us,” Bush said. “Thank you for serving your communities.”
Although men’s soccer head coach Sasho Cirovski said he gave his players a pep talk before the ceremony to convey to them a sense of the moment, Frese said she didn’t have to.
“They already knew,” Frese said. “You could tell from their reaction they all wanted meet him and shake his hand. That’s what you always dream about.”
Cirovski, meanwhile, said he was impressed by the way Bush spoke in detail about each team.
“It was a really heartfelt speech,” Cirovski said. “With Bush’s background in sports, you can really tell he had a feel for what he was talking about.”
The university’s placement of three teams among the 12 that meet the president each year is “as good as it gets,” Cirovski said.
“That’s an incredible statement to the student-athletes and to the support they have here,” he said.
Bush elicited uproarious laughter from the crowd when he welcomed the West Point rifle team, poking fun at Vice President Dick Cheney for accidentally shooting lawyer Harry Whittington in the face during a February hunting trip.
“If you happen to be walking around and run into the Vice President,” Bush deadpanned, “you might give him a few pointers.”
– 30 – CNS-4-06-06