Duke, UNC athletes meet president

Mar. 10, 2014 @ 09:39 PM

Super Bowl MVPs go to Disney World. College champions go to the White House.

Barack Obama hosted 19 NCAA championship teams Monday – including the North Carolina women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams and the Duke men’s lacrosse team.

“Our country needs young people like you to keep giving your best and to keep bringing out the best in those around you,” Obama said. “That’s how we keep making progress and moving forward, and that’s why we’re all looking forward to seeing what all of you accomplish in the years ahead.”

After touring the White House, each team met with Obama for handshakes and pictures, and then the entire group gathered for a ceremony on the South Lawn.

“It’s really difficult to find the words,” said coach John Danowski, who led the Blue Devils to their second NCAA title in four years in 2013. “You’re standing here on the South Lawn, you’re overlooking the Washington Monument, you’re inside the East Wing. The history and meeting the President of the United States, it’s a bit overwhelming.”

Danowski said that all 12 graduates from last year’s team came from as far away as San Diego to make it for the event.

During their meeting, Obama talked about Duke basketball – he’s a big fan of fellow Chicago resident Jabari Parker – and congratulated the team on making it back to the White House. Senior Brendan Fowler hopes he returns next year.

“Not many people can say they shook hands with the president,” Fowler said. “So it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience – well, hopefully twice in a lifetime.”

The UNC women’s lacrosse team, which won its first NCAA title last season thanks in part to its fun-loving attitude, managed to make an impression on the president. The first moment happened when they went to their appointed photo spot just outside the Oval Office and Obama was still on the phone.

“Our team is known to be loud and have a lot of fun, so we had to quiet down then step away from the Oval Office so he could finish his phone call,” said 2013 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kara Cannizzaro.

Then, before Obama started his remarks on the South Lawn, he pointed at the team, which was sitting in the front row.

“He called us out for taking selfies,” Cannizzaro said. “We were trying to one-up Ellen.”

Brooke Elby, a junior forward on the Tar Heels soccer team, said that many of her teammates had camped out overnight to hear Obama speak during a campaign stop at UNC, and they were riveted when they finally met him in person.

“A couple of girls were forgetting their names and pausing for a second, they were so excited,” Elby said.

Elby hopes that the experience will help lift the Tar Heels next season.

“I think it’s perfect inspiration because we’re in the spring season right now and we’re looking for motivation to win next year,” Elby said. “I think another visit would always be a great motivator.”

UNC was one of three schools that was represented by multiple teams – Princeton won NCAA titles in fencing and field hockey, and Southern Cal won both men’s and women’s water polo.

Obama said he was proud to bring sports other than football and basketball to the White House.

“It’s important to acknowledge that your investment and time and effort is just as significant,” Obama said.

Obama also spoke to the women’s teams about Title IX, and talked about how proud he was to have positive female role models for his daughters.

“No matter what sport you play, no matter where you come from, for the rest of your lives every single one of you will be able to call yourselves a national champion,” Obama said. “A title like that means not just performing your best when the spotlight’s on and the game is underway, but also pushing yourself even harder when no one is watching.”