WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Indiana Fever visited the White House Friday where President Barak Obama officially congratulated them on their 2012 WNBA championship. It was not, however, the first trip to the White House for Fever coach Lin Dunn, who had last been there as a Girl Scout when she was in fifth grade.
“I won’t say which administration that was,” the president teased, for which Dunn thanked him.
Neither was it the first visit for Fever captain Tamika Catchings, whom Obama called “my good friend, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on the court – and she took it easy on me,” describing her work with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move” project, designed to inspire health and fitness in the nation’s youth.
Recognizing Herb Simon, owner of both the Fever and its brother organization, the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, Obama joked about the rivalry between his hometown Chicago Bulls, but added that both Chicago and Indianapolis share a set of Midwestern values. “I still recognize those … values when I see them,” the president said. “We saw it in the Indiana Fever, which is, you look out for your teammates. You keep fighting no matter what gets thrown at you. As Coach Dunn put it, ‘We are all blue collar. We work hard on defense. We rebound. We’re tough.’ And that toughnes got this team through a season with more than its faire share of injuries. Nevertheless, when one player went down, another player stepped up.”
Demonstrating his familiarity with both last year's championship series and the team’s personnel, the president recalled the season-ending injury to the Fever’s hometown hero Katie Douglas in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals against Connecticut and praising Erin Phillips by name for her role in helping the Fever “storm back” to win both the game and the series and advance to the WNBA Finals.
The president then recounted the Fever’s “Hoosiers moment,” coming into the Finals as underdogs, taking on the Minnesota Lynx, the defending champions, who had swept the season series with the Fever, but ultimately stepping up their game to bring home Indiana’s first professional basketball title since 1973.
Obama praised the team not only for their accomplishments on the basketball court but also for their involvement in the community, noting the team’s 13 WNBA Community Assist awards for the countless hours they spend volunteering. He also lauded their status as role models, inspiring the youth of the nation.
“I occasionally coach [daughter] Sasha’s basketball team, and for her to have wonderful role models like this, who work hard and know how to play like a team, are incredibly poised and are competitors but also show good sportsmanship – that’s the kind of models you want for your children.”
The Fever had brought along the NCAA Division III women’s basketball champion DePauw Tigers from nearby Greencastle, Ind., to share the spotlight at the White House. After congratulating the Tigers on their 34-0 season, the president quipped: “I don’t know, by the way, if this is a recruiting violation, you guys bringing them with you,” adding of Dunn, “she’s keeping her eye out for new talent.”
Then turning serious, the president recalled that Dunn was just two years into her coaching career when Title IX was passed, and observed that “today we’ve got two women’s championship teams here in the White House – and that’s a reminder of the incredible progress that we’ve made, thanks to pioneers like Coach Dunn. So we really thank you for that and appreciate that.”
Dunn, in turn, thanked the president for welcoming the team to the White House – “To meet you, that’s really special too, ‘cause I’m a Democrat,” Dunn said – but above all, for all he and the First Lady do to empower women. “You have no idea,” said Dunn with emotion. “Every day, every day, you both send a strong message that little girls can do anything they want to do and they can be anything they want to be. So we thank you for that.”
Catchings and Dunn presented the president with a Fever jersey, an autographed basketball and a championship ball cap, and then, after photographs, the team put the punctuation mark on all the president had said about their service to the community, adjourning to the basketball court on the South Lawn of the White House where they held a WNBA-sponsored “Let’s Move” clinic for third and fourth graders from “The Inspired Teaching School,” a Washington, D.C. charter school.
|Following the East Room ceremony, Indiana Fever coaches and players conducted a "Let's Move" health and fitness clinic for third and fourth graders from a Washington, D.C. charter school on the White House South Lawn's basketball court. (Photo by Teri Priebe)|
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