Lawmakers welcome champion Terps

Governor, legislators line up to praise team

April 06, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Like rock stars they came, seven rather tall young men holding a bulky trophy. Quietly they were whisked into the State House through a tunnel, then up to the second floor and directly into the office of a beaming Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

A few minutes later, the doors opened, and the governor introduced them to the waiting crowd. "This is the nation's champion basketball team, right here!"

The state capital's political elite fairly swooned for the home team yesterday, whooping, waving bright red pompoms, hoping the winners' glow would shine on them, too. They waited in line to get their photos taken with the team, and pushed youngsters aside to get autographs.

"I can't see!" screamed Del. Hattie N. Harrison, one of the legislature's most senior members, when the Terps finally made it to the House of Delegates chamber.

Grown fans, little kids, teen-age girls and boot camp inmates assigned to the General Assembly work detail massed in the hallways waiting for autographs they mostly did not get. One small girl cried as she chased the departing players, who seemed exhausted after the two-hour visit.

Everyone - even the Duke fans - wanted a piece. But only Glendening received one. Coach Gary Williams thanked the governor for coming to Atlanta for the final game, then instructed star player Juan Dixon to cut off a bit of the basketball net veiling the NCAA trophy.

"I was trying to think what I was going to give my son for a graduation present," the governor said, holding up the length of rope. "I think I've got it right here."

Glendening took the opportunity to mention statistics about academic improvement at the University of Maryland - a hallmark of his administration. And Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, wearing a Terps-red suit, gave a campaign-style speech about teamwork. "You inspire us," she said.

The players didn't do much talking. Down in the Senate, they thanked everyone and said they'd try again next year. "It's been a long journey for us," Dixon told them. "We worked really hard to get where we are today. ... All these players are blue-collar workers."

Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV said he wanted them to know he had been "championing your cause here in the Senate of Maryland." Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden noted that Dixon had played ball in his East Baltimore district and called the players "God's all-Americans."

Then the senators each had their picture taken with the team - just as they did when President Bill Clinton visited. So did the pages, the Senate staff and the children of the Senate staff. Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell said jokingly that the photo would go in his campaign brochure.

" `If it wasn't for Senator Bromwell fighting for their funding, the Terps never would have won the national championship,' " he said as if reading a caption. " `Here they are at a party at Tommy's house.' "

A phalanx of Maryland troopers muscled aside the sea of fans and created a narrow path for the Terps to cross the hall to the House, where the 141 members shook pompoms and exploded into a cheer. "Gimme an M!"

They, too, wanted their pictures taken individually. The seven players - Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Drew Nicholas, Ryan Randle, Earl Badu and Andre Collins - lined up in the House lounge and smiled, shot after shot, until they couldn't seem to smile anymore.

Badu said being feted by politicians felt different from being cheered by fellow students at Cole Field House. "It's definitely special," he said.

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