Terps play the White House

Basketball champs get Bush's personal praise

April 07, 2006|By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS | JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Kristi Toliver was standing in the White House yesterday, far from a basketball court, when the magnitude of the University of Maryland's NCAA championship hit home.

That's when President Bush turned to Toliver, called her by name and complimented her on the three-pointer that made the come-from-behind win possible.

"Great shot," Bush told her, according to the freshman. "I know you feel pretty good."

After the wild courtside cheers and the boisterous campus rally, the Maryland women's basketball team was in Washington to relish a different sort of recognition: the praise of a cheerleader-in-chief who knew who they were and what they had done.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun misreported President Bush's experience as a cheerleader when he was a young man. Bush was a cheerleader at his high school preparatory school, Phillips Academy Andover, not during his college days.
The Sun regrets the error.

"Less than 48 hours ago, they were cutting down the nets in Boston. Here they are soaking up the sun in the White House. We marvel at your dramatic overtime win, and we thank you for being such fantastic athletes," Bush said during an outdoor ceremony.

Amid brightly colored tulips and fans laden with Terrapin paraphernalia, Crystal Langhorne joined the president along with representatives of 11 other college championship teams from this year and last. Among them were the University of Maryland's 2005 champion women's field hockey and men's soccer teams.

A military band struck up the UM fight song three times as the players filed out of the White House's elegant Blue Room and trooped down a grand staircase to take seats on the South Lawn.

Bush, a cheerleader during his college days, stoked the crowd's enthusiasm.

"Perhaps one theme of Champions Day is: Fear the Turtle," he said, to whoops from an audience that included Maryland politicians eager to share the glory.

Among members of the state's congressional delegation and other invited Maryland guests, there was scarcely a lapel that didn't feature some breed of turtle. State-flag neckties and scarves vied for attention with bright-red tops. For the second day in a row, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski wore her "Fear the Turtle" cap.

The basketball team was on its best wardrobe behavior, admonished by university officials to avoid open-toed shoes after members of the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team became the butt of ridicule and criticism for wearing flip-flops to the White House last summer.

"Don't they look adorable?" said Danita Nias, the University of Maryland's head of alumni relations, who stood with a cluster of school officials and graduates.

"It's really just a glorious day," said Debbie Lawrence, her terrapin earrings and brooch glinting in the sun. "Before, I've always been here for business," said the energy lobbyist, who sits on the university foundation's board of trustees. "Today, I get to be here for my alma mater."

White House aides who wandered out of the West Wing to cheer for Maryland included Phil Lago, an executive secretary at the National Security Council.

"I'm very proud of all three teams," said Lago, who was wearing a Terrapins hat with matching lapel pin and cufflinks.

Indulging his playful side, Bush told West Point's champion rifle team: "If you happen to be walking around and run into the vice president, you might give him a few pointers."

Their photos with the president will be treasured souvenirs, the women said. Toliver seemed particularly impressed with a Secret Service pin she was given by a member of Bush's security detail.

"It's been really a great experience," Langhorne said, still hoarse from celebrating the team's win.

But being recognized by the president was its own prize.

"Just the fact that he knew that I made a shot and he knew my name was kind of overwhelming," Toliver said.

julie.davis@baltsun.com

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