A score for history

Md. team in 1st White House tee ball game featuring girls

June 28, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- When her father asked her the night before how she felt about coming to the White House for a tee ball game, 7-year-old Audrey Jones said she'd rather shoot water pistols and jump on the trampoline with her friends.

But it isn't every day the president invites you over to play. So the Frostburg second-grader put her plans on hold, and about 3:30 p.m. yesterday, she was drilling a ball to the left side of the infield for a clean single in the season's first installment of Tee Ball on the South Lawn.

President Bush started the tradition six years ago to promote participation in youth sports. The game between Audrey's Allegany County Little League Bobcats and the Luray, Va., Little League Red Wings was the first between girls' softball teams.

"We're a big believer in Title IX programs," Bush said, referring to the 1972 law that bans gender discrimination in federally funded education programs, widely cited as a key factor in the explosion of girls' and women's athletics since then.

"We think it's good for America that our women are playing sports," he told the crowd of parents and friends who packed bleachers set up for the game. "The best way to convince women to play sports is to start early."

On hand as volunteer coaches were members of the two-time NCAA champion University of Arizona Wildcats softball team.

"Watching them definitely brought back memories," said All-American pitcher Taryne Mowatt, the Most Outstanding Player of the Women's College World Series three weeks ago. "It's just fun to see them out there having fun."

Chris McKnight, manager of the Cumberland, team and father of pitcher Nicolette, called the focus on girls "important."

"It's a step in the right direction," said McKnight, who is also head baseball coach at Frostburg State University. "And it's great for the girls to have role models like the women from Arizona. Today is pretty special."

By tradition, score was not kept in the Maryland-Virginia matchup, but both sides put on an offensive display. Allegany County, wearing blue "South Lawn Slugger" shirts, was up first, with all 10 girls getting a chance to hit a ball from a tee. After an interlude, during which musicians from the U.S. Marine Band backed CBS Early Show anchor Hanna Storm in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," they took the field so the lineup from Luray could take their cuts.

For Nicolette McKnight, 5, the best part of the day was getting to hit - in her case, a single to the right side. But she said she also enjoyed meeting the president, who posed with the girls and coaches for pictures after the game and gave each an autographed softball.

Bush also honored Erika Minor, a youth volunteer from Bowie.

David Jones, Audrey's father, called the game "a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"It's exciting for me, but it's more exciting for the kids to have this opportunity," he said. "To see it through their eyes is just a joy."

The game yesterday completed Audrey's second season of tee ball. Next year, she's planning on making the leap to coach-pitched softball. Water pistols and trampolines aside, she enjoys the game.

"You can do all kinds of things," she said. "You hit. You run. You catch. You throw."

And sometimes you get to meet the president.

"He's really nice," she said.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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