The Times Reporter

February 25, 2003

More to be done: Champion Buckeyes receive a challenge from President Bush

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Winning the national college football championship is really something, but it’s not enough, President Bush told the Buckeyes on Monday.

“I guess my point to you is that you’re a champ on the field, and now you have a great opportunity to be a champion off the field by setting a good example,” he said while honoring the Ohio State University football team at the White House.

Almost the entire team flew in for the event. Ohio State won the NCAA Division I championship by beating the Miami Hurricanes 31-24 in double overtime at the Fiesta Bowl.

As the crowd waited for the president, the East Room of the White House filled up with athletes, coaches, politicians and staff.

The best seats went to Ohio politicians, including Gov. Bob Taft. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, an Ohio State graduate, was conspicuous in the scarlet and gray colors of her alma mater and a necklace made of buckeyes.

When Bush walked in, tight end Ben Hartsock from Chillicothe, Ohio, felt the change. “You really do feel the energy go to another level and everybody kind of perked up,” he said.

After thanking everyone for coming, Bush drew laughter when he said, “For some reason, it seems like we’ve got a large contingent from the state of Ohio with us today.” A line of Ohio State players stretched all the way to the end of the crowded room, where several of them stood under an oil painting of Theodore Roosevelt.

“Not only are the folks up here with me great athletes and disciplined individuals, they’re people in a position of responsibility now that they’ve become champs,” Bush began.

“I guarantee you there’s a bunch of junior high kids in the state of Ohio wondering what it’s like to be a champion,” he said. “Not only can a champion run fast and tackle hard, but hopefully the champions up here send the signal that making right choices in life for

youngsters is an important part of living a responsible life.”

The ceremony also honored the Southern California women’s volleyball team, UCLA men’s soccer team and Portland women’s soccer team which also won national titles in their sports.

A handful of top Buckeyes, including pro hopefuls Kenny Peterson and Mike Doss from Canton McKinley, and Cie Grant of New Philadelphia, were held up at a National Football League scouting combine in Indianapolis and could not attend.

Part of the tradition at these events is for teams to offer the president a jersey, a volleyball or some other symbolic gift.

Tapped at the last minute to be the one to give an Ohio State football helmet to the president, punter Andy Groom of Columbus had little time to be nervous.

“Coach (Jim) Tressel was like, just call him Mr. President,” he recalled. “I called him Mr. President,” said Groom, who also thanked Bush for inviting them to the White House. “I told him to be a Buckeye like his brother (Florida Gov. Jeb Bush) was for a day.”

The president himself joked about his “little brother” wearing an Ohio State shirt, the payoff to a championship bet with Taft. The governors are in Washington this week for their annual meeting.

“It was pretty neat,” Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel said of the experience. “You think of him as the most powerful man in the country and probably in the world. For him to take time out of his busy schedule, especially these days, to do something like this, it makes you feel good.”

Tressel’s favorite moment was when Bush challenged the players “to do something with their accomplishments ... what more of a lesson could you hope for for your young people.”

Before the ceremony, the team toured the White House. There seemed to be widespread agreement on the coolest thing there: the home movie theater.

“We appreciate that kind of stuff,” Krenzel said. “To see one that size is pretty impressive.”

Tapping on one of the windows in the White House, Hartsock noticed how thick it was. “That glass looked like it was pretty bulletproof,” he said.

About 40 Ohioans work in the White House, and some of them sneaked in for the ceremony.

“I’m just thrilled to be able to cheer them on one more time,” said Brian Besanceney, the president’s deputy communications director who graduated from Ohio State.