NCAA Champion Bowlers Honored by President Bush at White House

June 18, 2007

President George W. Bush stands with members of Vanderbilt University's 2007 Women's 2007 Championship Bowling Team Monday, June 18, 2007, during NCAA Championship Day at the White House (White House photo by Eric Draper).

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By Will Matthews

WASHINGTON - President Bush honored Vanderbilt University's NCAA Champion Women's Bowling team Monday afternoon during a special ceremony on the White House's South Lawn.

The ten-woman team and its coaches - which captured the university's first-ever team national championship in April - arrived in the nation's capital early Monday and were greeted personally by Bush in the State Dining Room before being introduced on the South Lawn while the Marine Corps marching band played the Vanderbilt fight song, "Dynamite."

"It was a pretty unreal experience," said sophomore Michelle Peloquin. "It means a lot to be invited to a place like this. It really is an honor to be recognized in this kind of environment."

The Commodore bowlers were one of a diverse array of 28 teams that won NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007 - from the University of Florida men's basketball team to the UCLA women's water polo team - that took part in Monday's ceremony and listened as Bush said during an eight-minute address that the one thing all the gathered athletes had in common was achieving "the great title of champion."

"People underestimate just how hard we work so getting invited to the White House puts it all into perspective," said sophomore Mandy Keily. "This is the real thing. We are NCAA champions."

The team presented Bush with an authentic team jersey and a red, white and blue bowling ball inscribed with the team's logo, a moment that allowed for some humor Peloquin said.

"We were all waiting for him to come and take his picture with us and when he arrived we got real quiet," said Peloquin. "But he came in and made us less nervous by cracking some jokes. We joked that he could use the ball in the bowling lanes in the basement of the White House and he said that was nice. It was fun to be able to see him as a real person."

For both Peloquin and Keily, being acknowledged at the White House provided some legitimacy for those critics who still don't view bowling as a sport that stacks up with some of the other more publicized major NCAA sports.

"It is something we have been fighting for," Keily said. "We want people to see that we work just as hard as any of the other teams that came here today."

Monday's visit marked the first time in history that a college bowling team met with a U.S. President and provided what Head Coach John Williamson said was a tremendous cap to a tremendous season.

"I am excited for the program, for the sport and for the girls," Williamson said. "To be able to interact with the President for even a brief period of time is something a lot of people don't get to do and I hope it is something the kids will remember and something they will be able to be proud of. When I took this job three years ago the goal was to win the national championship and so for this year to end like this puts an exclamation point on a great year."

Freshman Josie Earnest, who earned MVP honors at the NCAA Tournament, will join outgoing senior Christine Luce on the ESPN2 program "First Take" Tuesday morning at 9:30 CDT to discuss the Commodores' championship run.

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