Duke, UNC champs get White House tour, Obama’s accolades

03/10/2014 7:00 PM

02/15/2015 10:41 AM

NCAA Division I 2013 champion Duke University men’s lacrosse and University of North Carolina’s women’s soccer and lacrosse teams visited the White House on Monday to receive personal congratulations from President Barack Obama.

“It was awesome. You never think you’ll be here because of sports,” said Duke senior Matthew Kunkel after the team met with the president inside the White House.

“We were the first team he saw. He said, ‘Hey, Duke lacrosse, you guys are making it a habit of coming here,’ ” Kunkel said. Duke also captured the championship in 2010.

Kunkel said the team also got a personal tour of the White House, with guards pointing out interesting historical facts. He and teammates milled around for a few minutes waiting for the president to appear.

While a Marine Corps band trio played jazz, many of the student athletes took pictures of themselves in the late afternoon sunshine with the White House as backdrop.

In brief remarks, Obama joked that “spring break is under way for a lot of schools, so we thought this was the perfect time to invite a bunch of college kids over to wreak havoc on the White House. What could go wrong?”

But he went on to praise them all for performing their best in the spotlight and in practices and “cracking the books, I hope, on those late-night bus rides home and making sure to leave time to study when everybody else is out having fun.”

“Our country needs young people like you to keep giving your best and to keep bringing out the best in those around you,” he added. “That’s how we keep making progress and moving forward. And that’s why we’re all looking forward to seeing what all of you accomplish in the years ahead.”

The president noted that the Tar Heel women’s soccer and lacrosse teams made UNC one of three schools that sent a pair of champion teams. The others were Princeton’s fencing and field hockey teams and the University of Southern California’s men’s and women’s water polo.

The women’s championship teams show the progress made in recent decades in raising the status of women’s sports, Obama said.

“It means that Malia and Sasha and my nieces, they all know how important athletics is in their lives. And you guys have really paved the way,” he said.

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