WASHINGTON — The White House played hooky for a couple of hours Wednesday afternoon along with more than 250 students, parents and coaches from across the country, including the Las Vegas Patriots flag football team.
White House luminaries mixed with celebrity athletes, determined young players, beaming parents and coaches at a field day hosted by President Donald Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. The event made for a golden moment that admitted everyday voters onto the world’s most important pivotal 18 acres, the White House grounds.
“Just standing on the president’s lawn,” one father deadpanned on his cellphone.
“So all of these titans of American sport know that many of life’s most valuable lessons are learned on the field of competition,” Trump told those gathered on the lawn. Team sports, he maintained, imprint the young with “the importance of teamwork, social skills. Do I have social skills? I don’t know. I have social media, that’s for sure.”
After his remarks, Trump visited the stations for different team sports including flag football, baseball, golf and track and field and posed for photos. The Las Vegas parents were amazed at the amount of time Trump spent chatting and posing with them.
With the Patriots’ 12 teammates, all boys aged eight through 10, came coaches, family members and team cheerleaders. Mother Jamie Chilton proudly cited the team’s undefeated record over its three seasons under coach Jason Ahlstrom as a factor in the team’s selection.
“My son has never lost a football game,” she noted.
David Pomerantz, a Las Vegas radiation oncologist, came with his 9-year-old son Neal, who was “just there for the football.” By the time the Secret Service was shooing guests off the South Lawn, Neal had sought out the president, hugged him and took a selfie with the commander in chief.
Kailee Olliges, 13, whose brother Jack is a Las Vegas Patriot, left with selfies of herself with Trump and daughter Ivanka.
At one point, Chief of Staff John Kelly saw Patriots cheerleaders sitting on the lawn, watching Trump chat up the team. Kelly invited the girls to join in the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.
Earlier, legendary Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera tossed the ball with the Las Vegas team and former outfielder Johnny Damon gave players batting tips. Football great Herschel Walker scrimmaged with the young athletes.
Other students had the chance to meet volleyball star Misty May-Treanor, pro golfer Natalie Gulbis and soccer ace Shauna Rohbock.
First daughter and adviser White House Ivanka Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spearheaded the effort as a means to promote more youth participation in team sports. The President’s Council is especially concerned with declining participation among economically-disadvantaged youth and girls.
“Studies have shown that children who participate in sports have greater self-discipline, higher self-esteem, and are better at working with others.” Ivanka Trump told reporters in a conference call before the event.
For his part, Azar threw out the ball for the Patriots to intercept.
“These kids from Las Vegas are getting to take a pass from Hershel Walker,” Azar said as he left the playing field.
“This is not just fun. It’s also policy,” Azar added. He plans to focus on fighting a “pay to play” system that can price out students whose parents cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars to place their child on a sports team.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.