President Bush Honors NCAA Champion USC Men's Tennis Team
Sept. 25, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. - After capturing USC's 16th men's tennis NCAA championship last May, the 2002 Trojan tennis team received something the previous 15 Trojan champions did not - an personal invitation to the White House by President George W. Bush.
On Monday, Sept. 23, all seven members of last year's championship squad flew to Washington D.C., along with 2002 head coach Dick Leach (who retired in May after 23 years at the helm of the USC program), new head coach Peter Smith, athletic director Mike Garrett and senior associate athletic director Daryl Gross.
USC was one of 10 teams that was invited to take part in the 2002 NCAA Spring Sports Championship Day hosted at the White House on Tuesday, Sept. 24. The other nine teams included: Texas baseball, Minnesota men's golf, Duke women's golf, South Carolina track & field, Louisiana State men's track & field, California-Berkeley softball, Stanford women's tennis, Syracuse men's lacrosse and Princeton women's lacrosse.
After spending Tuesday morning visiting sites such as the U. S. Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Trojans arrived at the White House at 1 p.m. and were escorted to the Blue Room on the second floor of the East Wing to await the arrival of President Bush.
Upon entering the room, Bush greeted the team and congratulated Leach and the players on their achievement. Bush also personally addressed Garrett, wishing him and the University much luck this season, and addressed 2002 freshman Prakash Amritraj, whose father, Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj, he has met several times.
After Bush posed for an official photo with the team, the Trojans were led to the East Room, where they were introduced and entered to the playing of 'Fight On' by a Marine Corps quartet.
In front of media and guests President Bush addressed the student-athletes and encouraged them to 'be champions off the field,' especially in this time of 'challenge for our country.'
'I happen to believe you have a responsibility to set an example for others, that as you succeed on the field of play, you have to remember there are youngsters looking at you, trying to determine how they should live their life,' Bush said. 'You've got an opportunity as champions to be champions off the field in the community in which you live.'
Following his remarks, each team presented Bush with a gift. Andrew Park, senior team captain of the 2002 Trojan tennis squad and a current USC medical student, gave the President a USC inscribed tennis racket and Bush showed off his backhand upon accepting the gift.
'The whole thing was very surreal,' said Park. 'It was unbelievable. I never thought I'd be so nervous shaking another man's hand and I never thought it would be the President of the United States. It's like I'm living a dream.'
The Trojans' whirlwind tour ended later that day when they boarded a 9:20 p.m. flight back to Los Angeles.
USC captured the 2002 NCAA Championship in May by defeating No. 1-ranked Georgia, 4-1. Seeded 11th entering the 2002 tournament, USC became the lowest seed to ever win the title and remains one of only four schools (USC, UCLA, Stanford, Georgia) to claim a men's tennis national championship. The title was the fourth under Leach.