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National champ CU Buffs honored at White House

National champ CU Buffs honored at White House{mosimage}WASHINGTON, D.C. – The University of Colorado ski team, crowned national champions for the 17th time last month, was one of 12 NCAA championship squads to be honored at the White House by President George W. Bush Thursday, as the Buffaloes helped celebrate National Student-Athlete Day.

Led by athletic director Mike Bohn, head coach Richard Rokos and assistant coaches Bruce Cranmer, Jed Schuetze and Daniel Weinberger, CU’s support personnel and entire ski team of 27 student-athletes toured the White House during the afternoon and had their picture taken with the president on the front steps of the residency’s north entrance.

Following the photo opportunity, the Buffs lined up with the other schools in the White House’s grand foyer and famous ‘Blue Room’ before descending upon the south lawn. The first team to be introduced and walk down the renowned steps at the back of the landmark, CU made an entrance that was heralded by the rousing sound of its very own fight song, courtesy of the president’s prestigious Marine Corps Band. 
     
After every team was introduced and then seated facing the official stage, President Bush made his entrance and thanked the crowd for joining him in the nation’s capitol for such a special event.

‘It’s an honor to welcome outstanding athletes to the White House’ Bush said in his opening statement. ‘I welcome the athletes and their coaches. We offer our congratulations, and we’re thrilled to call you national champs.

‘I’d like to say Champions Day is also National Student-Athlete Day. It’s a chance for us to honor those who excel on the field, as well as those in the classroom. I’m especially pleased to welcome the members of the United States Congress here, senators and congressmen from the states that we’re honoring. Thank you all for coming. (We’re) proud you’re here.’

President Bush then spoke briefly about each team. For some schools, he shared a team’s respective tale of triumph during its championship run. For others, he made a light joke about himself or his administration that highlighted a particular team’s success.

Other schools were honored by the achievement stories of certain people who represent their team and university. And in what was one of the day’s most inspiring moments, CU’s Rokos was singled out by the president with an account that portrays everything for which the United States stands.  

‘I welcome the University of Colorado ski team, under Richard Rokos’ Bush delightfully announced. ‘This is a coed team. The Colorado ski team’s motto was ‘One team, one goal,’ and you achieved your goal by winning the national championship. We welcome you.

‘Your coach is an interesting story’ Bush continued. ‘He escaped communist Czechoslovakia. He’s a proud American coaching a wonderful group of athletes. Congratulations, and we’re glad you’re here.’

Rokos, who defected from Czechoslovakia in 1980 and settled down permanently in Colorado just two years later, was somebody who caught the president’s attention early during the festivities. When the team was first greeted by the commander in chief at the initial picture gathering on the north entrance, Rokos mentioned his history to the president. Upon hearing the touching story, President Bush responded: ‘There is nothing like freedom, isn’t there?’

Obviously caught up in the extraordinary moment, Rokos nodded confidently.
 
‘My team had a great experience at the White House’ Rokos later declared. ‘It is something we will never forget. It was one of the most special moments of my life, meeting the president of the United States. Not only was this an extreme privilege for us that all the kids will cherish, but everyone associated with this today will remember it for the rest of their lives.’ 

Added Bohn: ‘The overall experience exceeded my expectations, and I believe the (ski) team’s, as well. When you consider the fact that they introduced our team to the president’s Marine (Corps) band playing the fight song, it was certainly a very tasteful touch and a terrific salute to our team and our institution.
 
‘The hospitality, coordination and salute to student-athletes – not only for their athletic ability but also for their community service and leadership as overall citizens – was well-documented by the president. I think that certainly embodies what our program is all about.

‘It was also special, because when the president mentioned Richard Rokos, who is now an American, as a defector from Czechoslovakia, he talked about freedom and the importance of it. (That is) especially (crucial) with what’s going on in our country right now. Obviously that meant a tremendous amount to everyone involved.’

Senior Jana Rehemaa was selected as the team representative to present Bush with the traditional gifts. Rehemaa, who was the NCAA individual champion in both the 10-kilometer classical and 15 km freestyle events in Steamboat, presented the president with an official CU team jacket. 

The team earlier had given the president an autographed team picture taken in front of the Flatirons.
 
One of the afternoon’s funniest and most memorable moments occurred when the president decided to startle a couple of the Buffs. While the team was patiently waiting for the president to arrive for their group photo, Bush undetectably snuck up behind Rachel Roosevelt and Patrick Duran, poked his head over their shoulders and shouted, ‘Boo!’
 
Much to the alarm of Roosevelt and Duran, it was the president notifying the group that he had entered the area. After the playful move, which generated laughter amongst the Buffs, President Bush shook hands with almost every team member and official, and then posed for about 10 pictures, including one with him holding the NCAA ski championship trophy.
 
Roosevelt has “presidential ties” as her great, great, great uncle once removed was President Theodore Roosevelt. It was her second visit to the White House; she was there as a youth for the White House’s easter egg hunt and still has the egg – signed by then-President George H.W. Bush.

David Plati, longtime sports information director, also shook hands with the president and briefly talked baseball; the two have a common acquaintance in Tom Grieve, the former general manager for the Texas Rangers.  As the public relations director for the Denver Bears in 1982, Plati talked with Grieve several times a month relaying player statistics, including the rarely kept “average with men in scoring position” which is now a mainstay in the baseball stat world.  “Tommy Grieve is a great friend,” Bush said to Plati when he mentioned his name. “How do you know him?” 
 
Plati later said, “I figured if I ever had a chance to speak to the president of the United States, it would probably be an apology for bumping into him and spilling his soda in a press box somewhere, not to briefly talk baseball.”
 
Also making the trip was retired CU assistant athletic director Richard Cardillo, also a retired Army brigadier general.  Cardillo is a long-time supporter of the ski program, and even after his retirement in 1997, continued to pay his own way to attend national championship events with the team.

CU’s team photo was taken on the front steps.  At one point, while looking at historic photos, dog “Barney” was carried by the team with most members gasping, “Look, it’s the president’s dog.”

- University of Colorado

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