By Maria Recio
WASHINGTON — The five female members of Texas Christian University’s national championship rifle team were already beside themselves to be on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday evening at a celebration of all NCAA sports champions when President Barack Obama gave them the first shout-out.
“We’ve got the sharpshooters from the TCU rifle squad. Where are they?” asked Obama as the team members, standing near the camera risers, screamed. “I think that they may be able to give the Secret Service a run for their money.”
Obama spoke briefly to the 650 honorees from 32 schools, praising them for being students and athletes. “You didn’t do it as professionals,” he said. “You put in countless hours of practice for the love of the game and for the pride of your school.”
The TCU rifle team came in for some extra attention because it is the first all-female national rifle championship winner in NCAA history — the sport can have all-male, mixed gender and all-female teams.
“That was so awesome,” said Sarah Scherer, 19, a sophomore from Fort Worth, “to be recognized by the president.”
It was about to get more awesome.
As the president worked the rope line, shaking hands and talking to many of the students, he reached the TCU team members — who stood out in their black dresses and matching purple and black TCU cowboy boots.
“He said, ‘Check out the boots!'” said Caitlin Morrissey, 19, of Topeka, Kan.
TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini, who also attended the event, said the university had given the president his own pair of TCU boots, as well — all the championship teams brought some item of clothing with their logo, which were collected at a security checkpoint.
“It’s a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us,” said Boschini.
And there was another surprise for the president — team member Simone Riford, 22, of Hawaii graduated from Obama’s Honolulu high school — and was wearing her class ring to prove it.
“I showed him my ring,” she said, and they spoke about Hawaii and Punahou High School.
And, surprisingly, Obama told the TCU team members that he, too, practiced shooting with a rifle. “He said he practiced with the Secret Service,” said Riford, who graduated from TCU in May and now works in Fort Worth.
“It was sweet,” said Morrissey. “It was way more than we expected.”
“It’s a great experience,” said Scherer, who grew up in Boston. “Our sport is not very well known, so to be invited to the White House is very exciting.”
Erin Lorenzen, 22, of Fort Wayne, Ind., who graduated in May, said that she once visited the White House on her eighth-grade class trip. “This time it’ll be inside the fence,” she said beforehand.
Sarah Beard, 19, a sophomore from Danville, Ind., said that winning the championship as a freshman “was a good way to end my first year.”
And being at the White House seemed to top it all off, as Beard described meeting the president as “awesome.”
Coach Karen Monez gave her team all the credit for their championship — and was thrilled that Obama gave them such personal attention.
TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte said the women were also outstanding students who had the highest GPA of the school’s teams.
Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram’s Washington bureau chief.