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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks Congratulating the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers on Winning the NCAA Basketball Championship

1989-04-20

The President. Well, beautiful Rose Garden day -- sorry we're a little late getting started. I heard that there was a little security problem, a little backup going through these devices that -- Bridgette Gordon's jewelry getting through the metal detectors out there. [Laughter]

No, we're just delighted you all are here, and I'm particularly pleased to see the president, former Governor Lamar Alexander, here with us today. I know I speak for Dan Quayle when we give him a warm welcome back to Washington. Coach Summitt, Athletic Director Cronan, families and friends and fans, Members of Congress, and then our own local teams that are here today, the White House is proud to host Tennessee's Lady Volunteers, the 1989 NCAA champions. It's a great pleasure having you here.

After you won in Tacoma and after the tears of joy and victory and remembrance, Pat Summitt told a cheering nation that ``This one belongs to the family.'' And it's quite a family, these Lady Volunteers -- five freshmen, two sophomores, three seniors. And before this season, only the seniors had ever played college ball. And the L.A. Times called your victory ``beyond the imagination of most.'' And archrival Auburn's coach dubbed the Lady Vols a ``Who's Who roster of excellence'': Melissa McCray, Sheila Frost, Daedra Charles; players like Carla McGhee, who came back from a 1987 car accident after they said she'd be lucky ever to run again; and there's Tonya Edwards and Dena Head.

And now, I admit, the Bush family is generally pretty happy when Texas wins something. But your midseason loss to Texas is also when -- it proved that this team had character as well as talent. Tonya, the 1987 Most Valuable Player, who led the Vols to Tennessee's first championship, got hurt. Dena, a little-known freshman, came off the bench and emerged as SEC Rookie of the Year. And don't worry, I'm not forgetting Bridgette Gordon, All American, Most Valuable Player, MVP. The papers call her the best woman in college basketball. And when Auburn closed to within three in that final game, she stepped in and sank three straight jumpers. Maybe you heard what the losing coach said about her: ``God bless her, graduate her, and get her out of Tennessee.'' [Laughter] You'll note there is no basket here today in the Rose Garden. That's on purpose. I'll be darned if I want to go head-on-head with her out there on the foul line. [Laughter]

And then the coach, a silver medalist as a player in 1976, Coach Summitt -- she coached America's Olympic team to a gold in 1984. And in 13 years she brought Tennessee to the final four 10 times, winning it twice. Later on we're going down to that fountain over here that you all can see, to see if literally she can walk on water. [Laughter] There's been some speculation about that. And the most rare, the most important stat of all: in 14 years as coach, her players have a 100-percent graduation rate. And all five -- Lamar would kill me if I didn't point this out -- all five of this year's freshmen are on the dean's list. One, Debbie Hawhee, has a 3.95 GPA in medical technology. What in the world did she get the A-minus in? [Laughter]

Ms. Hawhee. English.

Mr. Alexander. English.

The President. Well, she speaks Tennessean. And so, we're going to get her a -- every sport has legendary teams from its early days, and I have a feeling that, years from now when they go back -- as sports fans do and historians do -- and talk about the legends of women's basketball, it'll be this team, your team, the 1989 NCAA champions from Tennessee, that sets the highest standard. As the years unfold, you will always remember that championship season that brought you to the White House. Tomorrow's news clippings that'll be yellowed with age are going to be read by grandchildren born in a different century. And it's a story that began on summer nights, not so long ago -- years before college, though -- when these champions were themselves kids, shooting until twilight in obscure barns or out in driveways scattered across the deep South and the Middle West -- young girls unknown to one another, but dreaming the same dream that this month became real.

So, this is a great opportunity to say thank you all for coming here. Hold fast to your dreams yet to come. Congratulations to all of you. And God bless you, and God bless the U.S.A. Thank you all very, very much.

Coach Summitt. This is a great honor for us. And I think throughout this year, this has been a real special team because we have been family. And we talked about all the highlights that we experienced as a team and as a staff and as a family. And certainly, winning a national championship was a great highlight. I know Debbie Scott, one of our freshmen, said her highlight this year was getting lost in New York City -- [laughter] -- until she found out we got to come here, and she said it would be to see the puppies. [Laughter]

So, we are delighted and honored to be here. I am extremely proud of our academic success. We have won two national championships in the last 3 years, but the most important statistic for our team and our program is 100-percent graduation rate, of which we will hold our heads very proudly. And I know Lamar's excited about that too, but we all are. We have had great leadership, and I don't think you win without leadership. And you don't win without great people, and we've had both. And today we'd like for our three seniors, who have been very instrumental in leading the University of Tennessee to four consecutive NCAA appearances, to come forth and present you with a little gift. And that's Bridgette Gordon -- she wants to deposit her gold, I think, today -- [laughter] -- Sheila Frost, and Melissa McCray.

The President. Come on -- here we go -- who is which, now?

Ms. McCray. I'm Melissa McCray. Nice to meet you.

The President. That's Bridgette. Good to see you all. Who's going to give the speech?

Ms. McCray. Okay, I will. [Laughter] I certainly want to echo what our coach has said. I think it's indeed an honor and a privilege to be here. It's nice to see Mrs. Bush out and certainly nice to see Dan Quayle, the Vice President. We have a jacket here for you. Now, I realize you're not going to be playing any basketball. But maybe once when you're out walking through the garden and playing with your puppies, you might think about the Lady Vols from Tennessee, all right? I hope you enjoy it.

The President. Oh, yes, that's beautiful. Thank you so much. She'll come -- come on, Bar.

Ms. Frost. Mrs. Bush, we have something for you also. I'd like to echo just about the same thing that Melissa said. Thank you for inviting us out. And this is a little something -- when you both go out to see the puppies, you'll be matching. [Laughter]

Mrs. Bush. That's so sweet. Thank you.

Ms. Frost. Thank you.

Coach Summitt. Yes, oh, they want to see the puppies.

The President. They really do want to see them?

Mrs. Bush. You're all invited to see the puppies, but they're not. [Laughter]

Coach Summitt. Okay, we got that. It's our secret.

Ms. Gordon. I have ``The Summitt Season'' here. It's a book written about Pat and our team.

The President. Great.

Ms. Gordon. The year that we lost to Louisiana Tech, but -- [laughter].

The President. There she is.

Ms. Gordon. And this is for Mr. Quayle -- a T-shirt.

The President. Great.

The Vice President. Thank you.

Ms. Gordon. And I have an autographed poster of myself. [Laughter]

The President. Let's see that. Hey! Oh, this is neat. Thank you.

Ms. Gordon. You're welcome.

The President. Here, we've got to get this all set for our -- here, I'll hold it so it doesn't get bent.

Ms. Gordon. Okay.

The President. Loaded up with -- well, I think that I want to ask the Members of Congress that are here to come up and congratulate you all. We've got some good Tennesseans out there. And congratulations to all of you. And Barbara means it. She'll arrange to take you over to see the -- if you're really interested. You don't have to be interested, but you -- --

Team Members. Oh, yes, we are, we are.

The President. They are so cute.

Coach Summitt. There's one thing -- I want you to meet my mom.

The President. Oh, we want to see her. Now, you guys come say hello.

Note: The President spoke at 11:05 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Athletic Director Joan Cronan and Representatives John J. Duncan, James H. Quillen, Jim Cooper, Bob Clement, Bart Gordon, and Don Sundquist.

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