The stakes were high in the quest for bragging rights and fun. And the competition numbered in the tens of thousands. So the children who attended the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday came ready for battle.
Armed with wooden spoons, kids pushed and dragged and poked, and some even took to throwing rainbow-dyed eggs. Parents coaxed and prodded even the littlest rollers to the finish line in a competition 135 years old, and a few meters long.
“It’s the Easter egg roll — this is serious,” a father playfully told the toddler son in his arms.
About 35,000 visitors from around the country attended the day’s events, according to the White House. The festivities, which had the theme “Be Happy, Be Healthy, Be You,” included basketball, cooking lessons, yoga, story time and appearances by the Wanted, Jordin Sparks and Oscar-nominated child actress Quvenzhane Wallis.
Kids got photo ops with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Elmo, Easter Bunny Snoopy and other costumed characters.
YouTube sensation “Kid President” Robby Novak, 9, helped to introduce President Obama and his family, who thanked the crowd for ushering in sunny spring weather. After a morning of fog threatened to obscure the eggs, afternoon temperatures reaching the mid-60s marked one of region’s warmest days of the year.
“American Idol” Season 11 runner-up Jessica Sanchez performed the national anthem before the first family joined the rollers.
Obama opted to referee rather than roll, lending the kids moral support and encouragement amid the screams of tween fangirls.
Although sequester budget cuts threatened this year’s celebration, event organizers with the National Park Service were able to raise funds through corporate sponsors and the sale of commemorative wooden eggs to keep the event on track.
The egg roll tradition began in 1878, when President Rutherford B. Hayes invited children and their eggs to the South Lawn. The White House had hosted informal events even earlier, since the Lincoln administration.
Some came prepared with a plan for ushering their egg to the end. Kids wiggled to the tunes of the U.S. Marine Band while trying to stay in their lanes and control the uncooperative eggs.
“I was excited and sort of scared,” 7-year-old Camille Friall said before the egg roll began. “But I don’t know how good I’ll be.”
Most were simply thrilled to be at the White House. Arlington County resident Caroline Gray, 6, was visiting the White House for the first time since her family began entering the event’s ticket lottery five years ago.
Camille and a friend, Kalen Roberts, both visiting from Tallahassee, had more on their minds than the multicolored sporting event.
“The best part was seeing and petting Bo,” said Kalen, 8, referring to the first family’s dog.
The Obamas greeted visitors as they participated in the rest of the South Lawn events, playing tennis and reading children’s books to the crowd.
The president’s attempt at basketball, however, was about as successful as the toddlers’ egg rolling — the ball didn’t go where it was supposed to. The “baller in chief” missed his first 14 attempts while shooting in front of kids and several Washington Wizards players. Obama went two for 22 overall.
He then handed the ball to 10-year-old Kahron Campbell of Landover, who came through with a layup on behalf of the president.