Inauguration Resonates On the Court

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

Georgetown Coach John Thompson III plans to attend President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, even if it means walking the 3 1/2 miles back to campus amid closed city streets and the gridlock sure to surround them.

Plus, Thompson is considering shifting practice from its usual 4 p.m. start time to the early evening to ensure that the Hoyas have an opportunity to watch the historic event, if they choose to do so.

"Whenever you have a change of presidents, it's a special time," Thompson said during a conference call with Big East coaches yesterday. "But this, as we start to welcome our 44th president, is a very special time here -- for me personally and for a lot of people."

And while Georgetown is the sole Big East school in the nation's capital, Thompson isn't the only coach who's weighing how to incorporate Tuesday's inauguration into the highly structured lives of his student-athletes.

Seton Hall Coach Bobby Gonzalez says he doesn't consider himself politically hard-wired, but says he started thinking about the significance of Tuesday's ceremony for his team while listening to former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. discuss it on his radio program.

"It got me thinking about our players and maybe having them be a little conscious of it, if they're not already," Gonzalez said. "We certainly are going to talk about it. Will we watch as a team or not? I'm not sure."

The swearing-in ceremony will take place Tuesday by noon, as directed by the Constitution, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It will be followed by the inaugural address and parade, which will make its way up Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the Capitol to the White House.

A contingent of George Washington basketball players plans to be present for much of it, according to sophomore guard Travis King.

King, who is from New Haven, Conn., is organizing the outing.

"This is history, and we definitely want to be a part of it," King said. "I want to see everything. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Howard senior guard Eugene Myatt feels the same. Though the Bison players haven't decided whether to watch or attend as a group, Myatt said he plans to be present, having cast his first vote in a presidential election for Obama.

Obama's election "shows how our country has grown for the better," Myatt said. "I feel as though this is a great time in history."

Jim Boeheim's Syracuse squad was scheduled to be off Tuesday following games Saturday and Monday. While Boeheim said he suspects his players won't want to see him Tuesday, he said he's quite sure they'll want to follow the inaugural events.

"It's a momentous event in the history of our country," Boeheim said. "Our players are well aware of it. I think they are huge supporters of our president-elect. I'm sure we will all be watching and paying close attention to the inauguration and all the events of next week."

Villanova Coach Jay Wright says his players talked about Obama's candidacy throughout the campaign. Tuesday's inauguration, he said, would be an extension of that conversation, adding that he wasn't sure whether the Wildcats would watch the ceremony live or taped.

Obama's inauguration has special resonance at Villanova, Wright suggested, because of the fact that former Villanova player George Raveling was given the original typewritten copy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

At the time a 26-year-old volunteer security guard, Raveling was with King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963. After the speech was delivered, Raveling asked King for his copy of the speech and was given it. The story was retold in a 2003 article in Time magazine titled "Guardian of the Dream."

"That's something we always talk to our team about," Wright said.

Asked by a reporter from New York what it was like to be in Washington on the eve of the inauguration, John Thompson III said: "We're taking one step. And it's not coincidental that it's happening the day after we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. Looking at that, it's one step closer to Dr. King's dream. So it's a special time down here. But traffic has been rough."

Staff writer Kathy Orton contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company