The President's Visit Has Special Impact on Kent State's Basketball Teams
By David Carducci
The visit by the President of the United States of America on Wednesday afternoon effected the Golden Flashes' men's and women's basketball team differently than it did the rest of the Kent State University campus.
For the hour or so Barack Obama spent in Kent, the office of men's head coach Rob Senderoff served as a stand in for the Oval Office. The women's offices and the rest of the basketball suite served as a West Wing. And when Obama finally took the stage to address the 6,600 in attendance in the M.A.C. Center, the basketball court used by both teams served as a replacement for the White House's Rose Garden.
"It really was like having the President of the United States as a guest in your own home for us," said Senderoff. "We were in the offices this past Saturday because we had a recruit on campus, and while we kind of had an idea the president would be coming, we had no idea he'd be using our office."
Throughout that Saturday, strangers kept walking in and out of the offices to take a look around.
"They happened to be on the president's security team, but I had no understanding of what was going on," said Senderoff.
Finally, on Monday morning, two secret service agents walked in the and said the president would be using Senderoff's office. By 3 p.m. the following day, all of the office furniture had been cleared out and a large presidential-looking conference table with black leather chairs were moved in. At 5 p.m., Senderoff, women's coach Danielle O'Banion and their staffs had to be out of the M.A.C. Center.
"We were told bomb-sniffing dogs would be coming in to sweep the offices," said Senderoff, who shook his head in amazement at the realization that in less than 24 hours, his office could be used to call in a missile strike if necessary.
Senderoff, O'Banion, their staffs and most of their players were back in the arena the next day to witness the campaign rally. For most, it would be the first time they had a chance to be in the same room as the leader of the free world.
"When I was in sixth grade I visited the White House," said Senderoff. "But I never saw a president until Wednesday. It was obviously a pretty neat experience. Whether you believe in his politics or not, he is an incredible orator and really impressive to listen to. I think everyone there could agree with that. Whether you are Democrat, Republican or neutral, to hear him in person is very impressive."
O'Banion's hometown is Arlington, Va., which is right across from Washington, D.C., on the south bank of the Potomac River. She also attended Episcopal High School, which is the alma matter of 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, "so those types have been around my whole life," O'Banion said. "But I was really excited our student athletes would have their chance to see the president. Who people vote for is not my concern, but all have to be able to acknowledge the man has a gift. It was really incredible to be in that room and listen to him.
"I think all of our players were so amazed at the production of the last two or three days and then actually being in the gym when he was physically present … The players stopped by (on Thursday) and were saying things like 'he probably walked right here."
When President Obama first stepped into the M.A.C. Center to a loud ovation, he noticed Kent State's men's players standing just to the left of the walkway leading to his stage.
"We were all ecstatic," said senior guard Randal Holt. "It was a great moment, just to be that close to the president. And then when he saw us, he made a little motion like he was shooting a basket."
The president is known for being a basketball fan. In fact, he usually reveals his bracket predictions for the NCAA Tournament on ESPN in March.
On Thursday, junior-college transfer Darren Goodson said he hoped the Flashes could make this year's NCAA Tournament field to see if the president's visit would inspire him to pick Kent State.
"Darren was one of the guys who was pretty blown away," said Senderoff. "When he came in the office (on Thursday), he talked about how happy he was he decided to come to Kent State. I thought he was talking about basketball."
"But he was talking about seeing the president," Senderoff chuckled.
Senior forward Chris Evans called the chance to see the president up close, "the experience of a lifetime."
"He walks in, and then you see all of those (secret service) agents there to protect him. That's when you realize," said Evans. "That's the most powerful man in the world, and he's right there in front of you … And then on his way out of the arena, he stopped to take a picture with the guys on the team. That meant a whole lot to us."
When Senderoff was evicted from his office on Tuesday, he left a Kent State uniform for the president with the name "OBAMA" on the back and the number 1. When he returned to the office on Thursday, the president had signed basketballs for both the men's and women's teams.
"We were thrilled," said Senderoff "Those are obviously going to be some special souvenirs we'll keep forever."