The beginning of a new school year means one thing for some young athletes: the beginning of football practice. It’s that way all over the United States and, for one team, football practice brought a special reward. Expecting a day filled with weight lifting, play practice, running and specialty drills, the players at Galesburg High School (Galesburg, IL) instead got a surprise visit – from the President of the United States!
President Barak Obama, on a bus tour of the Midwest, made the unscheduled stop during the heat of the afternoon on August 17, 2011. Watching as the defense and offense squads scrimmaged, the president and coach, Tim Dougherty visited on the sidelines.
Dougherty, who usually doesn’t like people to interrupt football practice, was approached by men he assumed to be part of the press. Instead, the Secret Service men gave him some astonishing news. "I had no advance warning whatsoever," Dougherty said in an interview with BND.com. "They said, 'You're going to have a surprise visitor in 10 minutes. The president's coming.'''
It wasn’t long before President Obama showed up, strolling across the practice field. Dougherty says it was a ‘Field of Dreams’ moment and called it ‘surreal’. After quick introductions, the president and coach talked "like we were old high school friends or something."
After about a dozen plays, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the president called the team to the center of the field. “Take a knee,” he instructed the boys.
After they settled down, President Obama gave a pep speech, of sorts. This one, however, was more about the game of life than that of football. There, in the center of “The Home of the Silver Streaks”, the president advised the attentive team on matters of character, motivation and winning.
After assuring the boys they were going to have a “great season” due to their efforts, he also reminded them that “you don’t win every game…” He told the players he was proud of them, and he was sure that if they stick together, play and study hard, “I have no doubt you guys will succeed.”
Taking the talk to a more global level, Obama told the team, “That's what we need as a country, everybody chipping in, playing together, being motivated, doing their best."
The president encouraged the boys of Galesburg High School to stay focused and stay together, working as a team to achieve their goal of a winning season.
The team was led in their spirit yell, two claps, followed by “Win the Day!” President Obama nodded, citing that he greets each morning with that thought. Dougherty said, “He was all geeked up about it and the kids were loving that."
Then it was photo time. Players and coaches took pictures with President Obama. As he left the team, the coach tossed him a football. He caught it.
Heading toward his bus to resume a busy schedule, the president stopped long enough to take pictures with the girls’ volleyball team and dance team.
For the football team, it was back to practice. For the president and coach, it was back to work.
The hardest part of the day for Tim Dougherty? Convincing his wife, Lynn, that he wasn’t playing a practical joke when he told her about the president’s visit.