WASHINGTON – MLS players and employees spend thousands of hours each year serving their communities and spreading the joy of their sport to young fans.
But they don’t often get the chance to do so on the famous South Lawn of the White House.
On Monday, eight of the league’s players and one coach helped thousands of children play some footie as part of the 134th Annual White House Easter Egg Roll and its “Let's Go, Let's Play, Let's Move” theme. They were there along with nearly 35,000 other guests, adding a bevy of activities and entertainment to one of Washington’s most beloved traditions, hosted by the President and the First Family.
“Any time there’s something that’s emailed to you with ‘White House’ in the title, it’ll give you a double-take,” said Philadelphia Union defender Danny Califf. “To be able to do this – and take my family along – is probably one of the coolest experiences that I’ve had. I’m honored.”
Califf and Philly teammates Brian Carroll and Zac MacMath were the first MLS representatives on the South Lawn, followed by Kenny Cooper and Stephen Keel of the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United’s Stephen King, Robbie Russell, Chris Pontius and head coach Ben Olsen.
Bathed in warm spring sunshine, they helped volunteers and employees from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition lead youngsters through a simple dribbling course as part of the event’s “Eggtivity Area,” designed to remind participants and their parents of the simple joys of movement and play. Elsewhere on the South Lawn, a live music stage pulsated with sound, renowned poet Maya Angelou read books at a storytelling area and celebrity chefs like Andrew Zimmern and Marcus Samuelsson showed how to cook up healthy dishes.
“How many times do you get to say you went to the White House and play with kids out on the lawn?” said Pontius, who leaped at a second chance to take part in the Easter Egg Roll after enjoying his participation in last year’s edition. “We’re basically just getting them moving, keeping them occupied. We’re just trying to make it fun for the kids.”
Cooper spent part of his childhood in Maryland, but never got to visit the iconic building on Pennsylvania Avenue. On Monday, he looked out across the South Lawn and panorama of the National Mall beyond it, and said he gratified by the opportunity to grow the game in such an illustrious locale.
“There’s obviously a lot of kids out here that seem to enjoy the game,” he told MLSsoccer.com between autograph and photo requests from young fans, and even a few Easter Egg Roll staffers. "So it’s fun to see that. Being passionate about the game myself, it’s fun to share that passion with other people.
“I actually grew up in Baltimore, and even growing up here, I never had an opportunity to come out to the White House South Lawn. It’s definitely something I’ll cherish for a long time and it’s also fun to interact with the kids out here.”
The occasion was particularly special for Califf, Carroll and Olsen, who were accompanied by their own spouses and young children.
“It was an incredible experience, being on the White House lawn for such a good cause, just getting kids to live healthily and happily, and to be able to celebrate that along with my family and represent the league and the Union here,” said Carroll. “It’s something that I’ll never forget.”