SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - I felt like I owed you this one. As the only local reporter (as far as I know) to go to Washington, D.C., to document Rowan County’s girls of summer and their White House invitation, I had a unique insight that I wanted to share on what went on behind the scenes and those wonderful pictures sent out by President Trump.
Well...in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t there for all of it. I’ll explain that shortly.
The day started before 7:00 am for the girls, their families, and several other local leaders who were in on the trip. Most met at the Statesville Airport. That’s because Bob Thompson with Victory Air was able to make those arrangements to have a charter plane for the trip. Sure beats an activity bus, doesn’t it?
“That’s just the kind of corporate citizen they are,” said John Ferguson, Statesville Regional Airport Manager, about Victory Air. “We are fortunate to have them in our community.”
WBTV had a reporter at the airport, and she faithfully reported that the girls were excited and eager for what the day promised.
I didn’t fly, but instead, left Salisbury at 3:00 am and drove the WBTV corporate logo’ed litte white Ford all the way to DC. Traffic was surprisingly light, even between Richmond and Washington.
My first stop was the Rayburn House Office Building on Independence Avenue. That’s where Rep. Richard Hudson (R-08) has his office. Hudson, along with Rep. Ted Budd (R-13), and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), urged President Trump to extend the invitation to the girls after it was learned that the Little League World Champion boys team was invited to the White House.
You may recall how all of that transpired.
On August 25, in the Little League Baseball World Series, the boys team from River Ridge, LA, beat Curacao to win the title. US House Minority Whip Steve Scalise tweets his congratulations, President Trump retweeted it, adding “see you at the White House.”
Also on August 25, made aware of the President’s tweet, Steve Yang, head coach of the Rowan Little League girls makes a tweet of his own, tagging President Trump and Ivanka Trump, saying he is “wanting the team to get an invite to the White House like the boys team from Louisiana.”
The tweet got a lot of media attention and went viral. It proved to be a winning strategy for a coach who is used to winning.
“I want to thank President Trump for inviting our Rowan County Little League Softball team to the White House for this incredible honor,” said Rep. Hudson soon after the news of the invite. “These young ladies are world champions and deserve a national celebration.”
“I just want girls on the same platform to be recognized by the politicians. It’s great, the President of the United States can honor youth sports like college athletics and professional athletics," Yang said.
Back to Friday and Washington...the girls arrived just after 10:00 am. They and their posse, (entourage, crew, whatever), invaded Hudson’s office. Hudson wasn’t there since Congress was not in session, but his staff made everyone feel welcome and had a good time taking pictures.
The girls seemed the most fascinated when a large dog , (maybe one of those labradoodler things?), came walking in the office. The dog belongs to one of the staffers, I was told.
Next up, a tour of the Capitol. The whole Little League crew, with two TV cameras in tow, headed through the underground tunnel. While waiting in line to go through security in the lobby, all of the other tourists were amazed and curious about this group of young girls in bright yellow jerseys being followed by cameras with bright lights and microphones.
My first interviews were with players Ashley Yang and flame-throwing pitcher Campbell Schaen.
“It’s really an a honor to know that everyone recognizes us, know what we went through and accomplished," Schaen said.
“It means a lot to us, it means so much to get invited by the president," Added Yang.
Coach Steve Yang was relishing the moment, greatly enjoying having the family together for the big day. “That’s something we’ve never experienced before as a family, this is a memory we will cherish for a lifetime," Yang said.
Now, unfortunately, we had to part ways. You can’t take a TV camera into the capitol, unless you have prior permission, and then only in very specific areas. While the girls went on the tour, I went outside to do my first of three live shots. This one for WBTV News at Noon.
After that, the real fun began. (That’s sarcasm.) I had been trying for days to get permission to be with the team when they had the big moment with President Trump in the Oval Office. There are all sorts of protocols that have to be met, but then it comes down to one very subjective element: the permission of the president.
Initially, I was told by the White House Press Office that the event with the team would be “closed press.” That means no media, except for the official White House photographer and videographer. That’s fine, I just wanted to be able to be in the room to see it happen. A really nice guy from the White House named Weston Loyd seemed to understand, and put in the effort on my behalf.
The Oval Office visit was set for 1:45. The team and company went in and waited to be called. I went to the White House Press Office and Briefing Room, which is much, much smaller than it appears on TV. And it was busy. While I was there there was a very brief briefing announcing sanctions on Turkey. Turkey? Come on, let’s talk Rowan County softball!
Weston told me to wait in the briefing room. He said President Trump might open the Oval Office event to the press, and that I was on the list and would be allowed in...if President Trump made the call.
So there I was...hanging out with John Roberts of Fox News, and a lot of other national media types that I didn’t recognize, while the girls were being honored by the 45th President of the United States. WOTUS waiting on POTUS.
I wish I could give you eyewitness accounts of how things went in the Oval Office, but I can’t. I had to rely on a couple of the players, along with Coach Yang, and friends Greg Edds of the Rowan County Commission and Brian Miller of the Salisbury City Council.
At one point I left the briefing room and walked on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. My hunch was that the girls would come out that way once the event was over and I’d be in the prime spot to get the video and interviews I needed, I met the grandfather of player Kennedi Fisher out there. He had arrived late and wasn’t able to get inside either.
After a while, and no sign of the team, I jumped in a cab to go back to where my car was parked so I could send some video back to the station for my 4:00 pm live shot.
Of course, as soon as I got back to my car, about two miles away from the White House, Kennedi’s grandfather called to let me know the girls had just come out and were leaving. Oh no! I had to get interviews with them, what could I do?
I jumped back in another cab, loaded down with all of my equipment. Greg Edds started texting me the team’s location as the group walked through Washington. I relayed the locations to the cab driver, and after a few twists and turns, I spotted the group somewhere on Seventeenth Avenue. I jumped out of the cab, loaded up all my gear, and started getting interviews, anxious to know what the girls thought about the amazing experience.
“Okay, so first we like had to wait in a little room for a little bit because I guess the president was eating lunch,” said player Lexi Ritchie. “They took us into the Oval Office where we were to wait for the president and they told us like, facts that happened there. They asked us questions about what we did, and they let us do different activities and like remake other photos that other people had done earlier on, and then the president came in and he asked us questions about what we felt like when we played and how we felt, and then he took a picture with us and we took individual pictures, and then the boys came in and he asked us if we would beat the boys, and asked us a bunch of questions.”
Lexi and teammate Kynlee Dextraze also saw a business opportunity in their historic visit.
“We have a business, bracelet company called Lex and Dex and we made him a bracelet and gave it to him, he thought it was really cool, said thank you and everything," Lexi added.
“Oh, they were awestruck when he walked in the room,” said Coach Yang. “There were three or four girls, mouths wide open, just starstruck, an unbelievable experience.”
Interviews complete with just minutes to spare, I watched the team board two charter buses and head to another adventure. I sat down on the sidewalk, broke out my laptop and started to write and edit my stories for our 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm news.
On my end, everything went well as far as you could see on camera, but it was pretty frantic getting it all together in time to make the air.
And there was more work to do!
I still had to put together a story for our 7pm Prime Time show, but then came another surprise. Greg Edds texted to tell me that the girls were heading to the Supreme Court for a tour, and oh by the way, one of the Little League officials is personal friends with Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and he was going to come and speak with them!
As much as I wanted to grab another cab and head that way, I just couldn’t do it. I still had another TV story and web story to finish, so I stayed in my spot and finished my work.
We did eventually get some of the pictures and video from the White House, but not as quickly as I would have expected.
For me, it was a pretty exciting day. I would have loved to have been in the Oval Office for the actual event, but short of that, it was fun being there and seeing the excitement on the faces of those girls. It’s been a lot of fun for me to cover them this summer and they’ve really represented our county in a remarkable way.
And speaking of that, I think Steve Yang deserves a special mention. Yes, he’s a fantastic coach and he and his staff certainly know how to make winners, but there’s more. He’s always been gracious and accessible to me anytime I wanted an interview or information to put out about the team. I probably get on his nerves with all the visits and tweets, but if I do, he never shows it. I think it really comes down to what his motivation is in all of this.
“It’s all about the girls because they play the game,” Yang told me while waiting in the lobby of the US Capitol. “These are the formidable years, age 11, 12, 13, and I get more joy in watching them as young ladies than as softball players. For them to be here and to learn, to experience one of life’s lessons that they’ll probably never get to experience again, to me is very exciting as the coach.”
Congratulations girls, Coach Yang, coaches, Rowan County Little League officials, local leaders, and everybody with a hand in putting a team on the field that can win ballgames and hearts at the same time. Well done.