Members of North Central College’s national championship football team are headed to Washington, D.C., Monday to meet President Joe Biden and his wife at the White House.
As winners of the NCAA Division III football championship this past winter, the Cardinals will join other NCAA championship teams in attending the inaugural College Athlete Day being held on the South Lawn of the White House.
While not all of the winning teams will be making the trip — Georgia’s Division I football team respectfully turned down the invitation because the date was “not feasible” — the invite was met with joy by the Naperville-based school.
“My initial thought was, ‘Heck, yeah — absolutely,’” Cardinals coach Brad Spencer said when notified of the honor. “How many times in your life do you get an opportunity to get an invitation that has your name on it that the president is requesting your presence at the White House?
“That’s something that will go in our frame next to the trophy,” he said. “It will be great memories and we’re looking forward to being able to do it.”
The Cardinals won the national championship in 2019 as well but the White House invitation was not extended to non-Division I winners in the past.
Coaches, student-athletes and staff members from the 90 national champions from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s 24 official championship sports were invited.
North Central also has national championship teams in women’s triathlon and women’s wrestling but they were not invited to Monday’s event as those sports have not achieved full championship status from the NCAA.
The football team finished 15-0 in Spencer’s first year as coach and beat Mount Union by a score of 28-21 in the Dec. 16 national championship game.
Spencer, 41, is a lifelong Naperville resident who was a student-athlete at Naperville Central High School and North Central College. He played on Naperville Central’s unbeaten Illinois High School Association Class 6A state championship team.
At the White House event, he will be joined by Jessica Brown, NCC’s vice president for student affairs and athletics, and the team’s full-time football coaches.
Players who graduated this year also will be attending: Gavin Bauknecht, Derek Bex), Will Ebert, Garrett Fiduccia, Dan Gilroy, Adam Green, Ethan Greenfield, Adam Green, Brandon Greifelt, Jack Grupka, Terrence Hill, Jake Johnson, Ryan Ohlsen, Tyler Rich, Sam Taviani and Alec Wolff.
“We (are taking) our graduated fourth- and fifth-year seniors who used up their eligibility,” Spencer said. “It was appropriate for everything that they have done for our program.
“Most of them came here in 2018 and have won two national titles and finished second in the nation while they were here,” he said. “They have been a big part of our growth and us being able to place our standards to where they are now.”
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Many of them were in Washington in 2019 when the Cardinals were scheduled to open the season at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
A hurricane in the area forced the team to change its plans and the Cardinals spent a day in Washington, Spencer said.
“We walked around a little bit and saw the White House from afar,” he said. “But this time, we’ll be inside the gates.”
That’s something Spencer is not taking for granted.
“There are not a lot of people who have done this,” he said of a White House visit. “I know we’re going to enjoy it, just take it all in and be thankful that we’re able to be there.
“Think about all of the great people who have been inside those gates. It’s an honor to be able to join that group. It’s not a long list of folks who have been in there.”
Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.