- Associated Press - Friday, March 16, 2012

DAYTON, OHIO (AP) - Christian Laettner’s incredible shot. Jim Valvano’s joyous dash. Everybody has a favorite NCAA tournament memory.

For some still-amazed students at the University of Dayton, it will be the night they spent watching hoops and eating hot dogs with the president of the United States.

Three volleyball players got to sit in the front row with President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron for the tournament’s opening game Tuesday night. They chatted about sports and school, ate hot dogs and posed for photos.

Then, they got to tell family and friends _ in awe-struck voice _ what they’d just experienced.

The president. The prime minister. Really!

“It’s hard to believe it happened,” said Samantha Selsky, a junior from California who sat four seats from Obama. “Looking back on it, I’m trying to remember what was going through my head. It’s hard to remember. It seemed so fast _ the fastest three hours ever.”

So surreal, and such a surprise. None of them expected to be front and center with the nation’s top basketball fan for the opening game of the NCAA tournament Tuesday night at the UD Arena.

The school sent an email to some of its top students, asking if they wanted to sit in the same section with Obama for the game. Three volleyball players _ Selsky, junior Rachel Krabacher and sophomore Shayne Brown _ accepted the invitation.

The White House staff would decide where everyone sat.

It was sunny and 75 degrees when they walked into the arena, passed through metal detectors set up at each entrance and were handed their tickets.

Section 101. Row A.

The president’s row.

“They called us over and said, `You three need to understand you’ll be sitting in the same row as the president,’” Brown said. “We got pretty excited at that point.”

Not just in his row. A couple seats away, close enough to talk to him throughout the game.

“We were kind of like being little girls,” Selsky said. “We couldn’t believe this was happening. What were we going to say? What do we call him? We were asking the Secret Service what we do. When he comes out here, can we use our phones? How do we refer to him? So they were kind of laughing at us because they knew we were kind of star-struck.”

While Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State warmed up, the president and prime minister arrived, flanked by security. Obama settled into a seat in the middle of the row, with an assistant to his right. Next to him were the three volleyball players.

The president introduced himself and asked their names. They carried on conversation throughout the game, chatting about sports and college and a hot dog sushi featured at a Hawaiian restaurant _ a hot dog wrapped in rice and seaweed.

Anything except politics.

During the first half, Obama decided he’d like a hot dog and asked the students if they would like one, too.

“We all kind of looked at each other like, `Are we allowed say yes?’” Krabacher said. “He was like, `You’re college students. Who turns down free food?’ He called somebody over and said, `I’ll take 10 hot dogs.’ So we got hot dogs from the president.”

They watched to see how he fixed his.

“He uses mustard,” Krabacher said.

There was only one limitation set by the Secret Service.

“They told us not to take our phones out,” Krabacher said.

So, they couldn’t tell everyone about what was happening. Couldn’t text anyone or post anywhere about their big moment. Their first opportunity was when Obama left at halftime to do an interview.

“We checked our phones, of course,” Brown said. “All our phones were blown up (with messages). We had a million text messages from everyone.”

Sitting two rows up was Josie Grant, a senior soccer player from Parsonby, a village of fewer than 1,000 people in northern England. When she eventually got the chance, she introduced herself to the prime minister, who wondered how she got to be in Dayton. Then, Cameron introduced her to Obama.

“To meet both of them was fantastic,” Grant said. “The fact that I met the prime minister in America at a basketball game is amusing.”

Obama posed for photos with the students at halftime, then again when the game ended. The volleyball players got him to autograph their light blue game tickets with the date and NCAA logo as keepsakes.

They’ve been treated like celebrities on campus the last few days, recognized as the ones who got to watch a game with the president. Selsky posted a photo of them with the president on her Facebook home page.

“It’s still very surreal,” she said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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