Members of Denison women’s swimming and diving team thought formal celebrations of their NCAA Division III title were over.
Then came an email from the White House.
The national champs are headed to Washington, D.C., on June 12, accepting the invitation of President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden as part of a College Athlete Day recognition ceremony. The Big Red swimmers and divers are expected to be among dozens of 2022-23 championship teams representing an array of sports and all three divisions of the NCAA.
“This is a unique and well-deserved opportunity for our athletes and coaches,” President Adam Weinberg said. “Our athletes and coaches represent the very best of collegiate athletics. In particular, I am thrilled and grateful for the leadership of coach Gregg Parini, who has delivered seven national titles to Denison. Gregg is an outstanding coach, educator, and mentor.”
This is believed to be the first time a Denison athletic team has been honored at the White House, which has been hosting championship squads in professional and college sports since 1865.
“This event happening left us all in shock,” says co-captain Tara Culibrk ’23. “We have zero expectations, but one thing is for sure — we are very excited to represent our Denison team as a united front along with our coaches.”
All 18 Big Red swimmers and divers who participated in the March NCAA meet in Greensboro, North Carolina, along with most of the coaching staff and athletic director Nan Carney-DeBord, are traveling to Washington. The squad is still sorting through details of the trip, but the event is scheduled to be held on the White House lawn.
“It’s a pretty cool opportunity for us to be recognized at this level, and it’s a chance to bring the university some additional exposure and recognition,” says men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach Gregg Parini.
The legendary Big Red coach has led the women’s program to two NCAA titles (2001, 2023) and the men’s program to five (2011, 2012, 2016, 2018, 2019). But this will mark Parini’s first trip to the White House with a team. That’s because recognition for lower-level programs, while not unheard of, has been rare — typically limited to Division I football and basketball teams.
Carney-DeBord believes new NCAA President Charlie Baker, hired on Dec. 15, 2022, played a role in ensuring champions from all three divisions received invites. Baker not only played basketball at Harvard but has ties to Denison — his oldest son, Charles Baker V ’13, was on the Big Red football team.
“To be invited to the White House is truly an honor,’” Carney-DeBord says. “And our women’s team is definitely worthy of the honor.”