After her husband welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks as the first hometown team to visit the White House during his presidency -- "this one is sweeter," he said -- the First Lady put the team to work as expert advisers for more than 70 kids on hand for a "Let's Move on the South Lawn" clinic. The "Let's Move" campaign, which Mrs. Obama founded in February 2010, is aimed squarely at getting America's kids to be more active and eat better.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman introduced the First Lady, but first announced a partnership among "Let's Move," the NHL and USA Hockey, the national governing body of amateur and Olympic hockey. As part of the announcement, Bettman noted that this coming November will be "Try Hockey for Free" month throughout the U.S., affording any boy and girl the opportunity to test their liking of the sport.
"Yeah!" exclaimed Mrs. Obama, drawing approval from the crowd and a smile from the Commissioner. "For free!"
The First Lady was presented a USA jersey from USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean, then took the microphone in what has become her trademark high-energy fashion. Make no mistake, the kids and adults in the crowd were rapt. Kids quieted down (they were not afraid to make joyful noise, lots of it, during the upcoming clinic), women took out their cameras and hockey dads (their sons are Blackhawks) throughout the crowd listened intently.
"This is our first 'Let's Move' on the South Lawn event for 2011," Mrs. Obama said. "I am glad it is for street hockey. We greatly appreciate the partnership with the NHL and USA Hockey, all the efforts to date."
The First Lady expressed her gratitude for the entire Blackhawks team sticking around to help out with the clinic and also called a shout-out to Washington Capitals All-Star defenseman Mike Green, who drew big cheers from the congressional and administration staffers on hand who are clearly part of the Caps Fan Fever in the D.C. corridor. Minutes later, she laughed gleefully when Green and Chicago's Patrick Sharp mugged for the cameras as part of the ceremonial puck drop.
"You are getting to play hockey and be active right out in the White House's backyard," said Mrs. Obama, addressing the kids circled around the temporary street hockey rink on the South Lawn driveway (the lawn itself was too soft from recent rains). "Let's be sure to thank these players for being here. They are professional athletes taking time out from their busy schedules to go the extra mile for helping you to get moving."
The clinic for local youngsters "is part of a new collaboration between Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! initiative, the NHL and USA Hockey to encourage American children to lead active and healthy lives and continues the president's tradition of sports champions serving in the community as part of their visit," the White House said in a statement before the event.
"We want you to feel good," Mrs. Obama said to the kids. "It's not just about being healthy or a better hockey player. Research shows playing will make you a better student."
The First Lady said a cornerstone of the program is for kids "to move, whether it's walk the dog, dance with your mom in the living room ("you know do a little dancin'"), run around with friends or playing hockey." Let's Move's goal is 60 minutes total, whether all at once or, more likely, a bunch of shorter segments all day long.
"If you can do 60 minutes for six weeks," said Mrs. Obama, kids can earn a President's Active Lifestyle Award. That drew some "oohs" from the kids.
"Yes, and I did it myself," responded the First Lady. "I am not going to tell you to do something I don't do myself."
For more information about kids earning a President's Active Lifestyle Award, check out www.presidentschallenge.org.
Mrs. Obama lived up to her vow to keep her remarks short because "you kids are getting cold out here." Soon she and the Commissioner were watching a street hockey game that featured some spiffy goals and even more entertaining goal celebrations.
The First Lady high-fived a whole lineup of kids dressed in, naturally, Blackhawks and Capitals jerseys as they came off from a shift. She hugged some children as they came off from the next shift, while Mike Green was gently but expertly redirecting the puck when needed.
While the street hockey game was center stage, there were side setups for hardest shot attempts and warmup exercises -- which doubled as keep-warm movement on an afternoon that started sunny but finished blustery. Chicago star Patrick Kane was working his charm on a group of shooters, drawing a flurry of whoops and yays.
Veteran Marian Hossa helped his young teammate but also stole a few glances at the street hockey game, smiling pretty much non-stop -- which, come to think of it, is how it went for the 70-plus lucky kids participating in this Let's Move on the South Lawn clinic.
For more information about Let's Move, check out www.letsmove.gov and www.nhl.com/letsmove.