It’s been seven months since the Archmere Academy football team won the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 2A football state championship, but the Auks took care of some unfinished business on July 4.
Players, coaches, cheerleaders and other members of the Archmere community traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the school’s most famous alumnus. President Joe Biden, Class of 1961, welcomed the contingent to the White House to celebrate their state championship. He was joined by two other graduates, his son Hunter (Class of 1988) and daughter Ashley (Class of 1999).
Biden had issued the invitation to the team in a surprise videotaped message that was played at a school celebration a few days after the championship game.
Rising senior Nate Morda said the team took two coach buses to Washington before going through security.
“When we got there, it was crazy, just seeing the security and all the people protecting the White House. It was a surreal feeling. We were all like, ‘Wow, we’re at the White House,’” Morda said.
His classmate, Alex Starnes, said when the team first boarded the buses, “I don’t think it hit us that we were going to the White House. But when we entered D.C., it hit us all at once.”
Morda said they waited in a lobby for about 20 minutes until a few marines gave them a short tour. They then met with Biden for a group picture. After that, they were given a private tour before having the chance to meet with the president in the Oval Office and have individual photos with him.
Coach John Bellace said the White House staff was very helpful in making the visit a reality. There was great anticipation while the group waited for Biden to enter the room.
“When he came in, everyone applauded and I think it was a nice moment for everyone involved, including the president and his staff,” Bellace said.
Biden told the students how proud he was of their accomplishments and relayed some stories of his playing days. One player asked Biden if he thought he could still play, which got a laugh out of the president. Bellace said Biden told the students how much their Archmere experience would mean to them in the future.
“It was just an incredible moment to stand in that room with all of that history and be welcomed by the president of our country,” the coach said.
Starnes said Biden appeared as excited to see the Auks as they were to see him. “He was talking about his football experience back at Archmere.”
The president accepted a framed Archmere football jersey bearing the number he wore while playing for the Auks, No. 30. That was worn last season by senior Declan Pearson.
“Coach brought out the jersey,” Starnes said. “He opened up, and he was so happy. He knew it was a special gift. It made us all happy that we could give a gift to the president that he enjoyed so much.”
Another recent graduate, Conor Udovich, offered to let Biden try on his championship ring. The Auks also attended the White House 4th of July picnic.
According to Morda, the president was thrilled to have fellow Auks in the White House.
“He was ecstatic, just to hear him talk face-to-face,” Morda said. “He was very personable, and there was a great connection. It was really neat to see someone who was in our shoes.”
Biden told the Auks that his children also were athletes at Archmere. Hunter played football, while Ashley was on the lacrosse team.
“That was cool to see that they were an Archmere family. They had a legacy,” Morda said.
Morda described the visit as “profound” and is something he will never forget. “Being able to go to the White House, I don’t think any other high school football team’s ever gone. It can’t be replicated.”
Bellace said it was a special way to end the 2021 season, particularly for the seniors, who got to celebrate together one last time before heading off to college or the next chapter of their lives. The returning players, he said, have “been ready since the spring to move on and get ready for 2022. They’ve done a good job of staying balanced and motivated.”
Archmere finished the 2021 season with a perfect 13-0 record, defeating Woodbridge in the championship game, 27-0. It was the program’s first state title since 1982. The Auks begin the defense of their championship on Sept. 10 at home against Tatnall.
Starnes said he’s ready to see what the Auks can do in 2022.
“(Rising senior) Mike Kawalec asked if we were invited back again next year, and (Biden) said, ‘Go win another state championship,’” Starnes said.
Photos courtesy of Archmere Academy via the White House. Credit: Adam J. Schultz