An announced 3,119 fans showed up to see Obama — and a basketball game between the winless Tigers and Oregon State, which is coached by Obama’s brother-in-law Craig Robinson.
The First Family — Obama, First Lady Michelle, children Malia and Sasha, and Michelle’s mother Marian — entered the arena about 11 minutes before the 2 p.m. tipoff.
The crowd stood and cheered. The Towson band played “Hail to the Chief.” Obama, the first U.S. president to visit the Towson campus, shook hands with fans near courtside before taking his seat. And cell phone cameras continued to flash.
“It was a great atmosphere for a college basketball game,” said first-year Towson coach Pat Skerry, whose team stayed with the taller, more talented Beavers for most of the first half. “Hopefully, that's something long term that can become the norm here at Towson University.”
“It was great to see the community come out and support us,” added assistant athletic director Mike Harris, who began coordinating the visit by the Obamas with the Secret Service, as well as campus, state and Baltimore County police since last Sunday.
Obama and his family made similar trips to George Washington two years ago and Howard last season to watch Robinson’s team play.
It was an atmosphere the Beavers were clearly used to, not only from having made three trips to the White House, but also playing in the Pac-12.
“When a Pac-12 team comes to a place like this, it's a big game,” Robinson said. “On top of it, my relatives are also here and it makes it even bigger.”
They werent the only celebrities there. Among those in attendance were former U.S. Congressman Tom McMillen and actor Bill Murray, whose son Luke is an assistant on Skerry's staff. Bill Murray, who came into the arena after Obama, went over to chat up the president.
During halftime, Obama spent time poising for photos with Towson’s football team, which was introduced and honored for winning the Colonial Athletic Association for the first time and qualifying for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs (the Tigers host Lehigh Saturday).
As the football players crowded around Obama, Towson football coach Rob Ambrose joked on a microphone feeding into the arena, “There's enough president for all of you” and kiddingly threatened to make his team run 45 minutes at practice later in the day if they didn't given the President some breathing room.
“We might have won a championship, but this might be the neatest moment of the season,” Ambrose said as his team's picture was taken with Obama.
Jeff Corden, an Oregon State graduate who moved to Baltimore 25 years ago, had tried to get his wife, Susan, and their son to go see the Beavers when they played in Washington the past two years.
“They didn't want to go,” Corden said after buying five tickets around 11:30 a.m. “But this is a great opportunity to see the Beavers — and the president.”
Jen Laatsch, a sophomore from Westminster, was there early as part of her duties as an usher at Towson athletic events. Laatsch said that she heard Tuesday from her supervisor that Obama and his family were coming “but we weren't supposed to tell too many people.”
Laatsch said she did a pretty good job keeping it quiet on campus.
“I told my mom and my brother,” she said.