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Former First Lady Barbara Bush Participates in Opening Day for Houston’s West University Little League

Former First Lady Barbara Bush enjoys the Opening Ceremonies for the West University Little League of Houston.

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (April 5, 2005) – Opening day is uniquely special to all Little Leaguers. On March 12, in Houston, former First Lady Barbara Bush participated in the ceremonies for District 16’s West University Little League, celebrating the first year of the league’s Challenger Division.

The mother of President George W. Bush, the first Little League graduate to be elected President of the United States, threw the first pitch at newly-renovated Paul Wallin Field.

Mrs. Bush and her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, have been Little League supporters for many years. Since becoming President in 2000, George W. Bush has invited Little League teams to the White House as part of the “Tee Ball on the South Lawn” program.

Since 1980, Little League International has presented the George and Barbara Bush Parents of the Year Award to parents of a Major League Baseball player who were actively involved in their son’s Little League experience.

“Judi Mason and her husband, Doug, are on our Little League board of directors, and Doug was formerly on Mrs. Bush’s Secret Service detail,” Bob McLamb, West University Little League president, said. “Judi wrote Mrs. Bush a letter inviting her to throw out a first pitch, and she responded fairly quickly. To have Doug as a contact was a tremendous help.”

For seven years Mr. Mason was assigned to the security detail that traveled with Mrs. Bush.

“She was very gracious,” Mr. McLamb said. “We worked with her staff and the Secret Service to make sure we had made all of the proper arrangements.”

West University Little League’s Challenger Division is the second to be established in the city of Houston, joining a division in Katy Little League. Chartered for 56 years, West University Little League serves nearly 1,100 players. The league’s immediate past president, Hugh Tanner, was instrumental in bringing the Challenger Division to West University Little League. In recognition of the league’s 56th anniversary, the West University Rotary Club presented a $125,000 gift to the league for renovations to the field, and to establish the league’s Challenger Division.

Also in attendance was Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball and Softball. Mr. Keener presented the local league with a $5,000 grant from Little League, on behalf of the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation, and Major League Baseball’s Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

“The core purpose for the Challenger Division is to extend the opportunity to play Little League to all children,” said Mr. Keener. “West University Little League has provided a fine facility, and created an atmosphere of fun and baseball for the community of West University to enjoy.”

In an attempt to entice Mrs. Bush to take part in the festivities, the league sent her a video tape of games at the White House involving Challenger Division teams as well as information about Little League’s program for mentally and physically disabled children.

“On opening day we had a record crowd,” McLamb said. “People were lined up all around the field.”

Mrs. Bush and four Challenger Division pitchers threw out ceremonial first pitches. Aryn Romero caught the pitch from Mrs. Bush, who later signed the baseball, and the players posed for pictures with the former First Lady.

“President and Mrs. Bush have shown unwavering support to Little League for many years,” Mr. Keener said. “For Mrs. Bush to give of her time is a tribute to the relevance of the Challenger Division, and a testament to the Bush family for the respect felt toward local leagues who appreciate what it means to have the opportunity to go play.”

Also honored at the opening day ceremony was Army Sgt. Maj. Bill Davis, a recipient of the Bronze Star, who recently returned from Iraq.

West University Little League Challenger Division will have nearly 50 players on four teams, and more than 80 volunteer “buddies” taking part in games each Sunday afternoon in April and May.

West University Little League’s immediate past president, Hugh Tanner (left), was instrumental in bringing the Challenger Division to the community. Also pictured, left to right, are former First Lady Barbara Bush, Mr. Tanner’s son Alec, and Stephen D. Keener, Little League International president and chief executive officer.

Mrs. Bush joined players and coaches from the West University Little League for photos during the ceremonies