WASHINGTON — Taking his turn in the batting cage and swinging a golf club, President Donald Trump joined a group of famous athletes for a field day with kids at the White House on Wednesday as he kicked off an effort to increase youth participation in sports.
"Work hard, get in the game, play to win and, most of all, have a good time," the president told the youngsters. He later told them to "have a great life."
His administration wants to reverse a trend of declining participating in athletic activity and to make youth sports more accessible to economically disadvantaged students.
At the event on the South Lawn, President Trump also spotlighted members of the President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. The long-established group is headed by former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, retired beach volleyball Olympian Misty May-Treanor and ex-NFL running back Herschel Walker.
After addressing participants, President Trump joined athletes at stations that included flag football, baseball, golf and track and field. He asked kids to name their favorite players and posed for photos.
"Any Tigers? Who's the next Tiger?" he asked the young golfers, referring to champion Tiger Woods.
President Trump issued an executive order in February refocusing the council on youth sports as opposed to President Barack Obama's emphasis on fitness and healthy eating. Trump, who played high school sports and is a competitive golfer, has tried to work with public and private groups to address declining participation in youth sports.
Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser, told reporters in a conference call before the event that sports participation lags disproportionately among young girls and children who live in economically distressed areas. Many high schools have "pay to play" policies requiring students to pay a fee to join a school sports team, making it difficult for families to afford after-school sports.
"We must break down barriers to youth sports participation and empower each child to reach his or her full potential through sport and play," Ivanka Trump said. She said that by the time girls reach age 14, they drop out of athletics at two times the rate of boys.
Other participants at the White House event included "The Incredible Hulk" actor Lou Ferrigno, who befriended Trump while appearing on "Celebrity Apprentice"; former New York Yankees baseball player Johnny Damon; and professional golfer Natalie Gulbis.
President Trump particularly seemed to enjoy getting the chance to hit a golf ball on a work day. "I love golf," he said earlier of his favorite sport.
The council was established in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower to promote youth fitness and sports. Each president has often placed his own stamp on the council and its priorities.
During Obama's presidency, first lady Michelle Obama launched the sports council in 2010 in conjunction with her "Let's Move!" initiative and took part in hula-hooping and jumping rope as ways to fight childhood obesity.
Trump's administration plans to create a national strategy to promote youth participation in sports and set the stage for a series of events that will culminate around the 2020 Summer Olympics.
President Trump has bragged about his athletic abilities, telling The Wall Street Journal in a January interview: "I was always the best athlete. People don't know that." President Trump once owned the USFL's New Jersey Generals, led by Heisman Trophy-winner Walker, and he frequently plays golf with pros, members of Congress and world leaders at clubs he owns.
White House doctor said earlier this year that President Trump acknowledged he'd be healthier if he lost a few pounds by exercising more and eating better. Dr. Ronny Jackson, who has since left that post, told reporters that he would arrange for a dietitian to consult with the White House chef to cut calories and recommend a low-impact, aerobic exercise program for President Trump with the aim of shedding 10 pounds to 15 pounds this year.