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Mack Sports Complex - evening of the Presidential Debate
Courtesy: Hofstra Athletic Communications
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ATH: Student-Athletes Experience Presidential Debate At Hofstra

Courtesy: Hofstra Athletic Communications
Release: 10/28/2012

Hempstead, N.Y. –  The crowd stirred anxiously with most people keeping their hands in their jacket pockets to fight off the chill in the venue. The lights were bright and there was a palpable sense of anticipation.

Pre-event eagerness is not a new sensation for Hofstra’s student-athletes. But this moment was different for 11 members of the Pride’s athletic programs. Instead of waiting for starting lineup introductions and the national anthem, the crowd at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex would soon break out into applause for President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as they walked on the stage for the town hall presidential debate on Oct. 16.

“The stands were dead quiet when they were giving us instructions on how to behave,” Hofstra junior lacrosse attacker Torin Varn said. “Then, First Lady Michelle Obama walked out and you felt the whole place just gasp. When the candidates entered, the place just erupted.”

Just more than 1,000 people were able to attend the debate in person, with 300 of those seats going to Hofstra students. An online lottery for students resulted in 6,576 applications before the winners were selected. Out of that group, a sizable portion of the students picked were athletes, including cross-country runners Sean Flannery (freshman) and Dan Rono (senior), field hockey players Meg Luesh (senior) and Charlotte Loehr (freshman), women's lacrosse players Lindsay McKinnon (junior) and Taylor Albright (senior), Varn and freshman Jake Rooney, junior wrestling Taras Luzhnyy, volleyball sophomore Kelsie Wills and women's soccer sophomore Ingrid Moyer.

“It was so exciting to be part of such a historic debate and to be able to witness the planning for weeks ahead of time and see it all come together,” Albright said.

Hofstra Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeffrey A. Hathaway said the school's student-athletes represented their school well and was thrilled they were able to be a part of a special moment in the school's history.

"What a memorable week for Hofstra University and its student body," Hathaway said.  "For our student-athletes to be able to experience the Presidential Debate in person is something they will never forget. As seen by their comments they all have created a life-long memory to learn from and to share with others."

An estimated 65 million people watched the debate on television. But the student-athletes inside the debate hall said the cameras only captured a fraction of the energy and emotion that emanated from the candidates on stage.

“When the debate first started and Gov. Romney stood up and walked over to President Obama and they were face to face, I had butterflies in my stomach,” Rooney said. “I nudged Torin sitting next to me and said ‘I’m amped up.’”

Some student-athletes did more than just watch. McKinnon started debate day as a student volunteer in the credential center. She then was moved to the debate hall to work as an usher. After the debate, she worked in the media center nicknamed spin alley, where media outlets and supporters of the candidates gathered to conduct interviews in front of the media filing center.

“I ended up sitting in the floor seats as an audience member, about 15 yards from the President,” McKinnon said. “I am proud to say I was a part of the presidential debate at Hofstra. The campus was so active. Following the debate, it was incredible to walk around spin alley and watch major networks interviewing the newsmakers. I even landed myself a great photo with Sean Hannity from Fox News.”

The debate wasn’t just important for students who were born in the United States. The presidential election will have ramifications for the entire world, and the international student-athletes who were picked to attend also said they relished the opportunity.

"I just wanted to thank Hofstra University for having given me this unique opportunity to be part of an important moment in the history of the United States of America, and the world as well," said Loehr, who is originally from Mainz, Germany.

Luzhnny, a native of Kiev, Ukraine, said he remembered when President George W. Bush visited his home country, which inspired discussion about the political system in the United States. By attending the debate, he said it was interesting to see the contrast with the political system in the Ukraine, which only has one round of debates.

“I was impressed by how many people were interested in it,” Luzhnny said. “I never expected to be so close to the American president. It was a special moment. I’ve been to many countries and the U.S. is the best in the world.” 

Wills, who is originally from New Zealand, said the exchanges between the Republican and Democratic nominees were intense and made the experience fascinating.

“They were definitely able to speak more freely than I had imagined,” Wills said. “Being able to watch something so historical on Hofstra’s campus is something I will always remember.”

***L to R: Steve Bonanno (WREST), Joe Burg (Baseball), Ann Mercogliano (CBS The Couch), Ingrid Moyer (WSOC) and Kylie Shuster (WSOC) - appeared on CBS Morning Show about the Debate***

Added Rono, who is from 
Eldoret, Kenya "It was a great opportunity to witness the most developed democracy in the world and an a experience I will always cherish."

Hofstra students who won a ticket to the debate were notified by email. They lined up around 3 p.m. – nearly six hours before the start of the debate— at Hofstra USA, where they had to show a Hofstra identification card, a government-issued ID and proof of voter registration.

From there, a bus took the students to Nassau Coliseum, which is across the street from the Mack Sports Complex. After a security checkpoint at the Coliseum, the bus took them to the debate hall.

“It was a long process but it was exciting to go through and see all the secret service agents everywhere,” Varn said.

Many media outlets compared winning the debate ticket to acquiring the golden ticket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  The winners received an email with the phrase “Woo-hoo YOU ARE GOING TO THE DEBATE!” blaring on the subject line. When that message arrived in her inbox informing Moyer that she was selected, she said her family was even more excited than her.

Taylor Albright, Torin Varn, Jake Rooney and Ingrid Moyer

***L to R: Taylor Albright (WLAX), Torin Varn (MLAX), Jake Rooney (MLAX) and Ingrid Moyer (WSOC) - prior to boarding buses to head to Debate Hall***

“I called my parents, and they were freaking out,” said Moyer, who was interviewed by the local CBS affiliate in the morning, highlighting the first of many interviews the forward was asked to the do.

Moyer, who said she is an undecided voter, said she is now more invested in politics after having witnessed the debate.


Like Moyer, Flannery also told his family the good news immediately. The runner was on his way to a meet when the message appeared on his cell phone.


“I was in shock, I had to re-read it a few times to make sure I was seeing it right,” he said. “The first thing I did was call my parents. All of my teammates were excited for me. I’m lucky; I know how many students were hoping for the opportunity.”


Hofstra also hosted a presidential debate in 2008. After well-received reviews, the Commission on Presidential Debates again selected the University to serve as the backdrop for one of the most important and discussed events in the race for the White House.

The overwhelming positive experience could help Hofstra again draw the eyes of the world in 2016, when the University could bid to host a debate for a third consecutive time.

“The opportunity to be in the presence of not only our nation's Commander-in-Chief, but some the most powerful political and financial figures was honestly the chance of a lifetime,” Leusch said. “ I was overjoyed by the fact that Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz mentioned in his opening address that he plans to host the next debate in 2016, because that means so many more proud Hofstra students like myself will get the same once in a lifetime opportunity.”

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