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President Obama Comes To San Diego For Carrier Classic On USS Carl Vinson

Members of North Carolina Tar Heels practice for the Carrier Classic NCAA college basketball game aboard the USS Carl Vinson on November 10, 2011 in San Diego, California.
Ezra Shaw
Members of North Carolina Tar Heels practice for the Carrier Classic NCAA college basketball game aboard the USS Carl Vinson on November 10, 2011 in San Diego, California.

When national television cameras focused on San Diego Bay on Friday, they were recording history. The normally drab gray deck of the USS Carl Vinson hosted a crowd of thousands, including President Barack Obama and first lady Micehlle Obama, here to watch the first ever college basketball game on an aircraft carrier.

Petty Officer Isaac Paddock had no idea what he was in for when he got the USS Carl Vinson as a duty assignment in 2009. Almost immediately, he was off the coast of Haiti helping earthquake victims. A short while later, the ship steamed around the tip of South America. And then there was this past summer's infamous deployment, highlighted by the ocean burial of Osama Bin Laden.

Paddock said that background makes the Carrier Classic really special.


"You never think that there's going to be a basketball game, a college basketball game on board," he said.

That's not say the crew didn't think about sports a lot. In fact, Paddock said they occasionally broke up the work and sleep routine of a deployment with a steel beach barbeque.

"This will be in the middle of the gulf. Everybody in the crew is allowed two beers. And then they have like basketball games, where they put up our hoops, they have weightlifting competitions" Paddock said.

A lucky few even got to swim in the ocean.

No one knows more than about the hardships that the crew endures, then Capt. Bruce Lindsey. He said his sailors are special and deserve the attention.


"When we were over there, we didn't get a USO Tour, or show, or anything, we just went about our business and came back after six and a half months. So in a way, this is a way for America to say thank you to these men and women, who they may not know personally, but they know them through the news," said Lindsey.

It is no accident that the Carrier Classic is happening on Veterans Day. The audience is all military and the Commander in Chief, President Obama, was there. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said there's no question the event spotlight will splash its light on the athletes and the audience.

"It's bigger than a game, its bigger than North Carolina against Michigan State. It's kind of a dream come true because in a small, small way, we feel like we're giving a little bit back to recognizing the people that deserve to be recognized, instead of just the athletes," Izzo said.

North Carolina's Coach Roy Williams put the game into perspective.

"From the tip off, to the final horn, we're gonna be working our tails off about the game. But every single second prior to it and as soon as the final horn sounds, then we're thinking about hopefully putting a smile on people's faces that represent our country and serve our country."

The Carrier Classic event will probably happen again next year on Veterans day, although San Diego is unlikely to be the host. Organizers said the University of Connecticut has agreed to take part and there's hope the University of Arizona will be the other team. There will also be a women's game featuring Ohio State and Notre Dame.

It cost $2 million dollars to put together today's game. All the costs were paid for by sponsors and donations.