WASHINGTON — In an annual family-friendly rite of spring, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle kicked off the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, joining tens of thousands of youngsters and their parents in a day of racing, reading, sports and crafts on a breezy, sun-splashed South Lawn.
"We are so thrilled all of you could join us," Obama said from the South Portico, flanked by the first lady, their daughters Malia and Sasha and the Easter Bunny.
"It's a beautiful day — perfect weather," enthused Mrs. Obama. "There's something for everyone ... I hope you put on your comfortable shoes."
The annual event, first held in 1878 when Rutherford B. Hayes was president, featured traditional egg-rolling races — as well as obstacle courses, book-readings, musical performances, cooking with celebrity chefs and clowns galore. There was even a yoga garden. Officials expected some 30,000 kids and their parents to take part.
After welcoming the throng, the president and his family — including first grandmother Marian Robinson — set off to mix and mingle as the president's own Marine Band played Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade."
His first stop was the day's centerpiece event, the egg rolling race. Obama blew the whistle and joined in the cheers of parents as youngsters scampered across the grass toward a finish line a short distance away. "We've got a winner over here," he shouted as one child finished the course.
He then joined the rest of his family on the book-reading stage. Malia and Sasha took turns reading from "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" by Philip C. Stead. He followed with Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," which he called an "all-time classic," and encouraged his audience to join in the growling, roaring and teeth-gnashing of the characters. "You guys were excellent wild things," he said, before excusing himself. "I've got to go to work. I'm gnashing my teeth."
Mrs. Obama kept to the animal theme by reading, "The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear" by Don and Audrey Wood.
Elsewhere, children could take part in sports with the likes of tennis star Michael Chang, NBA standouts Mitch Richmond and Daryll Dawkins and Olympians Michelle Kwan and Dominique Dawes.
On the basketball court, Obama played the game "Shoot for Strength" with a group of kids and the Harlem Globetrotters. The contest involves sinking shots — and doing pushups. It took Obama eight tries to sink a basket. He then joined in the pushups that are the game's "reward." "I'm all pushed-up-out!" he said.
Obama also managed to fit in a few minutes of tennis with one of the sport's legends, Chris Evert.
The event's theme was "Let's Go, Let's Play, Let's Move," encouraging physical activity as part of Mrs. Obama's initiative to counter childhood obesity.
Other celebrity book-readers included actors Forest Whitaker and Julianne Moore. Musical performances came from performers Janelle Monae, Cody Simpson, Rachel Crow and the characters from "Sesame Street."