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Prep sports commentary: Sauk Valley's got talent ... let's see it

Sauk Valley Star Search

Thank you, Alex
Fishbach, for the ammunition.

It was a scene I’ll never forget. The Morrison senior stood in front of the press tower at Bud Cole Field. Someone had forgotten to provide a wireless microphone on the field for him to sing the national anthem.

So immediately before opening kickoff between his Mustangs and the Amboy Clippers, the Morrison starter scaled the tower’s two rickety flights of steps – spikes and all – and flat-out crushed “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

For my purpose, that remarkable feat serves sports that don’t like playing second fiddle to football with the following notice: There are no excuses for not having someone perform the anthem live before your game.

With the volleyball postseason under way, now would be a good time to make arrangements, at the very least for the regional title game. My guess is you won’t have to look very far.

I covered about a half-dozen games during the hoops postseason earlier this year. Two of them featured live anthems – Eastland’s Katelyn Janssen killed it before the Prophetstown-East Dubuque sectional semifinal, and the Rock Falls band knocked it out before the Rockets took on Stillman Valley in a sectional final.

The other four games I covered – including a supersectional between Newman and North Shore Country Day at NIU, for crying out loud – showcased canned recordings. Or as I like to call them, cop-outs. If I had to put a number on it, about 10 percent of the non-football events I’ve covered have featured a live performance of the anthem.

Allow me to explain why I enjoy being the anthem police. I’ve sung it a few dozen times at sports events from prep to professional. The most don’t-wet-your-pants moment was at Miller Park before a Brewers-Twins game. Check that. During a UW-Milwaukee hoops game, my mic wasn’t live. So, rivulets of sweat staining my collar, I belted it out as best I could, trusting the acoustics at the U.S. Cellular Arena to carry my voice.

At that point, it was a way to scratch the itch to be a rock star. But the bug bit long before that.

My alma mater, Lincoln High School in Manitowoc, Wis., was something of a hoops factory while I was in school. Thus, a 5-foot-9, 125-pound pass-first, shoot-never point guard like myself didn’t have a shot to crack the varsity lineup.

So I did the next best thing. Three of my buddies and I formed a barbershop quartet and sang the anthem at a number of Shipbuilders home games. And we weren’t all scrawny nerds, either. Our man-child bass and my best friend, Justin Pehrson, was an all-conference middle linebacker.

I remember how thrilling it was to be part of the pregame energy. Each season, we were sure to get with the athletic director weeks before the home opener to make sure we got a few home games. We had to. There was competition from other ensembles.

So what’s going on in the Sauk Valley? Schools don’t have to look far to find talented folks who can perform the anthem. Newman, not surprisingly, manages to do more with less, showcasing two ladies in-house, Jody Sunday and Rachel Heiderscheit, who sing at every event.

Tradition isn’t tough to create. The few dozen members of our readership who follow hockey might think of Jim Cornelison, who booms the anthem over the crowd’s roar at the United Center.

I don’t care if your tradition is a kazoo trio. Anything is better than just pushing play. Mad props to former Oregon public-address voice Ken Maxwell, who, when the recorded version didn’t work several years ago, grabbed the mic and led the crowd with an a capella rendition.

The very least schools can do is have their band record a version. Sadly, most don’t even do that. So we get a version that anyone could download from iTunes for free.

Real personal. Real lazy.

This goes beyond simply amping up the sports pregame experience, and even beyond honoring our country. It’s about showcasing all the talents in our schools – not just sports. Jocks and music buffs living together – could it really be done? You’re darn tootin’ it can.

The perpetually struggling arts department should not be mutually excluded from athletics. Quite the opposite. And, hey, there’s money to be gained, too. When kids from band, choir, whatever walk of life, got booked to sing the anthem, you’d better believe their parents, grandparents, estranged uncles and perhaps even a second cousin or two are going to come watch them sing.

I hope it didn’t take the sound “cha-ching” to get your attention. But if it did, I’ll take it. Just please, please, stop pushing play.

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