Singing the Star Spangled Banner to empty stands

Nothing has ever been quite as exhilarating as singing the National Anthem at basketball games in high school. Even if it was only a hundred or two hundred people, staring into the crowd and confronting my worst-case scenarios of public embarrassment was one of my most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences.

I was first given this opportunity in junior year, with the season conveniently ending right before the beginning of the COVID crisis.

But then came senior year when they needed someone to do it again, but this time, under COVID regulations.

The games were all to be streamed online, and the only people allowed in the gym were team members, coaches and scorekeepers – and perhaps a few exceptions for faculty.

And then there was me, standing awkwardly in the corner waiting to perform “Star-Spangled Banner” for stands filled with cobwebs.

I didn’t expect to miss the crowds, or running to the bathroom to hum my starting note so I didn’t forget.

I no longer clutched to my good luck necklace or twiddled my rings.

None of that felt necessary anymore because it barely felt like I was performing at all. After the first couple of times, it just felt like routine. Arrive to the gym five minutes early, wait for them to finish warming up, then go down to sing.

And leave.

Ironically, my introverted self longed for the basketball game atmosphere: the annoying people in my school I didn’t like, weird trends I never felt a part of (like girls tying matching bandanas around their legs) and Coca-Cola cans everywhere. Monotonous things I felt grief losing because I associated them with normality.

In an odd, symbolic way, the end of basketball games as they were felt like the ending of my high school experience.

Nothing was really the same after that.

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