Ballpark Favorites: FBC boys choir sings at Rangers' game

Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

July 24, 2004 - Before the umpire says, "Play ball," someone has to sing "Oh, say can you see."

Singing of the national anthem before a sporting event is so ingrained in the American psyche that the term "Play ball" almost seems like the final two words of the Star Spangled Banner.

Even when sung before 27,308 fans at Ameriquest Field in Arlington.

Home plate umpire Brian O'Nora started Tuesday night's game between the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, but it was the Boys Choir from Sulphur Springs First Baptist Church that did the national anthem honors.

The 15 elementary-age boys, led by Jane Randles and Kelly Grimes, gathered around home plate and belted out the 90-second rendition in front of 27,000 strangers and 300 hometown family and friends.

"They did just great," said Mrs. Randles, who formed the choir about two years ago. "I was afraid they would get nervous, and you could tell there were a couple who were, but they overcame it.

"It just boomed out. I think they were all thrilled by it. Most of them are big baseball fans, so it was a special experience for them to be down on the field."

The choir was picked in March from 134 applicants who were invited to try out at the Major League Baseball park. On a rainy Saturday, Mrs. Randles and the boys reported to the park at 9:15 a.m. and then killed time until their number came up. They were No. 123.

"We took them to the museum (at the stadium) and anything else we could do to keep them awake and alert," she said. "It was raining, and we were afraid we would have to try out in the dugout, which would have been even more difficult. But, we were able to sing on the field.

"The problem is that you can't hear yourself because there is a delay in the sound coming from the loud speakers. One of the ladies told me that you think you're singing, but you can't hear yourself. So we had to prepare for that."

She told the boys that the only chance they had to make it was if they watched her and followed her lead. She tuned them quickly with a pitch pipe, then they were on.

"I told them right from the start that they might not make it, but I thought it would be a good experience," Mrs. Randles related. "They all wanted to give it a shot."

The criteria for the tryout was strict. If the rendition was longer than 90 seconds, the singer was disqualified. If any of the words were missed or mispronounced, it meant disqualification.

"When we started this, some of the boys were barely six, so that was a concern," she said. "We went over all the words and what they meant. That was also the time when we were heavily involved in Iraq, and so we were able to emphasize to the boys how much people have sacrificed for this country."

The choir rehearses an hour a week on Wednesday nights. They boys who are asked to be a part of the chorus must be exemplary in their attendance and attitude. They begin practicing in September and continue through May.

"The discipline, I think, is good for them," Mrs. Randles said. "They know that if they don't act right or come to practice that they won't be part of the choir for long."

Choir members are McRae Bentley, Clancy Horton, Sam Gray, Brady Fisher, Mitchell DeYong, Austin Buck, Chandler Folmar, Trip Reeves, Tyler Clegg, Zachary Elkins, Mitchell Stewart, Drew Thomas, Colby Carter, Mason Moore and Kade Koon.

During the tryout, there were four judges scattered throughout the stadium. Two of them were professional musicians and two were from the Rangers' organization. They told the choir they would know something in three to four weeks.

A week later, the letter arrived.

"I was absolutely thrilled," she said. "I think they may have been a little more nervous for the audition than for the actual game because we had such a long wait at the audition."

The game performance, though, was one to remember.

The boys were treated royally by the Rangers' organization, she said, getting high fives from players, bat boys and even the umpires as they came off the field.

The pregame ceremonies are scripted down to the minute. Rangers' personnel moved the boys down behind home plate for a moment, then they quickly got in position, heard the pitch pipe, then watched Mrs. Randles intently as she directed them through the song.

"I told them before we got on the field that before we got in position they could look around at anything they wanted and take it all in. But once they heard my voice, they had to focus on me because it's a very difficult place to sing," she explained.

"I can't express how sweet they were and how well they did."

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