Oh, say can you sing?

After a very contentious election season I found my faith in America at least momentarily restored while covering a girls varsity basketball game a few weeks ago.

East Union played their crosstown rivals Manteca at Manteca’s Winter Gym. I had gotten to the game a bit early and was waiting for the warm ups to finish. As the pregame clock wound down to zero, the teams headed off to their respective benches.

An announcer then spoke over the gym’s public address system: “Ladies and gentlemen, would please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” There was a collective loud shuffle as everyone stood for the Star Spangled Banner and then silence as everyone waited for a recording to start playing.

I was the closest to the flag mounted on the west wall of the gym, nearly underneath it, but I could feel the crowd behind me wonder when, or if, the song would begin.

The silence was uncomfortable as everyone, standing with hands over their hearts, waited for the music to begin. I don’t know if they couldn’t find the right track or if the device they were using was broken, but for several long seconds that seemed like minutes, there was just nothing but the faint hum of the empty speakers.

Then it seemed to have started among the students, quietly a first. One or two began singing in the silence, so softly that it was barely heard: “Oh say can you see…”

A few more then joined in…”by the dawn’s early light…”

At the next line even more people got involved… “what so proudly we held at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

By the middle of the song the entire gymnasium became a full-throated chorus: ” Who’s broad striped and bright stars through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?”

As the anthem crescendoed to its end, the crowd sang more proudly and deeply than Whitney Houston or any military band could have.

“And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Everyone applauded themselves when it was over.

If there’s a defining characteristic of Americans, it’s that we step up and do what needs to be done. For a brief moment the crowd looked past team rivalries, politics and whatever other differences that they had and worked together to do what needed to be done.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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