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Hens, Walleye attract star-spangled singers

06/23/2014, 7:21am EDT

Gig tough to get, but musicians rise to occasion

Mud Hens, Walleye attract singers

American Idol contestant Crystal Bowersox sang the national anthem with her son, Tony, in 2010. THE BLADE

Musicians who perform the national anthem at Toledo Mud Hens home games are anything but minor leaguers.

They have ranged from a professionally trained opera singer to a retired teacher, from junior high school choirs to an “American Idol” finalist. But they all have one thing in common: They landed a highly coveted gig.

Between the Mud Hens and Toledo’‍s professional hockey team, the Walleye, there are 108 home games a year. According to Michael Keedy, the manager of special events for both teams, they get between 400 and 500 requests to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at one of them. That’‍s between 5 and 10 a week, he said — so many that he and his colleagues generally don’‍t need to solicit talent except for big events like opening day.

VIDEO: National Anthem performances at Mud Hens games

Typically, the Mud Hens try to offer the chance to sing to groups, such as school choirs, Mr. Keedy said. Individuals who want to participate in the tradition are asked to submit an audio or video recording of their vocals; 90 percent of slots are filled before the season starts, but depending on their luck, these anthem hopefuls might get a call later telling them to come to the ballpark or rink to sing.

Some who perform are professional — like former American Idol contestant Crystal Bowersox, who attracted a record crowd to a Mud Hens game in 2010 — but most are amateurs. For those locals who get the chance, singing the anthem for the Mud Hens is an opportunity to express national and team pride, past performers said.

“I’m very pleased to be able to do it, and I know to do it well, and to be a part of the team, almost, in that way,” said Dan Ferguson, 65, a retired teacher who has performed the anthem at 153 Mud Hens games since the early 1980s and was described by Mr. Keedy as a team tradition.

Mr. Ferguson related an anecdote telling of his ballpark fame: About 10 years ago, then-pitcher Shane Loux recognized the singer at a restaurant and introduced himself.

Musicians less established on the minor-league baseball scene report similar enthusiasm. Reed Gnepper, 13, and two classmates at Ottawa Hills Junior High School have performed the anthem several times, most recently in May. The boys, collectively the Forte Trio Boys, have sung together for about two years, young Gnepper said. Performing the anthem can be nerve-racking, he said, but rewarding for a Mud Hens fan like him.

“Everyone that works there is part of a huge family,” young Gnepper said of the Mud Hens. “Every time you sing, every time you come back, they welcome you like you’‍re a part of that family.”

Allison Reed of Ann Arbor, a trained opera singer, has performed at Fifth Third Field several times as part of a group.

This month, she went solo for the first time, celebrating the baseball team and her former Sylvania Southview High School classmates, who attended a game for their 25th reunion.

For Ms. Reed, who described her high school self as “extremely shy and extremely introverted,” singing the anthem for her classmates was a chance to show them what she has been doing — singing — for 25 years.

“We immerse ourselves in the community, so we’‍re happy to provide the experience to a fan, to ... a junior high choir or a marching band or jazz ensemble,” Mr. Keedy said. “If we can provide the experience to someone in the community while presenting a really nice national anthem, then we’re happy.”

Contact Madeline R. Conway at:, 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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Tag(s): Mud Hens  Walleye