On the field of their dreams Chorus: Fifth-graders from Hampstead sang 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at Oriole Park last night, culminating an effort begun last year.

September 18, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Today is school-picture day at Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead, and the fifth-graders are likely to have the widest smiles, still aglow from singing the national anthem before some 45,616 Orioles fans last night at Camden Yards.

"This is, like, other schools' dreams," said Timothy Hutchins, 10, one of the singers from the northeastern Carroll County school.

Warming up on their way to the field, the students sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as they filed past concession stands on their way to Home Plate Plaza.

Alexia Van Horn, 10, walked with her hands clasped behind her and her brown ponytail swinging as she sang. She and her classmates were cheered by ushers. Strangers caught their spirit.

"Hey, can we sit with the kids?" asked Bernie Herzberg of Essex, who had just arrived at the ballpark with some 40 friends, most of them four or five decades removed from fifth-grade but infected by the youngsters' enthusiasm.

One-sixth of the population of Hampstead, the students' hometown, was sitting in the upper deck near left field -- 700 parents, grandparents and friends, who programmed their videocassette recorders to tape the game before they joined a caravan that included eight school buses for the 50-minute drive to Camden Yards. A few grandparents came from Michigan and Florida.

"I'm getting nauseous," said Chris Massey, 10, before he stepped onto the field. His belly was full of hot dogs and corn on the cob. His nausea was a false alarm.

Music teacher Idalea Rubin rehearsed the students twice in a hallway near the visiting team's clubhouse. Just before show time, she pulled a Dallas Cowboys cap off Ryan Green, who was in the front row.

The students who had been to ballgames at Camden Yards knew that the crowd traditionally joins in during the anthem to yell "Oh" before " say does that. " But to keep them from getting disoriented, Rubin had taught them to sing it three times -- "Oh, oh, oh" -- to allow for the extra second or two.

At 7: 35 p.m., the children strode onto the field with a mixture of terror and awe, but they performed without a hitch.

They returned to the basement whooping, high-fiving and clutching each other.

Justin Fisher, 10, cupped his hands around the single blade of grass he snatched on the way off the field.

"It was the most exciting moment of my whole life," said Alexia. "This is my second game here, and I've always wanted to go down and just walk on the field."

And for their director, last night beats the time two years ago, when she took a children's chorus to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City.

"This is the big league," said the veteran music teacher, who for her 50th birthday present got to see former Oriole pitcher Jim Palmer inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

TC Singing the anthem at Camden Yards is a rare opportunity indeed -- the Orioles get 500 audition tapes a year for about 81 home games, said Spiro Alafassos, 27, who as ballpark director of entertainment listens to them all.

"Some we listen to for five seconds, and sometimes we listen to a tape 20 times to make a decision," Alafassos said.

Many a celebrity has had the honor. Sometimes it's a children's choir from Tupelo, Miss., passing through on tour. But most groups are no larger than 50, Alafassos said.

At first, Rubin's fellow teachers thought she was joking when she said the students' version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" sounded good enough to take on the road.

So why not try for Camden Yards, she figured.

It all started when the students studied Maryland history last year, in fourth grade. Because teachers like to use specialty subjects such as music and art to reinforce the curriculum, the students learned to sing the national anthem penned by fellow Marylander Francis Scott Key.

Rubin made an audiotape of the students' rendition and sent it to the Orioles last winter, apologizing for the amateur quality of the recording.

Meanwhile, the fourth-grade teachers found another lesson to include. Persuasive writing is one skill Carroll schools focus on each year, and the teachers asked students to write a letter to the Orioles explaining why they were worthy of singing at the ballpark.

Alafassos said that was absolutely the right thing to do -- the bulging envelope caught his attention.

"When you get 500 tapes, if one envelope sits above all the others you're going to notice," Alafassos said. "And when you get a folder full of letters and drawings, you say, 'OK, let's listen to this tape first.' "

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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