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The American flag flapped wildly in the wind over Burke Stadium. Fans and athletes turned to look up into the sunny sky, squinting to see Old Glory as they placed their hands over their hearts. Two nervous girls stepped up to the black microphones waiting on the track. As their sweet voices harmonized and filled the stadium, their anxiety appeared to fade away.
After a statewide audition process, two Orchard sophomores were selected to sing the national anthem at the 2019 Nebraska State Track and Field Championships on Friday.
Avery Cheatum and Kaci Wickersham of Orchard submitted their audition last September and were chosen from more than 200 entries.
“When you submit it in the fall, you don’t know which state event you’ll be selected for,” Orchard music teacher Emily Heihoff said. “They give us a list of all the state events and they ask which ones you are available for.”
Heithoff said she selected all of them.
“Yeah, we were amazed that we were picked for state track and not like state diving or something we know nothing about,” Cheatum said with a laugh.
Principal Cathy Cooper, who accompanied Heithoff and the singers on Friday, said Orchard athletes usually compete at state track each year, “So that makes it even more exciting.”
The NSAA started allowing students to audition to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for their championship events in 2006. This year, 214 auditions were submitted for 35 performances, according to Dan Masters of the NSAA.
When the girls found out they had been selected to sing at state track, they “practiced a lot” in preparation, Wickersham said.
“We sang it two or three times every day,” Cheatum said. “We auditioned very early in the fall, so after we found out we made it, we’ve been practicing it for months.”
Wickersham said they “were really excited” when they were selected.
“Last year, we tried to submit one and we never heard back, and then we found out the audition didn’t go through, so we were really excited when it actually made it in this time,” Cheatum said.
Wickersham, 15, and Cheatum, 16, said they are in choir with Mrs. Heithoff. They have sang duets together for the district music contest and often sing the national anthem at home games.
The girls are the daughters of Darin and Kerry Wickersham and Dana and Rachael Cheatum.