Mason Nesbitt: Teen singer sets the tone for Valencia win


Wednesday night’s playoff game at Valencia High proved to be a display of perseverance, adjusting on the fly and soaring to new heights.

And that was before tipoff.

Valencia student Kelly Gravo received a text message at lunch Wednesday asking if she’d sing “The Star Spangled Banner” before the Vikings’ CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA girls basketball quarterfinal.

Gravo, a member of concert choir and Soundwaves jazz ensemble on campus, jumped at the opportunity.

“I’ve heard my friends do it,” she says, “and to be asked to do it, I was really excited.”

Shortly before game time, mild shock would follow that excitement.

If you were sitting behind the scorer’s table at Valencia, say, two rows back, you might have heard public address announcer Jared Ambrose murmur something about batteries.

In fact, the microphone was dead, lifeless, in desperate need of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from the Energizer Bunny.

But the game couldn’t wait. Gravo, a junior, had to go on.

Admittedly, the development made her nervous. She’d practiced three or four times that afternoon but had never performed the staple pregame song live, especially not without amplification.

Still, she showed no outward hesitation.

“I was in a bit of shock,” Gravo says. “But I’m in choir, so we’re kind of used to having technical difficulties. I was pretty cool with it.”

Cool and collected, Gravo sauntered to midcourt, hundreds of eyes stalking her, as Ambrose shouted, “Kelly Gravo will be singing the national anthem. … Please be quiet.”

They were. Gravo began.

“Ohhh … say, can, you, seeee … by, the dawn’s early light,” her right hand keeping time against her hip.

Finally, the crowd erupted. How could they not? Gravo was pleased, too.

“I was satisfied with how it went,” she says. “I was really happy that the response was good even though there was no mic.”

Then it was Ambrose’s time to shine. Like an 18th century town crier, the special education teacher belted out the starting lineups.

“You like that? That’s why they have me here,” Ambrose, in his fourth season on PA duties, joked at halftime. “…I’m trying to get my statue out front. It goes (Lakers legendary broadcaster) Chick Hearn, then Jared Ambrose. I’m working on it.”

He didn’t have to continue un-amplified for long.

He called out Valencia senior Ashlee Ane’s name and number, and Kenadee Honaker’s.

Someone arrived with batteries just before he got to Jade Jordan, and rightfully so.

The Valencia senior deserved a high-decibel intro before shooting the lights out, scoring 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting to complement Kayla Konrad’s game-high 28 points.

The Vikings trailed Los Alamitos in the first quarter, found themselves in a tie in the third and then pulled off a marvelous fourth to advance to the program’s first-ever Southern Section semifinal.

Valencia will host Oaks Christian of Westlake Village on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The school should ask Gravo for an encore (and stock up on double A’s).

We could all learn from the 17-year-old singer’s outlook.

“It’s beneficial to do things out of the blue,” she says, “and if you never go for it, you’ll never know what will happen.”

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