Comets Tales: the Sensational Anthem Singers
by Don LaibleSep 2, 2015
In their first two seasons of existence, the Utica Comets and their fans have built a list of gameday traditions. From Clinton Comets Appreciation Night, and large 50/50 totals, to the whiteouts in the playoffs, fans can expect certain events to happen at Comets games. While the singing of the National Anthem prior to games is not something exclusive to Comets games, the selection of who the performer is for any given game, and the reasoning behind it, might be.
Superstitions run high in sports. Fans, players, and with organizations as a whole. Some may not want to openly admit to adhering to certain “must behaviors and routines”, but they remain important to believers. When certain results occur, and particular individuals are regularly involved with positive outcomes, well then, keep the behavior going – and please, do not interrupt or change what has worked. The fun of having “lucky charms” isn’t foreign to Comets’ games at home.
In the playoffs the Comets leaned on two National Anthem singers who delighted the crowd throughout the regular season. When Matt Voorhees, and Darien Bateson sang the National Anthem prior to Comets games, the Comets seemed to win at a very high rate. That high rate of success did not go unnoticed by the Comets front office.
“Having Matt Voorhees and Darian Bateson sing the National Anthem for Comets playoffs games was a no-brainer,” said Gina Nassivera, the Comets Director of Game Presentation. “The energy they brought to the arena every night was extraordinary, they were our good luck charms.”
14 miles east of Utica, in Ilion, Herkimer County’s most populated village, is where one of the Comets’ “lucky charms” lives – meet Matt Voorhees. While singing the National Anthem 14 times last season (including regular season and playoff games), When Voorhees, 33, sang the national anthem the Comets collected a 12-2 record. While standing on the red carpet, with the spotlight focused on him, Voorhees remains the go-to voice to offer the Canadian Anthem when teams north of the border visit The AUD.
“I’ve been singing the National Anthem at events for the past 15-16 years,” says Voorhees.
What most hockey fans in the Mohawk Valley don’t know about Voorhees singing the National Anthem is he has had plenty of professional sporting practice. Over the last dozen years Voorhees has stood before thousands in New Jersey and Brooklyn, singing the Anthem at NBA Nets’ games. Being a huge Nets fans, back in 2002, Voorhees entered a New Jersey’s Most Talented contest. Getting the opportunity to sing at the Izod Center in East Rutherford,NJ wasn’t an easy road traveled. Voorhees had sent in a CD of his singing to a New Jersey radio station who were sponsoring the contest. He was persistent in wanting to know whether or not he had won. Then, with little warning, Voorhees found himself on the road for a Nets game.
“Three days before the contest I get the call. I’ll have 30 seconds, during halftime of a Nets game, to sing. The winner would be based on the cheering of the crowd,” recalls Voorhees. “Joe Piscopo (Saturday Night alum and New Jersey native) was the host. He had asked for me, and when I saw him he (Piscopo) said he heard my CD and told me that I was very good.”
The game in which Voorhees had his “tryout” had the unfortunate luck of being right after the franchise stated it would be moving to Brooklyn. Although he came in fourth place, due to all the booing over the Nets making their future plans be known, Voorhees was asked to return, to sing the National Anthem.
The following season Voorhees had the spotlight on him while singing the Anthem during a pre-season Nets game. Taking his years of NBA experience, and transitioning it locally with the Comets came with less “red tape”.
“I’ve known Mark Caswell, Jr. (Comets’ Director of Communications) for a long time. He knew I could sing and suggested I send a tape to Gina Nassivera (Director of Game Presentation). After that, they call me whenever they need me.”
He’s not wearing skates, but make no mistake, Voorhees is well aware of the correlation between his singing and Comets’ winning. During this past Calder Cup playoffs, Voorhees tells of singing the closing game for the first three rounds. Bottom line, Voorhees is having fun. After officially starting Comets’ hockey, Voorhees, quietly and with little fanfare, makes his way through The AUD’s lower concourse, and stands at his post, as part of the evening’s staff.
“Just like so many others in the area, I can’t wait for the season to start. Everyone bought in last season on just how special having this team is for the community. I’m excited for it to start again,” Voorhees explained.
As for where Voorhees might like to sing the Anthem at next, between Nets and Comets dates, three words tell all of his goal – New York Yankees.
The National Anthem has been a tradition at American sporting events since the early 1900’s. The Anthem, which came as a result in the British attacking the City of Baltimore on September 13, 1814, was written by Francis Scot Key. By a congressional resolution in 1931, Key’s work became our National Anthem. During World War II, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played before baseball games throughout the war. The pre-game singing of the National Anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, then spread to other sports.
Nearly 90 years after Congress officially recognized the Star-Spangled Banner, another Mohawk Valley resident began singing it to thousands, standing silently at attention, at Comets’ games. Meets New Hartford’s Darian Bateson.
There’s no mistaking who this Anthem singer is. Darian is eight-years-old.
A student at Bradley Elementary School, Bateson, a fourth grader, sang the Anthem for the first time at a CYO basketball game in New York Mills.
“She (Darian) sings it from the heart,” says Danielle Bateson of her daughter’s love of singing
Danielle recalls hearing her daughter sing the Anthem for the first time at home, and recalls being somewhat stunned when being asked by Darian if she could sing it at her brother’s game. The performance was video taped and posted on Facebook. With the encouragement of Lisa Meyers, teacher at Bradley and sister of Comets’ President Robert Esche, the Bateson’s contacted the team. Labeling her daughter’s singing as “amazing”, a nervous mom has seen Darian’s performances grow.
“Darian enjoys the Comets. She loves it. Everyone is so nice to her,”states Danielle. “She (Darian) hasn’t met any of the players yet, but she hopes to. My daughter loves to sing, and the song (the National Anthem) means something to her.”
Citing last season as a nice one, Danielle Bateson has hopes of Darian continuing to ride the wave of excitement at Comets’ play at The AUD, starting this October. Confidence remains Darian’s greatest trait. Even before the drop of the puck, before starting each Comets’ home game, the singing of the American and Canadian National Anthems by these two locally grown talents has become a budding tradition.