To many spectators, coaches and even players, the best part of a St. Elizabeth High School home basketball game happens before the ball starts bouncing.
Immediately after the starting lineups are announced, St. Elizabeth senior Mary Teoli takes the microphone and sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At the finish, everyone feels a patriotic rush.
Teoli’s performances are so consistently outstanding that St. E girls coach Tom Ferrier believes they give his team an emotional advantage.
“I still get chills every time she does it,” Ferrier said. “If that doesn’t pump these kids up after they hear something like that, coming from one of their own, a tribute to our country like that, if that doesn’t pump you up, something is wrong with you.”
There is nothing wrong with the Vikings. They know they are hearing something special.
“Words can’t describe it,” senior point guard Jocelyn Rodriguez said. “We all get chills, and I always move. I always swing to the way she sings.”
Teoli’s talent was first noticed by St. E students when she sang in a school variety show as an eighth-grader. She began singing before Vikings athletic events as a freshman.
“One day, they asked me if I could sing the national anthem, and I said, ‘I’ve never sang the national anthem before, but I guess I can try,’ ” Teoli said. “I had the lyrics on my phone next to me to make sure I knew all the words, and I sang it. Ever since then, I’ve been singing it.”
Now she is a fixture at St. E boys and girls games, sings before three or four Wilmington Blue Rocks games each summer and also has sung for the Reading Phillies. She rarely misses a Vikings game, but if she does, it doesn’t go unnoticed.
“It has become a tradition with the home fans,” Athletic Director Joe Hemphill said. “If she’s not here, everybody wants to know where she is.”
Teoli’s style when singing the anthem is best described as traditional. She doesn’t try to put her own spin on it.
“It’s hard to sing when you sing it the correct way,” Teoli said. “A lot of people take a different version, but I sing exactly how it goes. A lot of people tell me that’s what they like about it most, that it’s not different. It’s the way that it’s supposed to be sung.”
Nobody at St. E wants to hear it any other way.
“She tells me a lot of people ask her why she doesn’t belt a little bit more or do this a little bit more,” Rodriguez said. “But she says that if she stays with the way she knows how to sing, it’s going to sound the same every time. That’s all she looks for.”
“She hits every note,” Ferrier said. “She doesn’t try to do anything she’s not capable of doing. She hits every possible note. It’s beautiful.”
The 16-year-old north Wilmington resident has been singing “as long as I can remember, since I was little.” She has played prominent roles in St. Elizabeth’s fall and spring musicals and has performed at the New Candlelight Theatre in Ardentown and with the Delaware All-State Theatre.
Teoli earned a black belt in karate at age 11 and plays field hockey at St. E. She hopes to play softball for the Vikings this spring if her schedule allows, but her immediate priority is to be accepted into the musical theater program at Pace University in New York City.
“I would love to be on Broadway. That’s one of my biggest things,” Teoli said. “But there’s always that chance that show business doesn’t work out. If not, I’d like to be a psychologist or a school counselor.”
Teoli most enjoys singing country music because she feels many of the songs bring out the best qualities of her voice. But “The Star-Spangled Banner” has become a favorite, too, especially because of the appreciative audience at St. E.
“I used to get really nervous,” she said. “But now I get nervous to the point where it’s kind of like a good nervous feeling. It’s productive nervousness. It makes me excited and ready to do it.”
Teoli will graduate this spring. But in perhaps the biggest compliment to her talent, St. E fans may continue listening to her for years to come.
“She does such a nice job. She does it very well,” Hemphill said. “Not a lot of flair, not a lot of flash, she just does it the right way.
“We’re thinking of making a recording, and we’ll just play that at the games in the future. She is so good.”
REMAINING ST. ELIZABETH HOME GAMES
* Tuesday, 7:15 vs. St. Mark’s (boys)
* Thursday, 7:15 vs. Tatnall (boys)
* Saturday, 1:30 vs. Cape Henlopen (girls)
* Feb. 18, 5:45 vs. Appoquinimink (girls)
* Feb. 19, 7:15 vs. Newark (boys)