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Foul-Line Singer Gives National Anthem Best Shot : Voice of Northridge Basketball a Refreshing Echo for Team, Fans

February 25, 1988|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

The crowd stands and faces the flag at the west end of the California State University, Northridge gymnasium. It is time for the "Star-Spangled Banner."

At many college basketball games, it would be time to brace for an uninspired tape, or perhaps a pep band's version of the national anthem with glockenspiel and triangle.

This night, thank goodness, it will be neither. Elizabeth Anne Saunders, the voice of Northridge basketball, is ready to begin.

She stands at the free-throw line at the east end of the court, feet together, posture perfect, her face reflecting deep concentration, then starts to sing.

Players from UC Riverside, the visiting team, are at the opposite end of the court with their backs to Saunders, but by the time she hits "early light" they are looking over their shoulders.

It happens before almost every Northridge home game.

And, after the song, several Riverside players walk to the middle of the court, applauding as Saunders makes her way off it.

Handshake and Hug

Pete Cassidy, the Northridge coach, greets Saunders with a handshake and hug as she nears the stands. She is his prize recruit.

It was Cassidy who persuaded the 21-year-old junior to sing at Northridge games three years ago.

She could not refuse. It seems she had been late to Cassidy's badminton class a few times too many.

"I had a music class at 8 with a teacher who kept going 10 minutes late," Saunders said. "I had too many tardies and not enough weeks to make them up.

"He said, 'We have this awful tape. It might be a nice touch to have a singer.' It was a compromise--a way I could make up the time."

And so a deal was struck.

Cassidy, who has been coach for 16 years, will not soon forget the first time he heard Saunders sing at a game.

"It curled the hair on the back of my neck," he said. And he wasn't alone.

"I don't think one person came up and said, 'Nice game,' the next day," Cassidy said. "Everyone was complimenting Beth, and I can't say I blamed them."

Now, on the rare occasion the music major does not sing, Cassidy is questioned about her absence.

"This is not taking anything away from our band, but people want to hear Beth," he said. "She's so refreshing. What a tremendous voice."

Operatic Aspirations

Saunders, who is interested in a career in opera, considers singing before games a good opportunity for exposure. "I'm always looking for work as a singer," she said, "and sometimes I get job offers from people who hear me at the games."

That is particularly important since she is trying to raise $2,000 to tour the Soviet Union in June with the Northridge choir.

She already is a member of the Los Angeles Crossroads Quartet, a group of Northridge music majors who sing everything from country and Western to classical.

Few assignments are as difficult as the anthem, however. She sings it unaccompanied.

"It's a difficult song anyway--it's kind of slow, and it's not lyric or singable--and without a mike or an orchestra, you just pick out a pitch and start to sing," Saunders said.

Something so beautiful should be much more complicated.

Saunders, who will sing before the Chapman-Northridge game tonight, hadn't been to a college basketball game before her debut, and she didn't know Cassidy was coach of the team until he told her. She quickly became a fan.

"I stay for the games whenever I can, and I always go to the team banquet at the end of the year," Saunders said. "Whether they want me or not, I'll probably still keep coming back."

This comes as music to Cassidy's ears. He doesn't relish the thought of being forced to use a tape again.

"I'm trying to talk her into a second major, maybe even a third," he said. "I want to keep her here for a while."

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