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Oh Say Can You See That Mountaineer Pride

Oh Say Can You See That Mountaineer Pride

A few weeks ago I received an invitation from WVU to sing the National Anthem at this Saturday's basketball game against Baylor. It is really an incredible honor for Zak Zatezalo headshot.jpgme to have been asked twice to perform for the Old Gold and Blue. A close musician friend told me anyone can be asked to do something once, but it's when they ask you back that you know you're onto something. I was first asked to sing the Anthem two years ago for the Big East opener against Villanova (a Mountaineer victory, too, I might add). My family was more nervous than I. My wife was nauseated, my dad practically cried, my mother nearly had a heart attack, and my kids simply asked if it was time to go to the concession stand. But they all had legitimate reasons for concern. After all, I have no formal training, can't read music, and don't know anything about keys, pitch or harmonies. And there is arguably no tougher performance than standing in the middle of 10,000+ people who are completely silent with their full attention fixed on you singing THE song that forms the very fabric of our national identity. And, for me, therein lies the challenge - the thrill and the reason I'm willing to subject myself to such scrutiny. It was an exhilarating experience last time, and while I don't expect my kids' behavior to be any different this time around, I do hope it's a little easier on everyone else.

Of course there were plenty of nerves for me the last time too, but when I stepped to center court, I felt calm and confident. And getting to that place was surprisingly easier than I anticipated. I simply thought about everything WVU has meant to me. I thought about the incredible, valuable education I received in both undergraduate and law school. An education that enabled me to compete at a top  level nationally. I thought about the social and cultural enrichment WVU provided me, building my confidence and insight to seamlessly integrate into different communities all over the country, no matter where I landed. I thought about the  amazing professors and mentors I had who provided me a tremendous foundation on which to foster a lifetime love of learning. I thought about my fellow classmates, who have gone on to great success at the highest levels in their respective professions in law, medicine, science, engineering, athletics and the arts. I thought about Bill Stewart and the tremendous hometown pride he brought wvugold2.jpg to the football program, not to mention some of the best Mountaineers we've ever seen. I thought about Pat White's speech after the North Carolina game. And De'Sean Butler's season of buzzer beaters. And Jerry West. And all the other standout Mountaineers and moments in WVU's storied history. And when you think about those things, you can't but help channel that Mountaineer pride too. So when those lights dimmed and the spotlight hit me, I was ready to deliver. The same way WVU has always delivered for me.

I'm not one to necessarily repeat myself when it comes to bucket list items, but  this time I was asked to sing at the Basketball Alumni Weekend game. This means that amongst the many Mountaineer greats on the floor during the halftime presentation for past hoop players this weekend will be my father, a WVU scholarship basketball player from '62-'65. It's not often a father and son get floor time together at the Coliseum, so I jumped at the opportunity when presented this time.

West Virginia University has been instrumental in helping to mold me into the person I am today, and I will forever be grateful for the incredible opportunity  afforded me by the University's generosity and standard of excellence. I am truly humbled and honored to have been asked to tackle such an important responsibility this weekend. It was always a childhood dream of mine to get to perform at the Coliseum in front of a big crowd. And although those dreams always involved being a member of the basketball team, it sure is nice to be recognized as worthy of a place at mid-court, even if it's not quite how I always pictured it. After all, as Pat White famously said, "Once a Mountaineer, Always a Mountaineer."


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