Girls basketball: Lutes cherishes singing before she plays

Prospero and Cathy Lutes wanted their children to have unique names.

Kalista Lutes is in that category.

But the Rantoul Township High School senior isn’t just unlike other high school students simply by her first name.

Lutes stands out from the crowd not just because of the various activities (student council president, National Honor Society member and senior class president), the various athletics (girls basketball and softball) or various accolades (homecoming queen her senior year) that are connected with her name.

When the RTHS girls basketball team lines up to face the United States flag before a home game for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Lutes is a few feet away from her teammates.

That’s because she’s the one singing the national anthem.

“All the girls support me, and my coaches support me on it,” Lutes said. “It’s pretty cool because when you go to other schools, you don’t see another athlete singing it. I feel really special that I am an athlete actually singing before my game.”

Lutes has performed the national anthem more than 100 times at RTHS sporting events since she started doing so her sophomore year.

The guard on the Eagles girls basketball team and third baseman for the Eagles softball team has primarily done so before girls basketball and softball games.

Her days singing before girls basketball games are slowly winding down. The Eagles will host a Class 3A regional in mid-February, where she’ll have another chance to show off her vocal skills, but Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. home game against Mt. Zion is the last regular season home game she’ll have the chance to do so.

Lutes is one of four seniors, along with Kimmy Schwartz, Diamond Walker and Hannah Wascher, who will be honored prior to the game.

“I really feel like I’m going to cry in the middle of it (on Saturday),” Lutes said, “but I try not to think too much of it because I don’t want to feel sad. It is something that I’ve cherished.”

Lutes first pulled off the dual feat of singing and playing when she was in seventh grade at Gifford Grade School.

She had watched her older sister, AnnaLouise, play sports growing up and always had an eye on whoever was performing the national anthem.

“I thought it looked fun, and I wanted to do it,” Lutes said. “My sister started singing before I did, and I mainly just wanted to beat her at it more than because I loved it. As it went on, I started loving it and wanted to continue doing it.”

RTHS girls basketball head coach Jeff McKaufsky was aware of Lutes’ singing ability before he became the Eagles head coach prior to Lutes’ sophomore year.

“I knew from coaching against her when I was at St. Malachy and she was at Gifford, I knew she sang,” he said. “I like it. I like it better than just the band playing or it playing on a CD. Being a member of a team, I think it shows that athletes just aren’t athletes. They can be multi-talented.”

Lutes, like most freshmen, wanted to get acclimated to high school. She didn’t sing at all her first year, but broached the topic to RTHS Principal Todd Wilson before her sophomore year began.

“I was a little more comfortable then,” Lutes said. “I went to Mr. Wilson and asked what I had to do in order to sing it. He said, ‘You have to go sing in front of the music director,’ and if they gave me the confirmation that I could, I was allowed to.”

The confirmation came through, and having Lutes sing the national anthem has become a staple of RTHS home games, just like seeing her dive after a loose ball or yank down a hard-fought rebound.

She is not in the RTHS choir, but Lutes sings in the choir at Immanuel Lutheran Church of Flatville along with performing occasional solos or duets during the service.

“I’m in a lot of different things (at RTHS), and (choir) takes up a lot of time,” Lutes said. “A lot of the performances are the same nights as games, and I didn’t want to have to choose between one or the other. I figure since I sing at church (and at games) that’s enough performance.”

Lutes is an alto, but has to raise her voice up to a soprano level occasionally during  the national anthem.

She doesn’t alter the version or put her own spin on it, rather singing the song in precise fashion, neither too fast or too slow.

With the addition of new speakers inside the RTHS gymnasium within the last year, Lutes holds the microphone at waist level so the noise doesn’t become unbearable.

“Most of the time, I project my voice pretty well, so I don’t really have to have the microphone too close to me,” Lutes said. “I have had a cough once because I was sick, but I still sang it. Other than that, I’ve never missed a word or screwed it up. I never actually think of the words when I sing. I have completely different thoughts, and I’m scared one of these times that my thoughts are going to come out, but it hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood.”

Lutes counts one of her first times singing the national anthem at RTHS among her favorite memories. She played volleyball during her sophomore season, and before a varsity match at Eureka, the CD player the school was using to play the song broke.

“The varsity volleyball team was chanting my name and waving me to come down,” Lutes said. “That was probably my coolest experience.”

While Lutes enjoys music and the chance to sing, she has another reason for singing the national anthem, one that resonates for the Gifford native with the rich military history Rantoul has.

Prospero Lutes was stationed at the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, which is where he met his future spouse.

“I probably do it as a thank-you and as a way to show appreciation for what all the servicemen and servicewomen have done for us,” said Lutes, who was born in New Mexico, moved to Germany after two years and moved to Gifford when she was 6 years old after her father retired from the Air Force and the family decided to move back to East Central Illinois. “It’s also another way to thank my dad because he was in the Air Force, and it’s another way to show him I appreciate the life that he’s given me.”

Watching Lutes develop her game the last three years along with her vocal capabilities is an aspect McKaufsky has enjoyed watching.

Even if he’s not quite sure right now who will sing the national anthem before Eagles home games during the 2013-14 season.

“I’m going to have Carter sing next year,” McKaufsky said with a laugh in reference to RTHS assistant coach Shane Carter. “If somebody wants to step up and take over for her, they’re more than welcome. It takes a lot of nerve and a lot of guts to want to do that. She welcomes it.”


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