Kennedy Harris is not in the school choir or ever entered a singing competition, but the Mandan High School junior has been honoring those broad stripes and bright stars with a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" since she was a 5-year-old girl. It is her unique tribute to her country and her now-deceased grandfather who loved it.
The first time Kennedy sang the national anthem in front of people other than family was at a baseball game in Makoti, where her mother, Kari, grew up and her grandpa, the late Terry Petrick, coached a team.
“I would sing at home, so my grandpa, who fought in the Vietnam War, asked if I’d like to learn the national anthem and sing it at one of his baseball games,” she said.
That one gig started it all. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy, who was still 5 at the time, performed at Makoti’s Memorial Day program. She’s had the honor of singing for the community’s veterans and soldiers every year since.
“I lost my grandpa when I was 8, so I think it’s just something that I do for him,” said Kennedy, noting she’s sung the national anthem, publicly, about 50 times. “It means a lot to my family and it’s something that means a lot to me because it’s not just a song, it honors our country.”
Kennedy, who plays high school basketball, volleyball and softball, began performing the patriotic song at Mandan’s athletic events when she was in the eighth grade.
“I was really nervous,” she said, remembering the varsity volleyball game. “Every time I get nervous, but it’s gotten a lot better.”
To warm up her voice before each performance, Kennedy ducks into the locker room with her best friend and sings the anthem one time through. Then they “call it good” and go play, she said.
“Every time is a little different. Sometimes, I’m thinking a lot about it and, sometimes, I’m just like, ‘All right, let’s just go sing it. I have a game to play,’” she said, adding it helps calm her nerves knowing many of the people listening are returning Braves fans, who have already heard her sing.
Harris — the oldest of six daughters born to Kari and Jason Harris, of Mandan — said she appreciates her family’s support, as well as the support she receives from the “student section” of the bleachers.
“When we have student sections … I like how they’re always being so supportive,” she said. “When I’m done singing, I just hear crazy chanting and cheering and applauding even though I’ve sang it so many times.
“I have different people, all the time, saying how much it means to them .... One of the big reasons I keep singing is because of all the people who acknowledge me and tell me how good it is, and how much it means to people around our community.”
On occasion, she will perform the national anthem at a rival school’s sporting event, such as a recent game between Bismarck and Minot high schools, in which her sister, Harper, 11, joined her in singing, “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…”
“Harper likes to sing with me sometimes. I think we’re going to start doing that a little more so she can start taking my place at Memorial Day. I know she’s always wanted to be like me and come sing at the games, so I think that’d be cool,” she said.
Harris said she hopes to sing before the championship game of the upcoming West Region Girls Basketball Tournament at the Bismarck Event Center.
“That I will be a little nervous for,” she said. “Our goal is to play in the championship game, so I think singing right before would be so much fun.”
Enrolled in college algebra, Kennedy said her favorite subject in school is math. She enjoys hanging out with friends and shooting hoops at Mandan’s Family Wellness Center during her free time.
“Kennedy’s a good kid, a good student and a good basketball player,” said Mandan High School Principal Mark Andresen, adding it’s fun to see students get involved and excel at activities other than athletics.