How many times has Terry Coley performed the National Anthem, dozens? Hundreds? It doesn’t matter. Right before he sings that first note, Coley always has the same reaction, and always will.

“I get nervous. I still get nervous, although people say I shouldn’t, because I’ve sung it so many times,” Coley said. “I still get that tense moment like it’s my first time, every time.”

Coley, also known as “Terry the Singing Custodian,” is the go-to National Anthem singer at Lawrence High School. If you’ve been to a football game at Keyes Field, or a basketball game at Folsom Gymnasium, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the 35-year old Coley belt out the National Anthem.

If you haven’t heard Coley yet, make it a point to go to a game at Lawrence this season, and hope he’s the one performing that pre-game tradition. Coley is the best National Anthem singer in Maine (that’s not up for debate), but he won’t be for long. Recently married, Coley is moving to South Carolina this spring.

“The kids love him. He’s always got a positive attitude,” Lawrence athletic director Bill MacManus said.

It was MacManus who first offered Coley the opportunity to sing the National Anthem before a Bulldogs game, five years ago. Some students heard Coley singing in the halls as he worked.

“It was a long time at that point, that I’d performed in front of an audience, a crowd,” Coley said.

He nailed it, and he’s been a staple of Lawrence athletic events since.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is not an easy song to sing. It takes a minute and a half, maybe two, to get through, but it’s not uncommon to see a singer forget the words, or repeat a line, or go off key. I once saw a group of cheerleaders at Madison Area High School dissolve into a fit of giggles midway through their rendition.

Coley is a pro, every time. He never forgets the words, he runs through them in his head before he sings each time he sings the song. To his recollection, Coley has only struggled through the song once, at an audition at Colby College a few years ago. He was one of approximately 40 people singing, and the repetition and varying quality of the performers was tough.

“Hearing so many people sing it, and sing it different ways, and not being on pitch, this and that, it kind of threw me off when it was my time to get back up,” Coley said. “I kind of slipped, and that’s the first time I ever did that.”

A native of New York City, Coley moved to Maine years ago with his now ex-wife to be near her family. Music has been an important part of his life for as long as Coley can remember. His hip hop/R &B group of four years, the 207 Boys, decided to break up not too long ago.

Recently, an aunt reminded him that the family made him sing for his bottle.

“Michael Jackson, I sang a lot of his stuff,” he said.

Coley cites Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Teddy Pendergrass as some of his influences, and you can here a little Green in the way Coley hits the high note at the end of the “land of the free” line and holds it. Like many National Anthem singers, Coley has added his own flair to his performance, and it’s subtle. Coley repeats the end of the last line, “the home of the brave,” once, giving his version a little touch of soul.

“That was just a little something of my own. I noticed a lot of people have sung it many, many times. I just wanted to have my own unique way of doing it,” Coley said.

“What I enjoy watching is people hearing him sing. He gets to that ending… Whoa,” MacManus said. “It makes tingles go up your back.”

The reaction is the same, every time. Strong, earnest applause, even from those who have heard Coley sing the National Anthem over and over.

“It’s amazing to me. I feel like these kids, and everybody who gives me that support, they make me feel like a superstar,” Coley said. “I feel really big when they do that for me. I don’t take it as, ‘Yeah, I deserve that.’ I’m like ‘Thank you. Thank you very much. If it wasn’t for you, I probably wouldn’t be doing this right now.'”

If the folks at Lawrence are smart, they’ll get a recording of Coley to play before games when he’s gone. Even if that doesn’t happen, Coley’s inspired enough singers. Somebody will step up and do a good job. He has simple advice for anybody with National Athem aspirations.

“Just feel it. Just feel it in their own way. Don’t try to do it like me or like somebody else. Just do it the way you feel it naturally inside yourself,” Coley said. “I’ve told a couple of students who have done it, they’ve tried to do it the way I do it, ‘No. Do it your way. You’ve got a beautiful voice. Make it your own.’ “

The National Anthem belongs to all of us. For those two minutes before a game, Coley makes the song his. When he gives it back, he always returns the National Anthem a little better than he found it, and everyone who heard him sing is fortunate to have done so.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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