JANESVILLE

Val Schnulle has a story about the amazing things that can happen when you put down your phone and start a conversation.

When she returns to Janesville’s Kennedy Elementary School on Sept. 3, she plans to share with her students how she sang the national anthem before a Cubs farm team game in South Bend, Indiana.

She will tell them it all came about because of a chance encounter and her love of baseball and singing.

Val sings at weddings and funerals. She performed in musicals in high school and in show choir in college. She coaxes fine notes from the piano and saxophone.

“You can say music is in my blood,” she said.

As a kindergarten teacher, Val puts a lot of content to music because it helps children remember things.

The beauty of kindergarten is that kids love their teacher whether or not she can sing well.

In Val’s case, she sings with the clarity of a summer star.

And she has dreamed for years of singing the national anthem at Wrigley Field before a Cubs game.

Yes, Val is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. You can thank her father for that.

When Val was in middle school, she watched Cubs games while her dad worked. Later, she filled him in on all the details, including who scored and who hit homers.

Fast forward to earlier this summer. Val drove with several teachers to Madison for a funeral visitation. On the way home, they stopped at a restaurant and were seated next to a table full of people.

Here is how Kennedy Elementary colleague Michele Schroeder described it:

“It was close quarters, so I leaned over to the man next to me and said, ‘I apologize right now for our behavior. We are in education, and this is our first outing for summer.’”

A few woo-hoos followed. Then the two groups began to chat.

Two people in the nonteacher group wore Cubs shirts, and Val shared with the strangers that she also was a Cubs fan.

A woman spoke up and said: “You must know my son then.”

Her son John Vincent, who was in the group, quickly added: “Ma, no one knows me.”

Turns out he sings the national anthem before Cubs games at Wrigley Field and has a remarkable voice.

Val shared her lifelong ambition about wanting to sing at Wrigley Field.

“Sing,” he told her.

With some persuading, Val rang out “The Star Spangled Banner,” and Vincent joined her right there in the restaurant.

Later, Vincent reached out to his contacts to see if he could help Val get her day at the ballpark.

Vincent explained that a person doesn’t just start singing at Wrigley Field. A singer has to prove herself first. And she has to send in a video of her performance.

To Val’s surprise, she got a call from the South Bend Cubs, who scheduled her to sing Aug. 1.

“I kept thinking I can’t believe this is really happening and how lucky I was to be given the opportunity,” Val said. “So many things all fell into place to make this happen.”

She wore black pants and a neat shirt, no sports gear, to show reverence and respect.

On the rented bus ride to South Bend, filled with 22 supporters, Val didn’t even feel tense. When she walked through a tunnel that came out at home plate, she realized this was her largest audience ever.

The stadium holds 5,000, but it was not a sell-out crowd.

Val sang facing the stands and without accompaniment.

“I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure I didn’t start too high because the song has a big range. If you start too high, you won’t be able to hit those high notes.”

Her friend Michele summed up the performance:

“She nailed it,” Michele said.

Val’s husband, Jeremy, was the first to comment on how calm Val was and how she hit every note perfectly.

Val’s mom cried through the song.

Val hopes the effort will open the door to her dream at Wrigley Field.

“I’m going to send a video to the Cubs to see if it pans out for next year,” she said.

She also hopes her experience will persuade young and old alike to put down their phones when they are out and about.

“Often when I go to a restaurant, I see everyone on their phones,” Val said. “If we had not had a conversation (with the strangers at the restaurant), all of this never would have happened. When you engage in conversation with people, it can take you to a lot of different places. It’s a good lesson to keep your chin up and to talk to people.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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