Small world connections lead Trace Adkins to sing at WVU/Baylor game
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University's introduction to Big 12 Conference football is set to get a country kickoff.
The 6-foot, 6-inch former oil rig worker is just one part of the pomp and circumstance surrounding this weekend, when the Mountaineers will play their first-ever Big 12 Conference game.
"We're just very excited to have someone of his caliber performing the national anthem at our first Big 12 game," said Matt Wells, assistant athletic director for marketing and sales at WVU.
Adkins is just the third person to ever be invited to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" on the turf at Mountaineer Field.
West Virginia natives Kathy Mattea and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. have both done the honors in recent years. Mattea sang the anthem before the 1997 WVU-Marshall game; Murphy performed it prior to last year's WVU-LSU game.
The only other music star to perform on Mountaineer Field was John Denver, who sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads," to mark the opening of the new stadium on Sept. 6, 1980.
Adkins's manager, Greenbrier County native Greg Baker, said the idea came about after WVU athletic director Oliver Luck had a passing conversation with Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey earlier this year.
"Oliver had indicated to Coach Mulkey that they would like to do something special for WVU's first Big 12 game," Baker said.
Mulkey and Adkins are old classmates from Louisiana Tech University. In the early 1980s, she was an All-American point guard on the women's basketball team and Adkins was a walk-on defensive end for the football team.
But the two didn't actually meet until Adkins sang the National Anthem at a Baylor Lady Bears game this past February. According to a USA Today article from the event, Adkins admitted he'd always had a crush on Mulkey, though he never had the courage to talk to her in school.
After hearing that Luck wanted to do something special for the WVU opener against Baylor, Mulkey decided to put her former admirer in touch with WVU.
"Coach Mulkey called me and passed on Oliver's number," Baker said.
That was a surreal moment for Baker, who grew up cheering on the Mountaineers from his Fort Springs home.
"Personally, this has been a big deal for me," Baker said. "No teenager growing up as a WVU fan in 1981 will ever forget Oliver Luck leading the Mountaineers to victory over Florida State in the Peach Bowl."
Baker said Adkins was on board with the idea from the beginning. Baker pitched the plan to WVU officials during a meeting at this year's Greenbrier Classic golf tournament.
There was just one complication: Adkins had already booked a 9:30 p.m. show in Kentucky this Saturday. Everyone had to wait until Fox Sports officials set the game time to green light plan.
"If it was an afternoon or night kick, it wouldn't have been possible," Wells said.
"As soon as Oliver texted me and said that it was a noon start, Trace agreed to do it," Baker said.
Adkins will fly into Morgantown Saturday morning and fly to Kentucky after the game.
Baker said Adkins is a huge fan of college football and is looking forward to being in Morgantown and catching some Big 12 action.
"Quite often on a fall Saturday, if we are on the road, you will find Trace on his bus watching TV and switching between multiple football games," Baker said. "Because he follows college football so closely he is well aware of the rich traditions of WVU football and because of his roots in Northwest Louisiana, he is pretty well versed on the teams of the Big 12."
Adkins' performance isn't the only ceremony going on this weekend to mark the entrance into the Big 12. Mountaineer athletic officials are promoting a "Stripe the Stadium" theme for Saturday's game.
"Anyone sitting in even sections, upper level WVU students, as well as those in the Touchdown Terrace area, you're encouraged to wear gold on Saturday," Wells said. "If you're in an odd-numbered section, or a WVU student in the lower level, you're encouraged to wear blue." The Big 12 will also take a prominent role in this weekend's Homecoming festivities at WVU. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been named honorary parade marshal for the university's 2012 Homecoming Parade, which will take place Friday evening in Morgantown.