Early December, and I'm taking the future Mrs. Moe to our first Badgers basketball game together at the Kohl Center.
While the soon to be Mrs. Moe is not much of a sports fan, I figure she'll like the band. Everybody likes the band. And the inside of the Kohl Center has to be better than our last UW sporting event together, a hockey game outdoors at Camp Randall two years ago.
We made it to the end of the first period. The whole idea of a Mrs. Moe appeared in jeopardy at that point.
As we took our seats this time — Wisconsin against Marquette, Dec. 3 — it became evident the band was not in attendance. Of course. They were traveling with the football team to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.
Right out of the blocks, of course, the band is responsible for the national anthem. Instead, on this day, a young girl dressed in a Badgers uniform — albeit with more sparkles than Jordan Taylor normally utilizes — took the microphone and launched into the Star-Spangled Banner.
And, well, she aced it. She sang with passion, a strong voice, and just the right amount of attitude. She made the song hers without losing its essence.
As she finished, the crowd roared, and then roared some more. Spontaneously, both Badgers coach Bo Ryan and Marquette coach Buzz Williams walked across the court and shook the girl's hand.
Skylar Stecker, age 9, had arrived.
Actually, she'd been arriving on stages across Wisconsin since surprising her mom and dad with an unexpected singing talent in spring 2011.
Neither Aaron nor Kara Stecker are gifted singers, though there's plenty of talent to go around in the family. Aaron, an Ashwaubenon native, and Kara, who is from Janesville, met on the UW-Madison campus and dated through college.
"I wouldn't marry Daddy until we were both finished with school," Kara told Skylar on Sunday, as they ate a late lunch of bean soup at Panera Bread on Mineral Point Road. Skylar was also working on a smoothie.
Aaron Stecker played football — running back — for the Badgers, then transferred to Western Illinois when Ron Dayne arrived in Madison. Aaron subsequently enjoyed a decade-long pro football career, and the family settled again in the Madison area upon his retirement two years ago.
Skylar — who has a younger brother, Dorsett — attends West Middleton Elementary School. It was there that she signed up for a talent show last spring. She'd taken piano lessons and learned to play the song "Maybe" from the musical "Annie."
One night at home Skylar mentioned to her mom that she'd like to sing it, too. Kara was dubious. Skylar, who had been practicing, began, "Maybe far away."
"She was good," Kara said. "Weirdly good. Where she would get nervous playing the piano, she never got nervous singing."
Skylar began weekly voice lessons — working mainly on breathing techniques — and made a point of performing in front of audiences whenever possible. One memorable early performance of the Star-Spangled Banner came at an air show near Beloit last summer.
Kara sent electronic links to some of Skylar's best performances to UW athletics, where they caught the eye of assistant director of marketing and promotions Adam Ahearn.
Ahearn, who appreciated that Sylar's dad had played football for the Badgers, eventually sent Kara a note back. Would Skylar like to sing the national anthem at the Wisconsin-Minnesota hockey game at the Kohl Center Nov. 12?
In the days leading up to the performance, Skylar was fine, but her mom was nervous. "I kept wondering if she could nail it in front of 17,000 people," Kara said.
"Mom, I got this," Skylar would say. "Don't worry."
Nail it she did. The hockey crowd burst into uproarious applause, and when Skylar walked off the ice she found her dad in tears. "My dad never cries," she said. He smiled. "I'm so proud of you."
Adam Ahearn said he was probably more nervous than his young singer. "He was so proud of me he gave me a hockey puck," Skylar said.
The invitation to sing at the Marquette game came less than a month later, and those of us lucky enough to be there won't soon forget it. I wonder: Does she do weddings?
Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.