COLUMBIA — Before the lights dim for player introductions at the Arena of the Southwell Complex, the national anthem is sung over the loudspeakers.
For other games it's just a recording, but when it's played before women's basketball games at Columbia College, it's sung soulfully by what sounds like a professional singer. But the woman holding the microphone is wearing a Columbia College basketball uniform.
After she's done belting out the anthem, the crowd erupts in applause as the singer returns to her place on the bench ready to play. Even the players on the opposing team applaud, looking surprised that a player was responsible for such a beautiful rendition of the anthem.
Jasmine Davis, a junior forward from Hot Springs, Ark., volunteered before the season to sing the national anthem before the Cougars' games, a role she has filled admirably. But her singing ability means more to her than just singing before basketball games. Before she came to Columbia College, it became a ray of hope during difficult times, and it has given her a future to pursue.
Davis said she has been singing since she was 4 years old and comes from a musical family. Her mother, father and three siblings all sang around the house while she was growing up, and her mother encouraged her to sing outside their home.
"When we went to church, the preacher would always ask who wanted to sing," Davis said. "Mom just pushed me out into the aisle when he said that."
She said she only sings in public here and there, but when she is going through her daily routine, she is constantly singing.
"Back home we don't even have a radio on. It's just us singing around the house," Davis said.
Davis' mother, Elnora Everett-Martin, said singing can be something more than just music. She said that certain types of music, such as gospel, can bring people together, and her daughter can do that with her voice.
"I told her to always think about what you're singing," Everett-Martin said. "If you put your heart and passion into it, it can reach out to and encourage others."
Singing also helped Davis through some struggles in high school. She said her mother took her out of school in her junior year because Davis was getting into trouble and put Davis into the Arkansas National Guard Youth Challenge Program.
"As a parent I had to do what I thought was right, and if she wasn't going to be obedient then something had to change," Everett-Martin said. "She doesn't have the soul of a bad person, but I didn't want to see her fall into a trap a lot of people fall into and do something she'll regret. She got a second chance."
When she was in the program, Davis looked to singing as an outlet to keep herself occupied and give her hope.
"People were always telling me I wouldn't make it in life, but I never heard that when I was singing," Davis said. "As long as I had a reason to sing, I wouldn't get in trouble. It was like my ray of sunshine."
Davis carried a 4.0 grade-point average when she was in the program and earned her general education diploma two months earlier than her classmates. Her mother saw she had changed for the better.
"I think it helped her realize that she can stand on her own and can be a leader while being her own person," Everett-Martin said. "Now I won't have to worry about her when she's out on her own. Where she was going wasn't going to get her where she is now, but she's back on course on what she wants to do."
Everett-Martin agreed singing was a key to Davis' success at boot camp and can relate to it personally.
"When Jasmine gets upset — and I do this, too — music encourages us. It plays a big part in keeping us off the dark side," Everett-Martin said. "Getting praise for her singing encourages her, and it helps her believe that she can go to good places without others dragging her down."
Davis was selected to sing at the graduation ceremony for the National Guard program, and that performance led to several engagements at events in Washington, where she met then-Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
"It started out if one person heard me sing, they'd tell other people and it spread. Eventually everyone on the base knew I could sing," Davis said.
Davis also sang the national anthem during the first two seasons of her college basketball career at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. She transferred to Columbia College after an injury-plagued stay at TJC. After recovering from a torn ligament in her right knee while running track in high school, she hurt the knee again in her first year at TJC. The knee continued to give her problems her sophomore year, and she decided to look elsewhere to continue playing.
Davis has appeared in six games for the Cougars so far this season, averaging about six minutes per game, 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Coach Mike Davis said he hopes that her role on the team will expand as her play improves.
Mike Davis said the 6-foot-2 forward stood out on her recruiting trip to Columbia College because of her singing. He said when she visited, she sang in the car all the way from the airport, prompting him to push her to join the Jane Froman Singers on campus, an ensemble that performs classical compositions.
"She sounds like I wish I sounded," Mike Davis said with a laugh. "She sings during shoot-around, on the bus, eating meals, or walking across campus. Besides that she doesn't really sing much."
Jasmine Davis said that she joined the Jane Froman Singers for the experience and to add more dynamics to her voice. She would like to pursue a career in the music industry, but her ultimate goal would be to audition on a television show, preferably "The X Factor."
"I want to sing for Simon Cowell," the show's host. "That man knows his stuff," she said.
Everett-Martin said she believes her daughter's audience will expand as she continues to pursue her goal.
"Music can open a lot of doors for her, such as modeling or acting, and I can see her going to great heights," Everett-Martin said. "If she can imagine it, she can accomplish it."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.