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Rae Grellner is a seriously good player on defense — and the violin

Dressed in her basketball uniform and her team’s signature black knee pads, Grellner stepped to midcourt at the Big House. She didn’t have a basketball. She had a violin.
by Jenni Carlson Published: March 5, 2014

OKARCHE — Dressed in her basketball uniform and her team’s signature black knee pads, Rae Grellner stepped to midcourt at the Big House.

She didn’t have a basketball.

She had a violin.

A year ago this week, the curly haired brunette performed the national anthem before the Class A girls basketball state championship game, then went out and won a title with her Okarche High teammates. It was a feel-good story, one of those how-about-that moments. But it was also a reminder that bigger isn’t always better.

As the state basketball tournaments begin for our smallest schools, places like Arkoma and Red Oak and Tipton and, yes, Okarche take center stage. Most count their population by the hundreds, their high school classes by the tens and their stoplights by the single digits, if they have any at all.

But as Rae Grellner showed us, good things can come in small-school packages.

Grellner was 6 years old when her older brother brought home a rented violin. He played the piano, but over the Christmas break, he decided he wanted to try his hand at violin. It didn’t stick with him.

Rae was a different story.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said.

A few weeks later, she took her first lesson, and she’s been taking them weekly since then. But since Okarche has no orchestra program, she has always worked with private teachers in the Oklahoma City area. That has meant a 45-minute drive into the metro and a 45-minute drive back home at least once a week.

She did whatever it took.

Same went for practice. She spends a minimum of an hour a day practicing, but most days, it’s two hours. First, she does scales — “Lots of scales,” she said — then moves to arpeggios and etudes. Once she finishes her technical exercises, she digs into the music that she’s working on. She always has two pieces that she’s trying to perfect, one that’s up-tempo and one that’s slower.

Her latest: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 and Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 2.

Grellner, who toured Europe with the Oklahoma Youth Orchestra last summer and has been selected to the North Central Honors Orchestra, played those two pieces in auditions for college scholarships.

Do yourself a favor and Google them. You’ll see how difficult they are.

The national anthem, by comparison, doesn’t seem so hard.

Grellner started performing the anthem before games at Okarche as a sophomore, and when the team made the state finals that season, she performed before the title game at the Big House. It was the biggest crowd she’d ever played for.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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