By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As 26 children in white polo shirts excitedly walked to center of the Superdome field and prepared to sing, a packed Super Bowl crowd revved up by a day of partying in the Big Easy fell silent.
The chorus from Sandy Hook Elementary School, nearly two months removed from a deadly shooting rampage, joined Jennifer Hudson to deliver a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” on Sunday that had some players on the sideline and countless fans in the stands on the verge of tears.
Judging by the responses on social media, the performance appeared destined to become one of the most poignant memories of the Super Bowl, regardless of what played out in the game.
“Sandy hook elementary chorus singing America the beautiful and Alicia keys national anthem makes me proud to be American,” model Kate Upton, who was attending the game, said on her Twitter page.
Gerald Rokoff, standing near a portal in the Superdome’s upper deck, turned and said, “Beyond beautiful,” when the children finished singing.
Numerous viewers made references on social media to tearing up or getting goose bumps.
Sandy Hook is the school in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed by a gunman on Dec. 14. The chorus was comprised of third- and fourth-graders.
An NFL spokesman said no one with the chorus was available for interviews, but a statement was delivered on behalf of the school.
“We have come to New Orleans to represent the Sandy Hook Family and the community of Newtown, Connecticut,” the statement said. “Our wish is to demonstrate to America and the world that, `We are Sandy Hook and We Choose Love.”‘
The children wore green ribbons on their white shirts, which seemed to symbolize the innocence of youth, and stood in two rows of 13 on the NFL’s red, white and blue shield logo for the performance. Many smiled excitedly as they sang the first verse. Then Hudson, wearing a black blouse and long, white skirt, fronted them for a second verse that showcased her sterling voice.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh watched with his left arm around daughter, Alison, and his right hand over his heart.
A color guard stood with the American flag just in front of the Ravens sideline.
Ravens nose tackle Terrence Cody could be seen on the stadium’s video board tilting his head back, appearing to hold back tears.
Fans offered a rousing ovation at the finish, and the chorus then trotted to the 20-yard line and turned, with their hands on their hearts, to watch Alicia Keys sing the national anthem.
Caitlin Hamilton, a 22-year-old English teacher from Dodge City, Kansas, said on Twitter she thought the performance would, without a doubt, be the best part of the Super Bowl.
“It just shows that they’re still persevering despite what’s happened to them,” Hamilton said. “It was a great way to lift up the people of Sandy Hook as well, and to let them know that the people of America support them.”
Hamilton said that as a teacher, when she thinks about the shooting she thinks of herself in the same situation. She said Hudson did well leading the song, but the kids were the main event.
“I thought the kids were more inspirational that they could get up there and sing despite everything that had happened to them,” she said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)