REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. - The singer has no record label. His song didn't register a blip on the charts. Yet Chris Hawkey's "The Underdog" is number one with a 5th-grade math class from Redwood Falls.
On Thursday, Hawkey returned the favor, surprising the students with a concert on their last day of school.
"We started listening to it one day and the kids loved it," said math teacher Andy Ourada, who first played the song to his class after hearing Hawkey perform it at a concert.
Before long the class was singing it every day as students worked on their math projects.
"For a lot of kids, math is really hard," said Ourada, who never intended the song to become a class anthem. "We just kept listening to it, they'd ask for it."
"The Underdog" shines a light on people who prove doubters wrong, from a third string football quarterback who finally gets his chance to a new mom told her baby isn't likely to survive.
The song was written by Nashville writers Justin Busch and Dave Tough. Hawkey says he chose to record it, in part because it speaks to his own career.
Thirty years after joining the first of several bands, Hawkey has gained a regional following performing his own music but has yet to realize a long-held ambition to bust through nationally.
"Walking into cities you've never been to before and having people sing your songs back to you, that's always going to be the dream," said Hawkey.
In the meantime, he energetically goes about his day job as part of the morning drive team on KFAN.
On Thursday, Hawkey walked from the radio studio to his RV, where his band was already waiting for the two hour trip to Redwood Falls.
Two weeks earlier, Ourada asked his students a question. "If you were singing this song would you want someone to tell you what it meant to them? And they were like, 'Yeah!'"
Students wrote letters to Hawkey telling him how "The Underdog" had inspired them to work hard and do their best.
At least one student seemed to appreciate Hawkey's own underdog situation. A 5th grader named Payton wrote, "You only have 25 likes on the song, but there are zero dislikes so if you think about it, that's really cool."
Hawkey says the letters arrived on a tough day: a late night performance after a 3:00 wake-up for his morning show.
"It was validating to know that it was reaching people," said Hawkey, who felt the students' love again when the curtain opened in the school auditorium.
"I want them to know how much it meant to me that they each took the time to send me these letters," said Hawkey.
Leave it to the math students to add some kindness to the school year, then get it back – multiplied.