It's finally back - high school football. In small towns throughout Central Pennsylvania, it is the epitome of tradition; it is timeless. When the sun sets on Friday nights, what better place to be than under the lights at a high school football game?
I never get tired of hearing stalwarts like John Franco and John Hayes wax poetic about the significance of their very special sport - the sport played by teenagers but loved by all ages, which brings communities together like no other; the sport that builds character and pride, and creates moments that will last forever in the memories of those who experience them.
For coaches, Friday night may be the smallest part of the job. They endure late-night trips to exchange game film and then sleepless nights of dissecting them. It's the ups-and-downs of working with unpredictable and emotional youth, and the struggle to balance team and family. But it's also the love of the game. The running onto the field with their players, the camaraderie of their coaching staffs, the challenge of putting all the pieces together, and the satisfaction of having success.
For fans, those magical moments may stem from witnessing championship celebrations, fan-lined streets welcoming home quickly-planned parades of players, coaches, cheerleaders and band members, all lined up behind the volunteer fire department.
For parents, the moments involve watching sons and their friends grow up together on the gridiron, through sun-baked summer practices to the crisp fall evening when they walk down the 50-yard line for senior night ceremonies; then the fun of showing up every Friday night long after their sons have graduated.
For concession stand volunteers, often boosters and band parents, the memories include glimpses of the tops of helmets over lines of customers, while skewering hot dogs and pouring hot chocolate.
But what would high school football be without the smell of their popcorn, the sound of the cheerleaders they support, or the sight of the band marching onto the field at halftime?
For every headline in the newspaper and every highlight on TV, there are hundreds, even thousands of people who keep the traditions alive.
Like small-town public address announcers who turn into play-by-play men, often needing only to announce players by their first names. Everyone knows who they're talking about.
It's managers and scorekeepers, cheerleading coaches and coaches' wives, ball boys, band directors and bus drivers, plus countless other nameless faceless folks behind the scenes, all who give their time and their talent toward this weekly celebration of school spirit and sport.
The names in the programs may change, along with the styles the kids are wearing these days, but in most spots, high school football Friday night in 2008 looks remarkably like it did in 1958, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Kellie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.