The students arrive for morning practice just as the fog is beginning to lift. Many have rolled out of bed earlier than they've had to all summer.
They share a hello or a laugh, catching up after a recent vacation or a seasonal job. They're glad to hear that oppressive heat and humidity are not in the forecast this week. Then the shrill of the whistle pierces the air, and the buzz of conversation comes to an abrupt end.
After some instruction, the teens line up into formation and begin their pre-season drills, trying to match one another's steps with uniform precision.
This is a scene at high schools throughout central Pennsylvania, and while it may sound like the start of football practice, it's actually the beginning of band camp.
Football players come to camp, hopefully in shape from self-inspired or volunteer workouts throughout the summer; marching band musicians have likely spent weeks learning new music to debut during the first home-game halftime show.
While some would say musicians and athletes have little in common, upon closer inspection, a marching band is very much a team. Football squads break out into position workouts for the likes of quarterbacks, linemen, etc.; marching bands break into groups by instrument: brass, winds, percussion.
Just as in sports, the band is not successful unless all members work together toward a common goal. Performances depend on a willingness of leaders to lead and others to follow knowing that each part is important in itself, but the larger goal is of even more significance.
Success comes in the form of harmonious music and interesting visuals featuring complicated formations accented by the beauty and talent of flags, dancers and majorettes.
And if you think there are no physical demands to band, just try marching around a football field or for several miles in a homecoming parade carrying (while playing) a tuba or a base drum.
Decked out in school colors, the football team and marching band take the field in different uniforms, though both are a reflection of the pride and tradition that comes with high school football season. Both are icons of our heritage, images etched in fond memories.
And while we love the excitement of the game, what would Friday nights be without the band? Imagine a high school football contest with no live National Anthem, or fight songs after touchdowns, alma maters or halftime entertainment. Not only do bands provide the soundtrack of the season, their participants are often the game's biggest fans, adding joy and spirit to the community-laced competition.
In a few short weeks, it will be time for football teams to run onto the gridiron and begin another exciting season. And playing them onto the field will be a group of dedicated musicians who have spent hours and weeks of practice to represent their schools with power and artistry.
Strike up the band!
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.