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Students, staff prep for high school football
Sue Griffith unpacks sodas at the Johnson High School concession stand in preparation for tonight’s season-opening football game against North Hall. Griffith has a son, Michael, who plays bass clarinet in the Knights’ band. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Temperatures are cooling and kickoff time for high school football is finally here.

After weeks of practicing in the sweltering summer heat, football players will don their pads tonight as an army of band members, cheerleaders and parent volunteers add that touch of magic that makes football season so special.

As players prepared to battle it out on the field, Gainesville High School band members began gearing up for the season in July by practicing those ever-popular tunes that get the crowd pumped.

"Everybody’s excited," Gainesville High School band director Larry Miller said of the Red Elephants’ opening game tonight against Chestatee. "The culture of Gainesville is deeply rooted in football, so this really is a great time of year. This is one of the few times that students can really feel connected to something bigger than themselves."

Following a football season that ended at the Georgia Dome in the state finals, Flowery Branch High School followers are anxious to start the season off right against Stephens County tonight at the new school’s football stadium.

"We’re so excited, I can’t wait," Flowery Branch cheerleader Jordan Frazier said. "We’ve been painting signs and getting the team pumped. We just want to have the same season we had last year and take it all the way to state."

In Jefferson, the Jefferson High cheerleaders also are gearing up for game night as the Dragons face arch rival Commerce.

"We practice three times a week," said Danielle Tackett, squad co-captain. "But before that, we had summer camp."

When the cheerleaders aren’t busy cheering on the sidelines, they are showcasing their school pride in competitions.

"Cheering is really a 24/7 job. Outside of practicing as a team, we also practice our tumbling on our own time," said Ashleigh Ferguson, the squad’s other co-captain. "It is a lot of work but we are looking forward to having another undefeated season."

Last year, Jefferson completed a 10-0 regular season and reached the second round of the state playoffs. When the players get to play extra games, so does the supporting cast of cheerleaders and band members.

"We always assume that the football team is going to be successful, so we plan ahead for a long season," said Jon Cotton, Jefferson High School assistant band director.

Although the longer season means extra practices for the band — sometimes in the rain or in chilly temperatures — Cotton says the group was more than happy to be in the stands helping build fan enthusiasm and keeping the players motivated.

"Because we were undefeated in the regular season, we got homefield advantage for the playoffs," Cotton said. "That has lots of advantages, one of which is extra revenue that is generated here in Jefferson. It also meant extra money for the band; we help out with the reserved parking lot, so we get a portion of the proceeds to help fund our program."

After all that cheering for the home team, Cynthia Tanner, president of Johnson High School Band Boosters, knows fans can get hungry. She’s one of the many parents who volunteer their time getting concession stands stocked and staffed, in addition to helping the marching band’s performance flow smoothly.

"It all starts back in May when we have sign up sheets for parents to help out with concessions," Tanner said. "... Then we have the big shopping trip to Sam’s to get all the candy and hamburgers everyone likes. And then we have the clean up crew that goes through the stands with leaf blowers to clean up all the peanut shells."

Miller said it takes a lot of people to pull off a football season that produces high school memories students will never forget.

"We all have a job getting behind Coach (Bruce) Miller and the football team," Miller said. "We really try to be that extra little bit that brings us all through. We’re just looking forward to a great year and encourage people to come out."

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