On Friday nights, they're simply the halftime show, their spotlight sandwiched between football play while the team is working out strategy in the locker room. But this Saturday, halftime becomes the main event as 20 school marching bands from Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties descend upon River Ridge Middle/High School for the Florida Bandmasters Association District V Marching Performance Assessment.
"It is several hours of uninterrupted music, pageantry and everything that a show about music and moving can be," said River Ridge Middle band director Travis Henry, who is co-hosting the event with River Ridge High School band director Robert Cook. "It's awesome having all these uninterrupted halftime shows from high schools all in one place. We love having the community come out to support our programs."
"It's definitely the biggest performance of the year," said Anclote High snare drum player Eric Durnell, 16. "Football games are just practice for this."
"There's a lot to see — all this different music and some real cool visual effects," Henry said.
Students have been honing their halftime performances since they started practicing their steps during summer band camp and worked them out on the grid under the Friday night lights.
"It's a lot of fun," said Anclote clarinet player Alexandra Oakes, 14. "You're with other people who share the same passion. You get to do your show, then see other people's shows and how they come together. It's pretty cool to think that this was someone's idea."
But it's not just about performing before an audience of fellow music lovers.
There's also a panel of six judges who will rate each performance with grades of poor, fair, good, excellent and superior in the areas of music, general effect, marching and maneuvering, percussion and color guard. The goal, of course, is to earn straight superiors.
The Anclote High Marching Sharks will be first up on Saturday — a typically stomach-churning thought for members of one of the youngest and smallest bands in Pasco County.
"You're nervous and there's this adrenalin rush because you know this is where it matters," Durnell said.
Then there's all that waiting around for the awards presentation, said Alex Rodriguez, 17, who is in his second year as a drum major for the Sharks and carries some heavy weight in making sure the band is in sync. "It's all very suspenseful. It's not till the bus ride home that we really get to relax."