High school football brings people together. They turn out in throngs to cheer for the teenagers who play the sport, but they also gather to socialize with friends and family.
In some communities, the local gridiron contest is the biggest event of the week, attracting enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowds whose roars can be heard for miles.
South Carolina's 2013 season kicks off tonight, and eight of the 10 teams in the Aiken Standard's coverage area will be in action.
Strom Thurmond has a home game in Edgefield against Silver Bluff. South Aiken, North Augusta and Wagener-Salley will host Richland Northeast, T.L. Hanna and Latta, respectively.
Fox Creek will travel to Dreher; Ridge Spring-Monetta will journey to Pelion and Williston-Elko will go on the road to face Edisto.
All games will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Aiken and Midland Valley will be idle. Their seasons don't begin until next Friday.
Meet some of Aiken County's residents who can't wait to enjoy tonight's gridiron action:
Hank Hammond is in his second year as the president of the North Augusta Yellow Jacket Club.
“I don't think the common football fan realizes how much work goes into getting ready for football season,” Hammond said. “Last Saturday, our booster club did its membership blitz. Our athletes went out and solicited memberships from the community, and they raised more than $26,000.”
Putting together football programs, which feature the teams' rosters and are sold at each home game, also takes time. The Yellow Jacket Club also has been busy trying to get the new video board ready for tonight's game.
“It's funded by corporate sponsors, and it's like a big television screen on top of a scoreboard,” Hammond said. “It will show replays, advertisements and announcements involving North Augusta High School.”
Wet weather this summer caused some delays, “but we totally expect it to be working tonight,” Hammond said on Wednesday.
“This is my time of year, and I can't wait; I love my Rebel football,” said Libba Ingram, who teaches Storm Thurmond students about government. She also oversees a class that focuses on women and minorities in United States history.
A Strom Thurmond graduate, Ingram, is especially excited about the school's newly renovated football stadium. The cost of the improvements totaled $2.5 million.
“It's wonderful,” Ingram said. “The visitors' side is now the home side, and we've got a field house, a new scoreboard and some other great stuff. It truly looks like a small college football stadium now.”
Ingram plans to wear an outfit that will incorporate the school's red white and navy blue colors. And she'll arrive early to find a seat that is in the student section and near Strom Thurmond's marching band.
“I'll be standing up the whole game,” she said. “I teach nearly all the players who will be out there on the field, plus the cheerleaders and the band members. I'm going to be cheering for all of them.”
The band member
Mustafah Burnett, 14, is eager to make his debut as a member of South Aiken's marching band.
“I'm going to have a blast; it will be the best time of my life,” said the freshman, who plays the trumpet. “Ever since the since the sixth grade, I've looked forward to being in the marching band.”
According to Burnett, the band's performance at a high school football game is important.
“It's the band's role to get everybody excited during a game and to make sure that everybody has a great time,” he said. “We'll be playing 'pump up' music like do 'All I Do Is Win' and our fight song.”
Meagen Bryant, a junior at Silver Bluff, plans to travel to Edgefield for the Bulldogs' game. She'll be going with her aunt, Darlene Jackson.
“We hardly ever beat them, but I hope we win this weekend,” she said. “We have a great team this year even though we lost a lot of seniors. I think our boys can do it.”
Bryant, 16, attends all of Silver Bluff's home contests and travels to the away games when the trip isn't too long.
“Sometimes I sit and watch the game, but usually I walk around a lot,” she said. “I like hanging out with my friends and having fun and laughing.”
Morgan Leigh Desmond won't get to watch much of South Aiken's season opening game because she's a varsity cheerleader. That means she'll be working hard to show school spirit and trying to get the crowd to do the same.
“You get such a rush cheering in front of everyone,” she said. “We'll do offense and defense cheers and timeout cheers. The home games are more fun than the away games because more of your classmates are there.”
Sometimes Desmond, 15, and her fellow squad members will do stunts, and that's the part of cheerleading that she enjoys the most.
“It's challenging and interesting to try new things and put people up in the air,” said Desmond, who is a sophomore.
Desmond described herself as a “big fan” of the National Football League's Green Bay Packers.
“I love high school football just the same,” she added.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.