They take the field, their instruments glistening in the stadium's light, when the teams depart to rest. Flags flutter, girls with pom-pons dance and brass sections blare while drummers pound out a cadence.
They are the members of the marching band, drill teams, flag girls and majorettes - the supporting cast of the Northern Virginia high school football programs. In some cases, they seem ready to steal the show from the football teams as halftime performances grow increasingly spectacular.
Halftime shows comprise an important part of the overall public appeal of football programs, according to area athletic and music directors.
"This is big business," Jeff Bianchi, band director at Madison High School in Vienna, says of the halftime performers' role in the athletic program. "We know that if we do a good job of entertaining at halftime it's an extra attraction for the people who go to the game."
Madison's band will spend $10,000 on new uniforms this year. The present ones are about eight years old, said Bianchi, adding, "We'll borrow the money from the schoola nd then pay it back over three years."
That means Bianchi's band members face three years of bazaars and jewelry, candy and grapefruit sales to raise enought money to repay the loan.
At Falls Church High School this year, the band program has a $54,700 budget to pay for improved equipment, uniforms, music and a Tournament of Bands in October.
But it takes more than money and flashy uniforms to make a successful marching band.
Band Director Jim Stegner and the 175 young men and women who comprise the Falls Church High School marching ensemble began rehearsing for this school year on Aug. 1. They spent a week in August at a band camp in Orkney Springs, Virginia, where they practiced up to 12 hours a day.
Bianchi watches his performers drill their routines from a 30-foot-high tower in the Madison parking lot. When a show is being planned, Bianchi estimates he spends "60 hours a week outside of school time" on preparation, plus at least two hours of class time during the school day.
"First you pick the music and you go for a big opening and closing," Stegner says, explaining the process of developing a halftime show. "Then you visualize formations to go with the music. You try to coordinate dramatic movement on the field with the drama in the music. Once that's done, you chart every step for every kid and go out and teach it."
For their efforts, which also include developing concert bands, band directors received a yearly pay supplemtns of $1,200.
"I guess, in my case, the reason I put in the extra time is that I just feel I was made to be a band director," Stegner says.
"The athletic director (John Holloway/ and I think of Friday nights as a big production - we want to make it the best show in town," Stegner says. "We go out there to support the team and to show what we can do as well."
Stegner's group is believed to be the first in the are to perform the "guillotine" - a dramatic routine where one group of trumpet players, while playing, must duck their heads at precisely the right moment to avoid being struck by the swinging trumpets of another group.
"We put stitches in a couple of people's heads every year practicing that one," Stegner says.
Last Friday night during halftime at the Fort Hunt-Annandale game, the Fort Hunt High School flag corps performed the guillotine using flag poles. The maneuver drew enthusiastic applause from the spectators.
Marching bands at halftime are drawing more attention from crowds than ever before, according to band directors. "If for some reason our band were not to perform at a halftime show, you'd hear people say, 'Hey, where's the band?'" says Bianchi.
"We know for a fact," Stegner says, "that concession sales drop during halftime when we perfrom. People don't leave the stands while we're on."
Band directors watch their halftime shows from atop the press box on game nights, hoping the weeks of drilling and the leadership of the drum major will carry the show.
"The drum major is so important," Bianchi says. "It's his job to lead the band, know the music, know what the band and flag rank are doing at each moment and to pace the show. On top of all that, the drum major must provide showmanship."
At Falls Church, competition for the position of drum major is at least as intense as competition for quarterback. "We select our drum major a year in advance," Stegner says, "and put them through rigorous training at band camp in the summer. We have five or six kids try out every year, and each undergoes an evaluation for a week or so before the final choice is made."
Bianchi estimates that, including music and marching, there are over a million possibilities for error in a halftime performance.
So once it's show time, Bianchi says, "I go to the press box and have a cup of coffee.' Stegner says, "I just go up and enjoy the show like everyone else."