You grab your ticket and round the corner, immediately greeted by the delightful smell of your concession stand favorites and a buzz of familiar voices. As you look around, purple and gold in every direction. On the field, the athletic trainers make sure their team is at its best while the dads quickly set-up the big run-through helmet. A little bulldog wearing his player’s jersey runs by; his little sister in tow with her big Wylie hair bow and sparkly paw-printed cheek. Students, families, and friends strategically find their seats as the Mama Dawgs circle below the bleachers in prayer.
The band begins carefully tuning their instruments while the drill team aligns precisely on the field. The football players channel their nerves into grit as they prepare to take the field, and the cheerleaders wait in anticipation for just the right moment to tumble ahead of them.
It’s Friday night at Hugh Sandifer Stadium and there is excitement everywhere. Everything seems to be on point – let Friday Night Lights begin!
Wait! Hold-up! It’s not quite that simple. Friday Night Lights started weeks ago. For the students who make-up the Pure Gold Band, Color Guard, Bulldog Football Team, Belles Drill Team, and Wylie Cheer, a commitment of time and energy go well beyond what we see on Friday nights.
AN INVESTMENT WORTH WHILE
Prior to kick-off at the first game, these students start planning and practicing well before that moment. The start of practice varies for each group.
Senior cheerleader Ava Thompson said they start planning for pep rallies in May, attend a week-long camp in the summer and begin weekly practices in August.
“In August, we go over game-day material and map out a minimum of 10 pep rallies,” said Thompson. “This includes everything from our fight song, band chants, and cheers to ways we can interact with the student body, drum line and drill team.”
Thompson said they continually work to perfect cheers, sideline chants, and stunts. She, along with senior cheerleader M’Lia Whitman, will manage the squad’s performance during the games as a sideline captain this year. She said in addition to practicing for games, they spend a considerable amount of time planning and practicing for pep rallies. While pep rallies are not technically part of Friday night, they are integral in setting the tone for the game and rallying community support. Thompson said they learn a new dance and stunt weekly once the school year begins.
Just like cheer, Senior quarterback KJ Long said football practices begin in August, but physical and mental preparation start well beforehand by attending workouts throughout the summer break. August practices can start as early as 6:30 a.m. to beat the heat.
“It is a huge commitment to our summers,” he said. “We have to stay on top of it so that we can perform to our best abilities.” Long said once practices start, they don’t just focus on the physical aspect. “Practices will be roughly two hours long and sometimes we may do more whether that be talking about plays or going to the trainer’s office.”
Belles, band, and color guard all start practicing at the end of July with the practices lasting until the week before school starts. Each group begins learning material they will use over the next few months.
“During summer practices we learn most of the dances we will perform the first semester,” said senior Belle Trinity King, who also serves as the vice president social officer for the drill team. In addition to dances, drill team works on drill team etiquette as well as chants and motions to interact with cheer and band in the stands. King said once school starts, they work weekly to perfect the upcoming half-time performance. At times, they work on two dances – one for half-time and one for the pep rally.
Layla Romero, captain for the color guard, said they learn basic foot work they will use throughout the season and then move toward more difficulty skills. “We continuously work on perfecting our basics and looking as sharp and clean as possible,’ she said. “Then as we progress, we learn more challenging choreography.”
Since color guard performs as a part of band, they practice with band and then independently. Practices for band and color guard generally go from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout the week.
Senior Cade Fellows and head drum major, said band uses practice to run through marching fundamentals, rehearse the overall halftime performance, as well as work on learning and playing their music. He said there is a lot of behind-the-scenes tasks in terms of set-up for halftime that also require learning. These tasks are crucial for their performance to go smoothly and stay on time.
AND THE CROWD GOES WILD
Once school starts and academic responsibilities intertwine with those of playing football, cheering, or performing at halftime, the commitment to perform well Friday night becomes even more of a challenge. However, according to the students, it is well worth their time when they are in front of the Wylie community.
Long said the Wylie community coming together to support the team is key in making Friday night lights a success, making the long, hard hours of practice well worth it. “The fans, community and just everyone in general are what makes performing under the lights so fun,” he said. “We’re at a school that takes pride in our football team and that makes it that much more important to us to do well.”
Thompson agreed with Long on the crowd’s role in success on Fridays. She said she loves seeing all the different perspectives. “There is nothing better than seeing a crowd come together to bring spirit to a football game,” said Thompson. “Whether it’s the screaming parents, a lively student body, or game winning touchdown, I enjoy being immersed in all the excitement.”
They all agree that seeing their work come together for the community and the friendships created during those moments are important. For Romero and King, the nerves building up to performing in front of the crowd and then taking a step onto the field at half-time is the best feeling.
Romero said at times it’s scary to learn a new trick like throwing a flag over your head, but once you learn it you can show it off. “When we get to perform at halftime and there is an intense part of the song that is difficult to do…and we are completely in sync,” Romero said. “All the hard work pays off at that moment.”
King said the nervous energy while waiting to perform is one her favorite things about drill team. “The entire team is excited and jittery, and we always have so much fun laughing on the sidelines,” she said.
King and Fellows believe being able to be with people who are important to them at these moments also make the long hours well worth their time. King said the moments when they bond on the sideline “make all the hard work throughout the week or even the year worth it.”
Fellows added “Seeing everything you worked on be put together and then come to life, as well as being able to work on something I love with people I am close with, creates a rewarding feeling that makes the hundreds of hours spent all worthwhile.”
A BIG Shout Out!
While this article focuses on the groups who perform on Friday nights, there are many others who work hard using their time and talents to make Friday Night Lights a success. A huge thanks to:
• Student trainers and managers
• Wylie Bulldogs Production Crew
• Parents and volunteers around the stadium
Finally, without the dedication of the coaches and school staff there would be no Friday Night Lights. Thank you for choosing to invest in the students.
Did You Know?
311 – students perform under the lights weekly
8,500 – number of spectators at Hugh Sandifer Stadium
Cade Fellows, Band
“From the many different groups that go on the field during a performance to late nights spent planning and perfecting our music, band is a commitment that can’t reflect our time spent working in a seven-minute show. However, the commitment and effort is worth it and makes a positive influence on many people.”
Ava Thompson, Cheer
“We truly put a lot of heart and effort into what we do, and we enjoy being leaders for our campus and the little kids in the community and getting everyone excited about what it means to be a Wylie Bulldog.”
Trinity King, Belles
“Being a part of Belles is way more than just dancing every Friday night. We constantly strive to create people skills and a reputation of respect, which creates valuable life skills for the future.”
KJ Long, Football
“We put countless hours of hard work to go perform and try to win out there. It takes so much to just do what we do, and we couldn’t do it without the support of everyone in our community. Support of the community is what truly helps us.”
By Kristen Johnson
Photography By Tim Nelson
Videography By Justin Holland and Wylie Bulldog Productions