We tend to focus so much on the action on the field, we sometimes forget about the other elements that go into making a fall night of high school football so enthralling.
These are their stories.
Each step up to the War Eagle Stadium press box is a chore for South Forsyth public address announcer Jack Moore. Each touchdown pass, sack and big hit is amplified through the voice of Moore, who wants nothing more from a Friday night than to be sitting a few dozen rows high above the field, with a spot overlooking the 50-yard line and a mic to lean in to.
The press box on Friday nights in the fall is an extension of Moore’s sanctuary. A man of faith, laughter with a thirst for conversation, Moore, a 60-year-old Cumming resident by way of Houston, has been battling cancer for two years. Despite the disease reaching Stage 4, Moore still climbs the bleachers before the sun sets on the school week—nothing means more than to be the voice of War Eagle football.
“It’s important to me. It’s nothing I boast about. I just absolutely enjoy it,” Moore said. “Interacting with people is where I flourish. It’s how I flourish. There’s no better way to do it than call a football game while you’re at it.
“You stay sharp. You’ve got to get everyone’s name right, keep up with announcements and everything.”
Moore is in his seventh year calling games at South. He’s done all three of their games so far this season. He announced most of his son’s games growing up—Dillon, a talented baseball player, also led the War Eagles in tackles his senior year. After Dillon graduated, Moore couldn’t help but stick around.
He owes everything to his spotter, Doug Thomas, who is responsible for seeing each ball carrier, pass receiver and tackler.
“I am nothing without him,” Moore said. “He has everything ready for me when I arrive.”
- Michael Foster
Forsyth Central band director Tom Tucker sets reminders on his phone every few hours. He admits that he usually remembers things during the week he forgot to do at about 10 p.m. every night, when he finally stops to lay in bed. Throughout the chaos of the week, he’ll convince himself he’s forgot something, only to realize he’s just being too cautious.
“Last week the buses weren’t quite on time and I’m panicking thinking, ‘Did I forget to order the buses?’ Sure enough they show up, and I let out a big sigh of relief,” Tucker laughed.
His job is no laughing matter. They have to keep equipment maintained, including numerous instruments, band uniforms and traveling cases. He has to communicate with over 150 kids’ parents from day-to-day, as well as help the students learn—all while preparing for a show each week.
“You’re asking the kids, particularly the younger ones, to put on the show, move their feet and play music at the same time. Getting that down is a challenge,” Tucker said. “It takes a while for the kids, especially the younger ones, to get comfortable doing it.”
The practice field has to be painted with football lines before Monday practice. Then the band only has Monday and Tuesday to “learn” the show for that Friday’s game. Thursday is for “polishing,” and Friday is when the magic happens.
Tucker, a graduate of the University of North Alabama, is in his 17th year as band director at Central. He always looks forward to the personality that the senior class will instill in the younger band members. The culture changes from year to year.
“Each group develops their own personality, and you can see it on game days,” he said.
- Michael Foster
Lambert cheer coach Kara Dicesare has her hands full.
With 41 varsity cheerleaders and 80 overall, Lambert’s program is one of the largest in the state. Sixteen of those girls cheer on the competition team, which means their Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings are reserved for competition practice. Dicesare, who is in her second season coaching at Lambert, says it’s a challenge but a privilege to take on the task of organizing so many kids at once. As an elementary school teacher at Sharon Elementary, she’s used to dealing with controlled chaos.
“I absolutely love coaching here,” Dicesare said. “I love watching the girls grow. They are so hard-working and coachable. Each of them is nice, sweet, but they all still have that drive to get better and work hard, and that’s what is most rewarding to me.”
The team learns the cheers over the summer, reserving weekdays in season for banner production and event planning. The girls arrive a few hours before the game, have a pregame meal and take photos with youth cheerleaders who come down to the field before kickoff.
Dicesare also prioritizes charity work. This season the cheerleaders collected food items, coloring books, crayons and wrote letters of encouragement to childhood cancer patients. Dicesare described it as an “eye-opening experience.”
“We really want to make sure we keep the girls well-rounded, so service is really important,” Dicesare said.
- Michael Foster
Before going to West Forsyth, Bintou Camara’s older sister wasn’t a fan of little sister spending time in the Wolverines’ student section. Camara also heard her sister complain about paying $7 to get into games.
Camara looked down on the football field one night and saw a solution – a group of girls on the sidelines with the team; the team’s managers.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do what they’re doing down there,’” Camara remembers. “I made a commitment to myself that I was going to do it, and I decided I was going to do it all through high school.”
Camara lived up to that commitment. She’s one of the senior-most managers for West, a group supervised by Wolverines athletic trainer Richard Good that also includes Amanda Anthony, Heidi Edmondson, Anna Lloyd and Victoria Ross.
Camara and the rest of the managers follow much of the same schedule as the football team on Fridays. When school ends, they eat a team meal and attend the team prayer. Then they come down to the field and start filling up 36 water bottles, three water coolers and one ice chest. They tape players’ ankles, shoulders and wrists, each manager doing as many as 10 players.
During the game, they help keep payers hydrated. If someone gets hurt, they tape them. If there’s blood, they help clean it off.
The worst part?
“When [players] throw water bottles at us,” Camara said. “It gets very irritating.”
But the best part?
“Being with the team,” she said. “They’re like family.”
- Brian Paglia
Pam McBride never sees the North Forsyth marching band perform at halftime during football season. She’s never seen Homecoming. She did see halftime once years ago when she escorted her daughter on the cheerleading team for Senior Night ceremonies.
“At halftime, I see a desk,” McBride said.
McBride and her husband, Chuck, are the North Forsyth football team statisticians. They roam the Raiders’ sidelines every game – home and away – charting each play to document North football’s history in their own idiosyncratic dictation.
They arrive for home games between 5:30 and 6 p.m. after Pam, a substitute teacher at North Forsyth Middle School, and Chuck, who works in the county tax assessor’s office, get off work to eat with the team. Once the game starts, Pam keeps stats for both teams’ offenses, writing each play in her spiral-bound scoring book. Chuck handles the defense tallying tackles, sacks and the like but will hang back from the line of scrimmage as Pam’s spotter on interceptions and punts.
At halftime, Pam heads to the team’s fieldhouse, finds a desk and starts adding. She returns after the game is over and completes her math. Then she prints off five or six copies of the final stats to give to coaches.
“They’re chomping at the bit,” Pam said.
But the McBride’s work isn’t done until they’ve watched the game all over again Sunday afternoon to check their accuracy. Yes, sometimes they argue over a play here or a play there. But they always get it right.
“It’s to be fair to the kids,” Chuck said. “They get to know us and what we do. … Being a volunteer like we are, that’s where our enjoyment comes from.”
- Brian Paglia
Four years ago, former Pinecrest Academy athletic director Tom Palmer surveyed the Friday night atmosphere right before the Paladins’ season-opener against King’s Ridge Christian. The stands were packed. A new inflatable tunnel was ready for the team to run through. The pungent smell of food from families eating in the Pinecrest Tailgate Zone drifted around.
“Pinecrest is going to win every pre-game,” Palmer said.
Bill Brown has used that line ever since. It was a moment of validation, that the vision Brown and another Pinecrest parent, Alex Hennigar, had in 2006 to create a tailgate experience to galvanize an entire pre-K through grade 12 school had worked.
Now, Pinecrest’s Tailgate Zone is an indelible fixture of a Paladins’ Friday night experience. Every home game, there’s sure to be two rows of 10 tents at the end of a parking lot backing up to a fence behind one of the end zones. It’s prime real estate – Pinecrest sells the spots to raise money for athletics. Spots on the Gold Row closest to the field cost more than the Green Row, but on game day everyone is invited in to eat and socialize.
“It’s just a great way to get together and watch the game,” Brown said.
Brown supervises a set-up crew as soon as school ends at 3:30 p.m. Each spot gets a table and tent. The whole process takes about an hour – “Depending on how all the kids are behaving,” Brown said – as families start arriving at 5 p.m. to tailgate.
The festiveness of the area has grown each year. There are now decoration contests and food competitions. The team tweaked its entrance to walk through the center row of the tents with cheering fans lined up to watch.
“I think it’s brought a ton of atmosphere,” Brown said. “Just a real football experience.”
- Brian Paglia