EVERY SATURDAY, they line up on the football field in the team's green and white colors. Even though they have never caught a pass, scored a touchdown or kicked a field goal, they'll be competing in the East Coast Regional Championships in Philadelphia.
They are the Atholton High School Marching Band - and they hope to take first place in the United States Scholastic Band Association's Group III open class Sunday on Franklin Field.
It takes long hours of practice and a commitment to excellence to be a member of this winning organization. Band members say the support of school staff and parent volunteers is essential.
"We have taken first place in every competition this year," said Lee Stevens, the school's band director. "What sets us apart from other bands is the students' ability to excel at their work ethic and show commitment at every rehearsal."
Marching-band students take their music seriously.
"These kids have been taking private lessons and studying for hours a day for years to get into this program," Stevens said. "A little more than half of the students who try out for the marching band each year don't make it."
Including the color guard, the band has 75 members.
Emilie Ziemer is captain of the color guard. She estimates that she spends 22 hours a week working with junior captains Andrea Marini, Charissa Luman and the other members of the flag-twirling, saber-tossing squad.
The color guard adds richness and energy to the show. "The color guard tells the story of the music the band is playing," Emilie said.
The band's program includes music from "The Mask of Zorro" and other selections on a Spanish theme. During performances, some color guard members play the role of seM-qoritas, while others wear toreador costumes.
Five mothers of marching-band students made the costumes, Emilie says - among them, her mother, Margaret Ziemer.
"I didn't see my mom for about a month because she was in the basement sewing every night," Emilie said.
Performing with the marching band has given her confidence. "There's no way not to be confident in what you're doing," she said, "because you've spent so much time on it that you know what you're doing. It's great to perform and compete, but the best part is the other people. The band members are very talented and dedicated to what they do. The adults that work with us are inspirational. "
The adult staff of Atholton's marching band includes music arranger and producer Gary Dailey, drill designer Joe Lynch, drum arranger Doug Jones, percussion arranger Mike Blackman, instructors Desi Kaplan, Nick Ellis and Dave Messick, color guard instructors Mitch Muessner and Lisa Schlossnagle, and band director Stevens.
The AHS band benefits from "tremendous parent support," Stevens said.
Ben Adkins is president of the Atholton High School Music Boosters. He estimates the boosters have 400 members. With an operating budget of $40,000 this year, the boosters can help pay for bus transportation, costumes and uniforms for the marching band. They also support the concert band, jazz band, orchestra and choral groups.
Marching-band practice starts at 9 a.m. on a typical Saturday.
"We practice until lunch, and then we perform at the football game," Emilie said. "After the game, we change and get on buses and go to an evening competition. We normally get home about 1 in the morning."
Such a rigorous practice and performance schedule might cut too deeply into academic time. But Emilie has a 4.0 GPA and is ranked No. 1 in her senior class.
The same holds true for Christine Yu. A sophomore, Christine shares drum-major duties with junior Alex Tsikerdanos. Christine believes her involvement with the band has contributed to her academic success.
"Being in the band has taught me to work very hard," she said. "Our work ethic is very important. It has helped me with time management too. It's just a very healthy environment to be in."
Sophomore Charlie Feldman is new to the band this year. He estimates that he spends about 20 hours a week in band-related activities.
"I thought the band might take away from my grades, but it's a lot easier to balance than I thought," said Charlie, who plays baritone horn.
The hardest part of being in the marching band, Charlie said, was learning how to march. "In the beginning, I had a lot of grass stains on my clothes from tripping and falling. Now I'm getting better and not falling and hitting people so much."
Stevens said band members learn more than how to play an instrument. "The most pertinent thing to the student's future is that they learn how to fail and respond positively to it," he said. "You can't hardly pick up an instrument or march and not make a mistake. A mistake is an opportunity for learning and growth."
The Foreign-born Information & Referral Network will hold its 10th International Cabaret fund-raiser from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Columbia Hilton. FIRN is a nonprofit organization that serves immigrants and refugees from around the world.
The cabaret will offer food samples at its International Kiosks, live entertainment, an International Marketplace and a silent auction. Tickets are $50. Information: 410-992-1923.
The Clarksville Middle School PTA will hold an Italian feast, catered by Carraba's Italian Grill on Nov. 14. There will be two sessions: one at 5:30 p.m. and the second at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; children to age 3 get in free.
Reservations are required. Information: 301-854-2906.