I love Friday nights in the fall.

And not just for the football.

Don’t get me wrong. In many ways, high school football is the game in its purest form … kids playing for the love of the sport while defending the honor of their school and community.

What’s not to love?

But there are other things that make Friday nights so special. Things like bands, the pomp that goes along with homecoming games … and, of course, concession stands.

In many ways, when everything is packaged together, Friday night at a local high school football field is about as close to nirvana as one can get. It’s an oasis, a refuge placed smack in the middle of the chaos of everyday life.

That’s why one can pull up to any high school stadium on Friday nights and see a cloud hanging over the venue.

I know, it’s actually the smoke from hot dogs and hamburgers being grilled at the concession stands, but it adds a surreal touch and transforms the game into an event, a happening.

Speaking of hot dogs and hamburgers, at some schools – South Sumter immediately comes to mind – the magic is such that fans turn out hours before kickoff for tailgate parties in the parking lot. And while they’re on a much smaller scale than those at major colleges on Saturdays or NFL stadiums on Sundays, that’s what makes them special.

Still, there’s more to a Friday night in than fall than using it as an excuse to grill out.

You don’t have to be a football fan — or even a food fan — to have a good time at the gridiron.

Enjoy music?

Take in a band performance at halftime. High school bands practice for their halftime shows just as hard as their football-playing counterparts do in the days leading up to games.

Larger bands like – but not limited to – Leesburg’s “Swarm of Sound,” drill relentlessly on their precision and timing. For them, halftime is their proverbial kickoff and everyone carrying an instrument, a baton or decorative flag is looking to go the distance.

Oftentimes, bands are much more than entertainment while players regroup and fans fill up on ballpark delicacies.

For many, they’re the straw that stirs the drink.

Who doesn’t get a little more energized when a band plays the school fight song? Certainly the players do as they race onto the field, slapping high fives and butting helmets with teammates.

It raises their emotions to another level and is the final step — alongside pregame warmups and the coach’s locker room pep talk — for players to get themselves into a game-time mindset.

They get fired up and ready to hit someone with a different-colored helmet. The band’s role is so significant that, before I hang up my notepad and press pass, I expect to see two teammates lose themselves and head butt one another, sans helmets.

And we can’t forget the cheerleaders. No matter the score, cheerleaders are eternally positive, keeping fans — and players — motivated.

They cheer and perform high-wire acrobatics that make many of us gasp in amazement.

If most of us tried to do some of the things cheerleaders do, we’d blow out a ligament or a giblet … or something important. They simply land on their feet with a smile and make it look so easy that we’re jealous and envious at the same time.

So many things go into making Friday nights so magical.

And while the game often gets top billing, the evening is the epitome of teamwork.

Take away the band, the concession stands and the cheerleaders, and the magic is gone.

It would be just another game.

Write to Frank Jolley at frank.jolley@dailycommercial.com.