“This is the rallying point for everything else in Lake Highlands.” — Kyle Atkins, father of a football player

Only four young men are allowed to don the coveted shirts, bright red with “Bellboys” stitched in cursive black. The four seniors who hold the designation this year — Nathan Aldredge, Stanton Morrow, Charles Shepherd and Austin Whitsitt — had to put in dozens of community service hours and gain enough votes from their fellow students to earn their spots. “Most of us have wanted to do this since we were 6 years old,” Morrow says. “When I moved here in sixth grade,” Aldredge chimes in, “I thought, ‘Those guys are so cool.’” The Bellboys stand near the cheerleaders, shouting through their megaphones and running the flag up and down the sidelines. Wins and losses don’t determine their spirit. “We’re going to have a good time regardless, whether we go 0-10 or 10-0,” Shepherd says. And the bell that rings after the Wildcats score? Don’t even think about touching it. That honor is reserved for the red shirt wearers and whomever else they deem worthy. “I mean, the mayor can ring it,” Shepherd says.

For 20 years, it has been Bob Johnston’s voice commentating every home game, and he remains upbeat no matter how the Wildcats are faring. But the phrase he relishes most is the one that signals the official start of each football face-off — “Welcome to the Boneyard!” The unofficial but commonly known name for the stadium originated in the days when the Wildcats ran the wishbone offense, three backs in the backfield along with the quarterback, Johnston says. But it also connotes a team that has a reputation for devouring its opponents, and that’s the image seared in head coach Scott Smith’s mind from his high school days. “He played at the stadium when we ran that offense,” Johnston says, “and he says, ‘Man, that was intimidating!’”

Their job is to rev up the crowd and get them unified behind the team. The cheerleaders do this at each and every game — home or away — but perhaps their greatest success happens at the annual Lake Highlands-Berkner game. This year’s theme is “White Out,” and their goal is to get everyone in the stands to wear a $10 T-shirt (buy them at the high school on game days from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; 10 percent of the proceeds go to a neighborhood charity). The sea of white should intimidate Berkner fans, who have equal claim to call Wildcat-Ram Stadium “home” (including a ram on the scoreboard). But Lake Highlands loyalists don’t see it that way, says Linda Casey, the mother of a varsity cheerleader whose husband is a former Berkner principal. “Everyone in Lake Highlands just thinks it’s Wildcat Stadium,” she says. “We don’t even see the ram.”

At the community pep rally before the season’s first game, Lake Highlands principal Bob Iden laughs and applauds at the antics of John Shorter, who wrapped up the speeches of the five senior football team captains. “We gonna bring it to them boys — that’s what we gonna do,” Shorter says. “The cheerleaders gonna do their thing, the band’s gonna do their thing, we gonna get crunk — you know what I mean?” The fans erupted as Shorter passed the mike to head coach Scott Smith. “We’ve talked about believing in ourselves in and each other, and it’s gonna be fun. Come out and yell and scream a little bit,” Smith implores. “Get crunk.”

Five-year-old Michael Dorsey is mesmerized watching the big boys, like quarterbacks Jacob Andrews and Jake Vines. He’s among the young dreamers who came to the stadium on picture day, when Wildcat fans could walk right onto the turf to get autographs from or take photos with their favorite players. (It wasn’t just for the tots in mini red jerseys and tiny LHHS cheerleading uniforms; the “young at heart” couldn’t hide their excitement, either.)

Uniform and unison. This describes every aspect of the Lake Highlands Highlandettes, from the positioning of their pom pons to the height of their high kicks to their response when director Shannon Carlton gives them instruction: “Yes, ma’am,” they reply, in one voice. But for all of the rigidity and discipline that comes with being part of an award-winning drill team, when the girls dance together, they move in one fluid motion, and their smiles make you think it’s effortless.

Lyndsey Jones and Michelle Ward don’t hold back one iota of enthusiasm when cheering on the Wildcats. Behind them, rising even higher than the Friday night lights, is the brand spanking new press box with three entire floors from which to observe the action on the field. “It looks as if it might topple over into the stands,” one mother comments. “I can’t believe how big it is.”

All eyes are fixed on Antoine Harrison as he breaks away with the ball, bypassing Tyler Lee’s defense. The Wildcats lost to the Red Raiders by only a field goal, following an impressive comeback in the second half to tie the game after being down 24-0. “They have this really unique energy going on,” says Yvette Atkins, whose son, Zach, is a team captain. “These are boys who are hungry to win, and if you’re around them for any amount of time, you can feel the energy.”

As the band plays the alma mater, students raise their right arms into the sky and bring them down on each beat. The positioning of the fingers is a hotly contested debate between various generations of Lake Highlands alums, with some arguing that the hand should form a Wildcat claw and others saying it’s four fingers. “The history was we came back to win a game in the fourth quarter, so we do the four fingers because we’re never gonna give up,” claims Lisa Andrews, who says she researched the history with principal Bob Iden. “It’s not a claw; it’s not a ‘Heil Hitler’ — it’s a four.”

The fans in the bleachers make noise, but it’s the band that creates the underlying cadence. The young instrumentalists provide momentum as the offense moves the ball down the field, and distract the opposing team’s offense from making plays. And no halftime show would be complete without a marching band performance. “Everybody’s hyped up and ready to go and in the zone,” says drum major Dana Gist, describing her feelings as the band takes the field. “It’s a rush. It’s intense,” agrees drum major Stephanie Tuner. “We’ve been working so hard, and this is it.”