It is one of the great traditions of Lehigh Valley football, like Friday nights at Cottingham Stadium, Thanksgiving mornings on College Hill, Andy Weaver at a Nazareth game or a sunny Saturday afternoon on The Hill in Pen Argyl.
For close to 50 years now, halftimes of Liberty High football games have featured the school's Grenadier Band.
Modeled after the Coldstream Guards, a regiment of the British Army, the Grenadier Band has delighted thousands and made halftime about the music as much as the hot chocolate and hot dogs at the refreshment stand.
Their uniforms — bright red with tall, black bearskin hats — give them a unique look, and they sound unlike any other band in the area, and possibly, the country. When they play their signature "Rule Britannia" you don't have to be an old Englishman to get goose bumps.
Even die-hard fans from rival schools have come to appreciate their precision in both their marching and playing. We've witnessed more than a few standing ovations over the years.
This year, the Grenadiers have had a change of band directors as Greg MacGill has retired after 35 years as a teacher in the Bethlehem Area School District.
Kevin Long, a Liberty graduate and former band member, has taken over the reins. Judging by the band's performance before and at halftime of Friday night's game against Whitehall, the group hasn't missed a beat.
This year, the band features a stunning 291 members, which is nearly one-tenth of Liberty's student body.
"We're really stoked to have that kind of student involvement," Long said. "Usually, we're around 250, but this has been an unusually good year for recruiting and attracting interest from the kids."
The turnout might have been boosted by the announcement that the band will play in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day, an event so big that eight television networks cover it.
It will be the second appearance in Pasadena for the band, but it's been everywhere — from Disney World to Hawaii to perform at the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Wherever they go, they seem to get rave reviews.
"We've received so many compliments over the years," Long said. "We feel like we represent our high school, and Bethlehem, but also the state of Pennsylvania."
Just like the football team, the band worked hard in the summer heat to get ready for the season.
"We did two-a-days, spending about six or seven hours a day together, total, starting about a week before the PIAA says that fall sports practice can begin," Long said. "Now we've cut back because we have so many kids in the band who also play fall sports. We try not to eliminate anybody who wants to play a sport from being in the band as well."
Long said at least half of the band members are also athletes at Liberty and to do both is a testament to the student-athletes' dedication and time-management skills.
"A lot of them run cross country or play girls soccer, field hockey, tennis. … we have a large chunk of the girls soccer team with us," Long said. "About the only sport where it doesn't really work because of the timing is varsity football. Otherwise, the kids make it work."
People see the band perform at football games and in Halloween parades, but what they may not realize is that they also do a variety of community events.
For example, the bagpipers performed at Main Street in Bethlehem at 6:30 Sunday morning for the Via Marathon.
"There wasn't any arm-twisting needed by me or our athletic director, Fred Harris," Long said. "We just asked if they would do it and they were there. The kids own this program and they're really a great bunch who are always willing to go above and beyond."
What helps keep the program at such a high level is the continuity of leadership.
Long is just the fourth band director in school history.
Joe Riccapito was the first and led the way from 1926 to 1960. Ron Sherry, who brought the Grenadier style aboard in the mid-1960s, was the leader from 1960 to 1990 before passing the baton to MacGill, who has now passed it on to Long.
In an era where tradition seems to be tossed out as easily as yesterday's trash, the Grenadier Band is one constant in our community that has remained the same and is as good today as it was in the 1970s, if not better.
"It's a tremendous community to be a part of and the kids treat it like it's something special," Long said. "We have a set of rules, just like the football team, that we expect them to follow. We want them to realize that they're part of something much bigger than just the band. The commitment has to be there. They get the big picture on that and we all work together to make it happen."
But as much as he's into the music, don't get the idea that Long doesn't care about the game.
"The football team has to have a heck of a commitment level, too," he said. "I really do get into those games pretty good. I want them to win."