Early Tuesday morning as the sun rises, all seems quiet at the regional high school. Yellow school buses lounge in the parking lot, and a hint of fall drifts by on the ripple of a breeze.

But behind the school, the track is alive with the sounds of blowing whistles and coaches issuing commands.

Cross country coach Joe Schroeder sets the clock. — Alison L. Mead

“Get low! Keep it even, here we go.”

It’s 6:45 a.m., the fourth day of Hell Week, and the varsity and junior varsity football teams are running drills.

At the same time, the cross country team stretches and gets ready for a morning run through the fire lanes of the state forest. A straggler joins the group.

“So you missed the snooze button?” asks cross country coach Joe Schroeder.

“I forgot to turn the volume up,” answers the runner.

Early morning and evening practices paired with finishing up the last week of summer jobs make Hell Week live up to its moniker.

“That name has been around for over 30 to 40 years,” says athletic director Mark McCarthy.

These days the state regulates preseason practices, so while it’s not as intense as it once was, it’s still grueling.

“If you haven’t been doing a lot all summer long, you’re pretty sore by the third day of practice,” said Mr. McCarthy. On the track, field hockey coach Lisa Knight runs laps. “We had our first scrimmage yesterday,” she says. “We won.”

The field hockey team notoriously starts its practice the earliest, on the field at 5:45 a.m., ready to go at 6 a.m.

Junior varsity team takes a break during training. — Alison L. Mead

“I start promptly and if they’re not there at 6 a.m., then they pay the price for being late,” she says. “But usually they’re there before I am. When everybody wants to do it and everybody has that effort and drive, it makes it that much better to be out there. I just love being on the field with them.”

Since the team won its Monday scrimmage, Ms. Knight gave the girls the morning off. “We’ve already had seven days of practice,” she says.

On the field someone yells: “Seven o’clock!” Cheers from football players erupt as they take their morning break, hydrating and resting their backs against their helmets. But when the whistles blow again, they are up and running.

“It’s the hardest two weeks of the season,” says a junior varsity player as he and his team members head back onto the field where coach Jason Neago resumes his instruction.

“My expectations for you, whistle to whistle, between the white lines, 100 per cent,” he says.

And with that Hell Week is back in action.