The band played on and the Pirates took the floor to battle Barrington High School, but against the backdrop of mass murder that claimed the life of at least two classmates it seemed a hollow facade.

There was a brass marching band, pompons and screaming basketball fans, but none could drown out the mourning in the gymnasium at Palatine High School.

Before game time, students weren't talking about the prospects for a championship or the school's star guard; they spoke of death, the friends they would never see again and the sense of security that has been forever lost.

"My ma said to me today that the Lord says you know not when the time comes, or something like that," said Tommy Kaider, 16, a junior. "We used to joke on the bus about what would happen if one of us would die. Who would be at the funeral and stuff.

"Now it's no joke. It could've been one of us."

To proceed with the games-a full schedule that featured afternoon battles for the girls and nighttime meetings for the boys-was a tough decision for school officials. But without absolute confirmation earlier in the day from police on the identities of the dead at Brown's Chicken & Pasta, they said they thought they had no choice but to press on.

"I think it is a very difficult situation for our communtiy," said District 211 Supt. Gerald Chapman. "But if students have a need to be together, this provides the opportunity to do that."

And it was clear students did need to talk, if only to one another. The four counselors who stood beside the refreshment stand waiting to offer solace largely were ignored by the students, who sought comfort with their peers.

It could be seen in the hallways outside the gymnasium, where junior cheerleader Jodi Heilman lay her head on Wendy Concaldi's shoulder and began to sob.

"Don't cry now," said Concaldi, who stroked Heilman's hair. "We're going to cry later."

Inside the gym, school Principal Nancy Robb watched as the two boys varsity teams completed their warmups, then she approached a microphone at the scorer's table.

"We are saddened tonight by the tragedy which has struck our community," Robb said. "We extend our sincere sympathy to the family and loved ones of the victims."

Robb's remarks were followed by 15 seconds of silence, broken by the cadence of clapping inside the Palatine team's huddle. It was picked up by the crowd of about 500 fans, and the game began.

For some, the dose of normalcy may have seemed strange, a mocking attempt to ignore the tragedy. For others, it was a necessity, a chance to bathe the day's events in a simple ritual played out at high schools across the country on a Saturday night.

"In a sense, it's a regular ball game," said Marc Denny, a counselor at the school. "But it's also confusing. The kids are having to deal with this in a different way."

Farrah Hogan, a 15-year-old sophomore, felt like a lot of the students who were facing loss for the first time.

"For the first time," said Hogan, "it makes me realize how my parents must feel when I don't come home on time."