Tales of the Gridiron: Working the Chains

Last Updated by Cara Hetland on

People often look at me funny when I say working the chain gang during a high school football game at Howard Wood Field is on my bucket list. One friend said to me that while she’s heard me say it for years, she never really thought I was serious.  Oh I was serious. I would often bring it up in conversation, just to see how I could make it happen.  I even mentioned it to my dental hygienist only to discover her husband is a part of this elusive group. I was left with the impression it’s a pretty closed group. And I would never be able to be on the sidelines.

Back up to my childhood just a bit. My dad took me to football games when I was little and while he is a patient man with having to answer all of my questions; he also taught me how to figure out my own answers by watching the chains.  He explained how it worked, and I often found watching them a little more fascinating then some of the games being played.

My fascination continued.  I’ve been taking my own daughters to high school football games for years. And it just became a goal to be down there at least once. So when the producers of Tales of the Gridiron said they wanted to do a profile of the chain gang, Nate Wek remembered my dream and offered me the story. Didn’t take too long to asked Mark Meile at church if it was possible to be imbedded on the sidelines. Who knew all you had to do was ask? He was all in and put me in contact with the coordinator.

I will admit I bought new jeans to wear. My husband drew the line at new boots and raincoat…those we had plenty of. It rained all day long but stopped late afternoon and was a nice cool fall evening. I learned that the group of about a dozen volunteers gives their Friday nights freely because they love the game of football and theirs are the best seats in the house. They take their role seriously; they have a fun, and were good sports with this 50 something woman acting giddy over the opportunity to simply hold a stick. They made sure I had a complete experience including an on the field measurement, rubbing it in when I went the wrong way, and making sure I dropped the stick and stepped back when a sweep play was coming at me. The mom in me showed a bit, as I was more concerned with the downed player than moving the chains. But they quickly ribbed me for it.

I learned some coaches ask chain gang members for play tips and advice. I learned players are passionate about the game and so are the fans. I learned I shouldn’t clap when there’s a good play. I learned I’m pretty much alone in watching the chains and wondering what it’s like to be there. I know now. It’s important to the game of inches, and it’s an important job. And it really is the best seat in the house. Now it’s time for a new bucket list!

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