Devine’s Chain Gang: the best seat in the house

The Chain Gang: Jerry Beck, Bill Bain, Phil Montgomery, Zack Badle, Phil McAnelly, and Rick Stewart (not pictured).

Sam Cooke’s 1960 hit song about a group of men who frown and moan as they work their lives away on highways and byways as the sun goes down has few similarities to a different type of chain gang that walks the visitor’s sideline at Warhorse Stadium on Friday nights. The Devine ‘chain gang’ is usually smiling and cutting up while dodging tackles, holding orange sticks bound together with a ten-foot chain, and moving a down marker up and down the football field.
Although this may not sound like a ton of fun, each of these men who have now accumulated 90 years of experience after this past Warhorse home season will freely tell you that working on this chain gang is immensely gratifying and, in spite of the dangers their crew sometimes face, that they have the best seat in the house.
In 1978, Zach Beadle approached then Warhorse Head Coach Gene Sharp about getting a chain crew organized to work both the JV and Varsity football games. Coach Sharp was more than grateful. Beginning that year and for the next three seasons, Zack, along with Marion Taylor and the late Charles Bush, became the original chain gang for home games on Thursday and Friday nights. Dave Unger, Jack Kelley, and a few others have operated the chains over the years. Bobby Campsey is always willing to lend a hand as well.
This season marks the 39th year that Mr. Beadle has been on the sideline followed closely in years of experience by Bill Bain who just completed year number 30. Phil McAnelly (10 years), Rick Stewart (5 years), Phil Montgomery (3 years), and Jerry Beck (3 years) round out the crew.
Just as players on a football team develop a strong bond over the course of a season, this group of men has created its own brotherhood amongst themselves. Man for man, each member stated their top reasons for being on the crew is not only that they get to help the officials but also, more importantly, they appreciate their time spent as members of their own team.
“Personally, I enjoy being a part of the official’s crew,” stated Beadle. “The guys who are on the chains are my brothers. We look out for each other, we keep each other in check, and we make the officials, and of course ourselves, look good.”
Mr. Bain agrees, “Helping the officials is one of the best things about being on the crew. However, the time that I get to share with the ‘gang’ is what I enjoy most. I have not only enjoyed working with the current crew but with those that have retired over the years, such as Marion Taylor.”
Mr. McAnelly and Mr. Montgomery each stated “great teamwork, lots of experiences, and being with great friends” is what they enjoy most about their time on the Friday night sideline. Mr. Beck noted that he has gained “a new perspective on the game” over the last three seasons. “Coaches can see infractions that happen in group settings from fifty yards away.”
Mr. Stewart, who coached on the Warhorse sideline for 29 years before retiring in 2011, gets to see the game from the visiting team’s perspective. “I enjoy the comradeship among the gang, but seeing coaches that I once coached against and still call my friends is also a benefit to working the chains. One of the craziest things that I have experienced over the years however, happened this season. I actually met a football official who didn’t know Lewis Stroud.”
The time that each spend collectively before the game kicks off, during halftime intermission while each snack on concession stand food, and the short time they spend together directly after the game can be entertaining. They laugh, cut up, talk about their week, and even give each other a little good-natured ribbing from time to time. However once the game kicks off, being on a visiting team’s sideline is not always fun and games.
“It is a struggle at times to keep the opposing coaches and players back behind the restraining line,” stated Beadle about the difficulty in keeping all personnel off the playing field and out of his crew’s line of sight. “One time a coach challenged our authority as part of the officiating crew but the head linesman called that coach down. He backed us 100%!”
See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. The proverb of being in good mind, good spirit, and good action often leads to the chain crew having to bite their tongue and turn a blind eye to some of the impropriety that occurs within earshot on the visitor’s sideline.
“The way some visiting coaches talk should be outlawed,” stated Bain. “Not only what they say, but how they treat their kids should be outlawed as well. Unfortunately, some of it often rubs off on their kids.”
Beck took it a step further saying, “Although there have been teams show up with class, there have been more that did not. The negative characteristics indicate a lack of decorum, leadership, and principles. It is disheartening to hear players and coaches curse and belittle other players, officials, and the home team. I realize it is not my responsibility to call them down, but usually an eye-to-eye look of disgust will convey my opinion.”
“Some coaches’ attitudes towards players, referees, and us is downright disrespectful,” stated Montgomery. “There is a fine line between winning and losing, and what coaches should be teaching. Kids need to know how to conduct themselves when they lose and how to be gracious in winning. Having said that, most coaches are outstanding representatives of our future.”
McAnelly agreed with the others but added a positive spin that the community of Devine should appreciate, “The strongest thing to me is the way that some coaches talk to their players. I cannot believe that parents put up with it. I appreciate our Warhorse coaches and am proud that they do not act that way.”
The sideline is not exactly the safest place to view a game either. Beadle said that it can “get a little western” over there when a player is taken out of bounds near his crew. Unlike sitting in the stands where the only thing that a fan has to dodge is a candy bag or a t-shirt being thrown by the cheerleaders, every play has the chance to be ran directly at the crew as the chains and down marker are always within close proximity of the upcoming play.
Even with some of the undesirable actions expressed by the chain crew, each is wholeheartedly into what they do on Friday nights and none is looking to leave the group anytime soon. The camaraderie they demonstrate on a regular basis eliminates any pessimism that might exist.
Although their chances are slim to none of wearing any type of jail-type apparel to resemble an authentic chain gang that Sam Cooke famously sang about in the early ‘60s and as Mr. Beck would like to see happen, this gang looks forward to the 2018 season that will bring them together once again for their 96th accumulative year.
In the coming football seasons, arrive to Warhorse Stadium a little early and, as you take your bench seat which you may consider to be the best seat in the house, peer across the field to a group of gentlemen who you will see holding little orange sticks with 10 yards of chain link attached to the bottom.
Those men will openly disagree about exactly where the best seat in the house actually is and who has it. In addition, if you are able to listen close enough, that same group of men will be laughing, cutting up, and carrying on. That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.
By Jerel Beaty
Staff Writer