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Charlie Gaines retiring from Du Quoin's 'chain gang' after 36 years

  • Charlie Gaines on the sidelines Saturday with the chain gang.

    Charlie Gaines on the sidelines Saturday with the chain gang.
    Doug Daniels photo

  • Charlie Gaines, right, with his son Charlie Gaines Jr., at Saturday's playoff game between Du Quoin and Monticello.

    Charlie Gaines, right, with his son Charlie Gaines Jr., at Saturday's playoff game between Du Quoin and Monticello.
    Curtis Winston photo

By Curtis Winston
Contributing writer
updated: 11/4/2019 2:29 PM

DU QUOIN -- Just because you're on the sidelines, doesn't mean you aren't in the game.

Charlie Gaines has been in the game for 36 years, hustling up and down the Van Metre Field gridiron.

Having played football throughout his four years as a student, and graduating from Du Quoin High School in 1978, Gaines found a way to get back on the field and stay involved. He's one of the "chain gang" -- the crew of volunteer officials who keep measurement of those crucial first downs with a 10-yard length of chain. They snake along the sidelines, following the ball and the ever-changing line of scrimmage.

"It's the best seat in the house," Gaines said Saturday during halftime of the playoff game between the Indians and the Monticello Sages.

"Lot of Friday nights," Gaines said of his 36 years with the chain gang. "Lot of Saturdays, too, the way things have been in recent years," he said with satisfaction, referring to the Indians' string of playoff appearances in recent years.

Joining the chain gang in 1983, he was handed "the clip," a small circular weight with a clasp, which is attached to the chain to secure it in place. Numbers on the weight specify the yard location of the chain, should the action on the field spill over to the sidelines and cause the chain gang to scatter out of the way.

The "clip man" is crucial to the five-person crew, which has two "rod men" with poles on each end of the 10-yard chain, the "box man" who marks the line of scrimmage with another pole. A fifth man helps keep an eye on the crew and the action on the field.

"You have to pay attention," Gaines says of the chain gang's job, as well as their need for self-preservation. With no protective gear other than the bright orange and yellow vests, the men keep their eye on the ball and are ready to move when a ball carrier makes a dash for the sidelines.

They are all hometown volunteers, and Gaines says the toughest part of the job is to appear unbiased, and keep your emotions detached from whatever way the game is going for the Indians.

And it's difficult to keep that "inner fan" from popping out, when a ref makes a bad call.

"I'll admit, sometimes I get a little lippy," he says.

Retired from the Illinois Department of Corrections, Gaines says he's ready to also step away from the chain gang, so he can spend more time with his wife, and perhaps do some traveling.

"I'll still come to the games, but just as a fan," he says.

Du Quoin Head Football Coach Derek Beard appreciates the service of Gaines and the other chain gang members.

"Charlie and my dad went to school together," Beard said. "He has been on the sidelines most of my life."

"We are thankful for Charlie and our other chain gang members for their years of service to Du Quoin High School," Beard added. "Charlie is a great guy who has been a huge fan of Du Quoin football for many years!" Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi posted on Facebook about Gaines' retirement.

"Our community thanks Charlie for his many years of service and also appreciates the entire chain gang for doing such a great job," Alongi wrote. "It's a community service most don't think about. Thanks to all."

Gaines says the highlight of his service with the chain gang was being on the sidelines while his own sons, Dalton Morgan Gaines and Charlie Gaines Jr., suited up as Indians.

Gaines is proud of the Du Quoin Indians' football traditions, in which teamwork and good sportsmanship are exemplified.

"This is what tradition builds," he says gesturing around Van Metre Field and pointing at the packed bleachers and end zones, full of fans.

While Gaines will be turning in his clip, another longer-serving member of the chain gang will remain -- Dave Martin, who recruited Gaines for the chain gang back in 1983, will add another year to the 44 he's already booked on the sidelines. And his has his own personal history.

"I was part of the original 10-0 team," Martin noted, recalling the undefeated 1968-69 season under Coach Bob Karnes.