There is a certain energy that precedes a high school football game. The players hype each other up, the coaches perform a last-minute review of the plays, and anxious fans take their seats in the stands.
At Maple Grove Senior High, four dads that make up the football chain gang also excitedly wait for something before each game—a burger. “I always say there are three benefits to being on the chain gang,” Tim Murphy says. “You get in free, you park next to the stadium and you get a free hamburger.” “I don’t want to say it’s the highlight of the game, because it’s fun all around,” Steve Schoen says. “But we all look forward to the cheeseburger.”
Murphy and Schoen join fellow members Peter Ralles and Pat Liedl to complete the chain gang at every home football game. The four met back when they each had kids playing sports at the school. Ralles has been on the chain gang since 1996; Murphy, 2001; Liedl, 2002; and Schoen for the past eight years.
Though their children have long since graduated from the school, the men stay connected to the high school community. “The people I’ve been in this group with are a great group of dads, who love football and love the camaraderie,” Ralles says. “It’s a way to give back to the community, but I also get a lot of enjoyment out of it.” The rest of the group agrees. “We all like football. We enjoy having that Friday night at the high school,” Murphy says. “I know Peter, Pat and Steve are gonna be there, we’re gonna catch up on what we did in the week and tell a few jokes.” (The gang is also known to slip in a cold beer or pizza slice to continue the fun once the game ends.)
The chain gang men are a lively bunch, and they’ve had their set of adventures on the sidelines. “The guys will always say that I am the one who is going to say something that will provoke somebody on the other team,” Murphy says. He reported once even taking a punch while on the job—but he tries to avoid that now! The guys have even spotted the occasional celebrity. “When [former governor] Jesse Ventura was coaching Champlin Park, he had to come to Maple Grove,” Ralles says. “He told us we were doing a lovely job.”
Some of the men are neighbors, and all of them are friends. It’s part of what keeps them coming back to the home games. They don’t have plans to give up their posts along the sidelines anytime soon. “As long as we can keep doing it, we’ll do it,” Murphy says. The rest of the guys feel the same. “It’s a great way to keep current with the program and see people,” Schoen says. “Most importantly, it’s a way to work with these guys and have some laughs.” Just don’t forget the cheeseburgers.
What Does the Chain Gang Do?
If you hear the term “chain gang,” and your mind goes directly to The Pretenders’ 1982 hit, have no fear. Check out the nitty-gritty of the chain gang gig.
- The gang arrives one to two hours before the game begins to set up pylons and get the chains ready for the umps and officials.
- During the game, the gang moves the 10-yard chains to measure each down and mark the line of scrimmage where the play will begin.
- The chain gang functions on the visitor’s side of the field. It’s okay if they cheer for the home team, but they should keep it low key. (Murphy learned this one the hard way.)