By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
They are a part of every game.
But rarely recognized.
They are involved in every play.
Yet, go mostly unnoticed.
They are parents, relatives and fans of the players.
And can’t show any emotion.
They are right out in front. They have the best seat in the house.
But virtually nobody knows they’re even around.
And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be for the chain gang at a football game.
For the Arnold family, being part of the chain gang for Effingham home football games has been a tradition that stretches back nearly five decades.
48 years to be exact.
Jack and Bob Arnold started what has become a family affair back in 1968.
“A couple of the guys were going to stop and they asked if we would help. That’s when we started,” Jack, now 81, recalled.
“I think Jack and I were there every week. I don’t think we ever missed a game,” his brother Bob, 78, added.
“Every year we just kept coming back and they let us do it,” Jack continued.
“And we got in free,” Bob quickly responded.
Bob continued on the chain gang until 2007. He was 69. Jack stopped about 15 years ago when he was 66.
By then, it was an all-Arnold chain gang.
Jack’s sons – Vic, Randy, Chuck, Jimbo and Rob – were all involved and will be running the chain gang at Effingham’s final game Friday night.
Vic, Randy and Jimbo joined the gang in the early 1980s. Chuck followed in 1987 and Rob joined the group in 2001.
Bob’s sons, Mitch and Todd, have also helped through the years.
“Everybody in our family played sports,” Bob noted. “We like to be close to the action and you can’t get any closer than that.”
The chain gang consists of four guys. Two run the chain, one the down marker – or the box, as some call it – and one takes care of the clip. And they always do it on the opponent’s sideline.
The Arnold family gathered at Martin’s IGA last week to talk about their experiences running the chain gang. It was easy to tell these guys enjoy the job. There was good natured teasing, as you would expect among five brothers. But there was also a sense of pride.
And rightfully so.
The chain gang has been all Arnolds for approximately 35 years. And they do a good job.
Football is in their blood. Jack and Bob both played in the mid-1950s. Rob and Jimbo played for Drew Potthoff. Jimbo was an all-conference defensive end selection two straight years. Chuck and Randy played for legendary coach Jack Klosterman. Chuck was on the 1979 squad – the first Hearts team to make the playoffs.
It was fun listening to them reminisce.
“I remember when we couldn’t move the chains even when they were running straight at us,” Randy said. “Now we just lay them down and move out of the way.”
“They can’t stop us now,” Chuck responded. “We get out of the way fast.”
“I remember when Chuck was playing,” Jack said. “Effingham was receiving a punt. Klosterman always said if the punt was inside the 10, don’t touch it. Well, Chuck caught it and Klosterman yelled at him. But the coach was wrong, so I yelled back at Klosterman – from clear across the field.”
“The worst part is somebody standing on the chain when you have to take off,” Randy noted.
“Yeah, it’s like whiplash,” Jimbo added. “We’ve tripped up some people through the years, but I don’t know how you avoid that.”
“Two things we do every game is catch as many extra points and field goals as we can,” Rob said. “We make a competition out of it. If one of us drops it, it’s embarrassing. And we don’t hesitate to tear into them.”
“I like listening to the visiting team’s strategy as the game develops,” Chuck mentioned. “It’s amazing the work these coaches put into preparing for the games. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.”
“I like listening to the coaches,” Jimbo responded. “I remember one game a kid came off the field and his finger was way out of place. He said ‘coach, I think I broke my finger.’ The coach just told him to not look at it, straighten it out and get back on the field.”
“I remember years ago they used to give us a free soda,” Randy said.
“Make sure you write that,” another brother, who wished to remain anonymous, interjected.
Jimbo does have one pet peeve.
“I don’t like it when people spit on my chain,” he said. “It’s a nasty habit. I have to tell one or two people that every year.”
The chain gang also has to endure every type of weather. Just this year, there have been heavy rains and a lengthy lightening delay.
“Years ago, it would be cold and snowing late in the season,” Jack recalled.
“We used to bundle up to run the chains,” Randy added. “If we didn’t wear gloves, we’d really feel it.”
Despite all the years of service, there is no end in sight for the Arnold family. In fact, Randy’s son Jed and Jimbo’s son Chad are starting to help on the chain gang.
“I’ve got at least 10 years left in me,” Jimbo said.
“If he has 10, I’ve got 15,” Rob quickly replied.
“Me, too,” Randy followed.
“As long as I can move and get out of the way, I plan to keep doing this,” Chuck said.
“There’s nobody I’d rather hang around with than these guys,” Jimbo added.
“Whatever we do, we have a really good time when we all get together,” Chuck noted.
The Arnolds enjoy the camaraderie with the fans and the officials.
“At the first game this year, the side judge told us we were the best chain gang they work with,” Randy said. “That meant a lot.”
“When the officials ignore us, that means we’re doing a good job. That’s the best compliment we get,” Rob admitted.
“The referees remember us,” Jimbo said. “As far as I know, we’ve never had a complaint lodged against us in 48 years.”
“I like being on the field. It’s awesome,” Randy added. “You can hear the contact and I love the smell of the game. It’s just great being around it.”