The Kiwanis Club of Seminole Chain Gang, from left: Cliff Englert, Bob Grant, Trish Springer, Terry Carr and Joann Fox.
SEMINOLE – Bob Grant remembers the first time he watched his daughter, then a high school freshman, perform as a member of the Seminole Warhawks marching band.
It was early September in 1986 during a varsity football game at Seminole High School. The band took the field at half time.
Before the game even began, the announcer’s voice came over the loudspeaker: were there any men in the stands who wanted to serve as part of the chain crew – or chain gang – during that game.
“Four dads, four guys, came out, and I was one of them,” he said.
Those on the chain gang manage the signal poles on the visiting team’s sideline, aligning the marker to where the first down has been achieved.
It’s an integral part of any football game, Grant said, but one that largely goes unnoticed by fans that are swept up in the excitement of the game.
“They love to watch the game. They watch where the plays are. They see where the ball goes. But they don’t think about how [the downs are measured,]” he said. “They take it for granted. Except for the coaches. [Fans] would have no idea what’s going on without that orange standard [used to measure the first down,] though.”
It wasn’t long before Grant was regularly serving as part of the chain gang at each game.
“It was all so I could stand on the field to watch my daughter in the band,” he said.
Still, he said, “I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better way to do things.”
Grant, who belonged to the Kiwanis Club of Seminole, approached the organization and suggested that they form a permanent chain gang that would volunteer at every home football game, junior varsity and varsity.
The Kiwanis quickly assembled a team. They trained the crew through the Florida High School Athletic Association with the help of Kiwanis member Pete Bengston and the group has served as the Warhawks’ chain gang ever since.
“[My daughter] graduated four years later, and I’m still here,” Grant said.
Last year was the Kiwanis 30th year working as the chain gang, and on Jan. 20, the organization was honored by being inducted into the Seminole High School Hall of Fame.
Many Kiwanis members have participated on the chain gang over the past three decades. Many of them served into their 70s and 80s. Not only did they have to keep up with the game, but often they’d have to run past the referee to accurately measure the downs. Sometimes, they narrowly avoid being hit by players who run off the field during plays.
“That’s when you run for your life,” Grant said. “They’re a lot bigger than us.”
Currently there are five members of the chain gang: Cliff Englert, Bob Grant, Trish Springer, Terry Carr and Joann Fox. Four of them volunteer at each game while one of them is available as an alternate.
Carr, who is retired from the Army, has served on the chain gang since the early 1990s. Growing up in Alabama, he was an avid athlete, playing football, baseball and basketball. So being a part of the chain gang brings him a sense of nostalgia.
But more importantly, he said, “We’re providing a very important service for the community, for the high school.”
Springer, who now sits on the City Council, was the first woman to join the chain gang 16 years ago. During some of these years, she knew many of the players on the field. Her daughter was a cheerleader, while her son played football and other sports.
Though she had to step back as an alternate chain gang member this year because of her duties with the city and conflicts with her children’s other activities, she said being a part of the group was “a lot of fun.”
She added, “You’re right there smelling the sweat, seeing [the players] get excited. You’re right there with the kids.”