CCHS ‘chain crew’ members ready for another football season

Published 4:26 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Larry Culpepper (left) and Junior Baker are long-time members of a dedicated group that volunteers to move the chains at Chilton County High School varsity football games played at Tiger Stadium.

Larry Culpepper (left) and Junior Baker are long-time members of the “chain crew,” a dedicated group that volunteers to move the chains at all Chilton County High School varsity football games played at Tiger Stadium.

When people like Junior Baker and Larry Culpepper go to a varsity football game at Chilton County High School, they know they will see the action from some of the best spots in Tiger Stadium.

It’s not because they are CCHS alumni or pay extra for front-row seats; moreover, they are responsible for ensuring every home game the Tigers play runs accurately and efficiently.

Baker and Culpepper, both 73, are longtime members of a small group called the “chain crew.”

The crew is in charge of measuring first downs by moving chains up and down the field and holding the down indicator box, which displays the number of each down.

While they might go unnoticed—or even be mistaken for referees in their black-and-white striped uniforms—CCHS chain crew members are at the core of proper game management.

“I think we’ve done a good job,” Baker said. “I just like to be down there.”

Baker, Culpepper and others in the crew carry out their duties from the sidelines of every CCHS home game, silently helping players, coaches and officials stay informed of downs amidst all the excitement.

“We just try to do our job and not say anything,” Culpepper said. “The chain crew is considered to be part of the referee crew. We’re supposed to be quiet and unbiased.”

The crew is comprised of volunteers who move the chains for no pay.

Baker has been on the chain crew for about 50 years.

Baker said Clanton Middle School Principal Donny Finlayson was one of the quarterbacks when he first started “toting the chain.”

“When I first started, the visiting team furnished one [chain man] and we furnished two,” Baker said. “Now, we have to have four – two on the chain, one on the box and a clip man.”

Baker said the clip’s purpose is to keep the chain on the correct yard line.

Culpepper joined the crew nearly 20 years ago.

Based on his experience in refereeing, Culpepper said chain crews that know what to do and perform their duties well are easier for officials to work with than inexperienced chain crews.

“You’ve got to know a little bit about football to do it,” Baker said. “You can’t just walk up. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on. If you don’t, you’ll get in trouble.”

Though they don’t complain, the crew endures long stretches of standing in sometimes undesirable weather conditions for the sake of the games.

Among their adversaries are rain and heat.

“Rain is terrible,” Culpepper said. “Rain’s probably worse. It’s just uncomfortable, and we can’t go home like everybody else.”

Baker and Culpepper both played football at CCHS in the days when helmets didn’t have facemasks and admission for games was about 50 cents.

They graduated from CCHS in 1959 and have remained “good friends for a long time,” Baker said.

Over the years, Baker and Culpepper have watched their children and a grandchild play for their alma mater as well.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Culpepper said. “It makes you feel part of the game, being close.”

Other chain crew members include Brad Moatts, Charles Bates and Bobby Cook.

Douglas Moatts, Brad’s father, retired from the crew last year.

The crew normally works at about five home games each season.

“I enjoy it,” Baker said. “It keeps you in the game.”