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High school football: Big Red chain crew hanging it up after 20 years together at City Park Stadium
Chain crew
The Gainesville High football chain crew waits for the second half against Lanier on Nov. 8 in Gainesville. - photo by Bill Murphy

It was November of 2002, and the Gainesville football team was hosting Pepperell for a first-round playoff game at City Park Stadium. The players, fans and referees were all ready for kickoff, but one faction of the home stadium wasn’t quite as pleased. 

Because it was a playoff game, the GHSA supplied a chain crew for the contest, but Gainesville’s usual team was still down on the sidelines to give them a hard time. 

“We were just ragging on them,” chain crew member Scott McGarity said. “‘You know those are our chains?’”

The chains at City Park Stadium have belonged to the same team for 20 years, but McGarity and his fellow crew members have finally decided to pass them on to a younger corps. It was a tough decision for the group which has been composed of some combination of McGarity, Chip Frierson, Ben Mason, Tommy Evans, Melvin Cooper, Jeff Williams and Rob Fowler over the last two decades, but the entire team decided it was time to pass the torch. 

This particular crew came together right around the turn of the century when the previous group was ready to retire and looking for trustworthy hands to hold the Gainesville chains. 

“They kind of came to the end of their term and were looking to pass it on,” Frierson said. “They just kind of reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, you guys are Gainesville guys. How about you kind of take this thing and run with it?’” 

And run with it they did. 

Over 20 years of moving the chains for the Red Elephants, the group has seen some quality football. Looking back over the years, they recalled such memorable moments as the time linebacker AJ Johnson, who now starts for the Denver Broncos, went in as wildcat quarterback against North Hall, dragging three or four defenders down the field on multiple plays, or when Cam Newton brought his Westlake team into City Park Stadium, only for the future first overall NFL draft pick to lose to the Red Elephants. 

It was always fun, but it wasn’t always easy. 

“It’s hard to keep up,” McGarity said. “When Deshaun is running up and down the field, so are we.”

Despite the difficulties, the job is one that every member of the team has always enjoyed. 

Most of them are Gainesville graduates, and all are big high school football fans. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” Mason said. “You actually feel like you are part of the game.”

In addition to involvement on game days, being present in the lives of the players themselves has always been a draw for every the entire crew. McGarity and Frierson have experience coaching youth football, and everyone on the team has relationships with the kids and parents in the Gainesville community. 

Watching the players grow over the years is one of the best perks of the job. 

“You teach them some basic stuff, and then to see them grow up and play high school ball, that’s fun to watch them kind of turn,” McGarity said. “Instead of being a little sixth grader, they’re now a high school senior playing at a competitive level. That, to me, is the most fun.”

As the team members move on from their duties, they still remain close friends — as most of them have been since the 80s. The group has grown closer over the years of moving the chains, and takes every opportunity to get together for a round of golf. 

And even though they’ll no longer be gracing the visitor’s sideline with chain and block, you can expect to still see them all at City Park Stadium on Friday nights in the fall. Now they’ll just be spectators instead of participants. 

“It’s been a privilege and an honor to do it,” Frierson said. “We’re big Gainesville High supporters. It’s been a real pleasure for us. We’ll continue being supporters, we’ll just be on the other side of the field now.”

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