by Jocelyn Sheets
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Community, camaraderie and a love for the game drives the men on the St. Thomas Aquinas High School football chain gang here.
And, there’s no doubt about it: “It’s the best seat in the house,” believes Jerry Nosbish, the longest-tenured member of the Saints’ chain gang.
Nosbish is a 15-year veteran of the team on the sideline at Aquinas home football games. Mike Delaney and Ward Stoudemeyer have been volunteering for sideline duties for around eight years, while Bruce Reike has been helping the last three.
St. Thomas Aquinas rugby coach Tim Klumpers is on the chain gang this season after Delaney, who is battling cancer, opted out this year because of COVID-19 health concerns.
“We all have children who have gone or are going to Aquinas. We see this as a way to give back to the STA community, and that’s important to us,” Nosbish said. “I coached girls softball at Aquinas for 10 years and my daughters are Aquinas graduates. Mike, Ward and Bruce had sons who played football here.”
Each member has a story to tell about their start on the crew, but there is a common theme — they had friends who were part of the crew and they began as substitutes for former members.
Nosbish began filling in on the chain gang and now — 15 years later — he is the unofficial guy in charge.
He said he goes early on Friday nights to make sure the equipment — which includes two posts holding the chain to measure the 10 yards needed for first downs; the “box,” which is the down marker post; and a “clip,” which is clipped on the chain indicating the alignment of the closest five-yard line between the two rods.
“We meet as a group and talk to the officials before the game,” Nosbish said. “One of the things I ask every game is which side of the line to put the clip — front or back — of the five-yard mark each time. Having the clip positioned wrong can cost a team during a game”
Despite their personal support of the Saints, the men are all business when they’re on the field.
“We’re part of the officiating crew and we have to remain unbiased during the game and pay attention to the officials and the game,” said Nosbish.
Stoudemeyer had two sons play football for the Saints, spaced four years apart. He said following his oldest son’s senior year, he decided to help out on the chain gang. Stoudemeyer admitted it was tough to be in the stands during games.
“I know I can’t comment on the game while on the chain gang, but it is the best spot on the field. Jerry had an opening, so I spent my youngest son’s four years of high school football on the field,” Stoudemeyer said. “Then I stayed on because what else do I have to do on Friday nights? And I love high school football.”
For Delaney, giving up his spot on the chain gang for the 2020 football season was very difficult, but it had to be done. He had worked throughout his eight-year battle against his cancer and didn’t want to give it up. He enjoyed being the “box” man and getting plenty of exercise running up and down the sidelines on Friday nights.
“With COVID, I couldn’t take a chance with my health. I had friends who had worked on the chain gang and I would substitute on it throughout the years. My son played football here and I just love the game,” Delaney said. “I helped run the freshman football game chains and moved up to the varsity with Jerry. I’m ready to be back out there next year.”
Reike’s son played his senior season a year ago for the Saints’ football team. He said the past few years he would jump in to fill a spot on the chain gang if needed.
“I love the camaraderie and getting to see the game up close. Volunteering is a fellowship with people around you [who] enjoy what you’re [all] volunteering to do,” Reike said. “I do it for many reasons, but it’s about being a part of the school and community. You know . . . giving back. This is a great community to be a part of and a great school.”
Of course, chain gang members work through the heat of early-season games, rain, cold and all the rest of weather. In 2020, the Saints’ crew has had to deal with it all through COVID-19 restrictions as well.
“The football is the same. We wear masks. We all just have to be smart about this and do what we are asked to help stop the spread,” Nosbish said. “It’s about the kids getting to participate in activities, which is part of their educational experience.”
“This is all faith-based for us,” Delaney said. “It’s a group of Catholic guys giving back to the school and community for the good of all the students. We’ve created a close bond out on the field and off the field.”
“You couldn’t ask for a better school,” said Stoudemeyer.
“And to be part of the St. Thomas Aquinas community is great,” he added. “Giving back and having fun doing it is what it is all about for me.”