After working the sidelines for more than three decades at Licking Heights High School football games, Kermit Chaney finally got paid for a hard nights work last year when the Hornets played host to a playoff game for the first time.

After working the sidelines for more than three decades at Licking Heights High School football games, Kermit Chaney finally got paid for a hard nights work last year when the Hornets played host to a playoff game for the first time.

Postseason games fall more directly under the umbrella of an OHSAA event, so site managers are allocated funds to help offset costs. In some cases, schools are pushed to offer stipends to ensure there are enough workers to cover such high-profile games, one OHSAA associate said. Those contests usually draw larger crowds and therefore become more problematic for the staff.

But it seems volunteerism never has been in short supply when it comes to football at Licking Heights.

"I told (athletics director Rita Pendexter) I didn't want the money," said Chaney, who celebrated his 65th birthday last Monday. "She told me it wasn't her call and I finally took it, but after all these years it didn't seem right getting a check. I think it was about $35."

Chaney, a retired produce receiver for The Kroger Co., works games on the unit widely referred to as the "chain gang." He and Ron Roupe, an IBM employee who serves as a client advocate for the state of Ohio, handle thechain set used to mark the original line of scrimmage and yardage necessary to retain control of the ball.

"Involvement starts at ground zero," said Roupe, 48, the youngest member of the group. He sent two children through the school district after moving to the Pataskala area from Coshocton County in 1988. "I started coaching my son when he was in Little League and you just move up the ranks. You might end up coaching at the middle school and the next thing you know you're helping at the high school. You become identified as someone they can count on to lend a hand."

The honor of carrying the downs marker belongs to Jerry Wheeler, 60, a former school-board member and Licking County commissioner who now works as a substitute teacher in the district. He inherited the job upon thedeath of his father, Carl, in 1988. Carl handled the chore for 28 years.

"We got to work together for several years," he said. "When dad passed I asked the school if I could take his place on the downs box and carry on the tradition."

Like Wheeler, a 1965 graduate, JohnDonavan also has a deep connection to Licking Heights spanning multiple generations. Both of Donavan's children and all three grandchildren attended the school. His late mother, Atha, graduated during the 1930s and her three children followed. Donavan is a 1962 graduate who played football, basketball and baseball.

"So many people are quick to complain about the system and don't want to help. It's so easy to sit in the stands and find fault," he said. "We're a small part, but today every little bit helps."

Donavan, 63, who lives just down the road from the school and manages to find time to volunteer despite traveling extensively on the tractor-pull circuit, brings yet another voice of experience to the sideline staff, which includes a host of others almost too numerous to mention.He works the entrance gate to the field.

"There's so much sideline traffic, but nobody gets on the field now without going through him," Pendexter said. "All these guys, they're old-timers and they have a long history of supporting the school. They know what needs to be done and I never have to put any of the equipment away or anything like that. They make my Friday nights a lot easier."

Roupe was the last to join the group about four years ago. Donavan, who also handles crowd control during home wrestling events, stepped forward as a football volunteer about five years ago after he saw former athletics director Don Henne struggling one night.

"People were just running all over the place down near the field," Donavan said. "I asked Don if he wanted someone to do that job and he said, 'It's yours.'"

Lonnie Jenkins, 54, a Mentor native and warehouse agent at Abbott Laboratories, moved to the area from Gahanna in 1993 and also remains on the chain gang even though both of his sons have graduated from Licking Heights. He secures the clip on the chain that is used when officials bring it out for a measurement.

"People think I just stand there with my arms folded all night, but there's more to it than that. It can get muddy down there and you have to work around the players," he said. "I just try to stay out of the way until my small part is needed."

That, in fact, is a requirement for sideline workers.

"If nobody notices us we're doing a good job," said Chaney, a former high school and college umpire in baseball and softball.

He grew up in eastern Kentuckyand moved to Pataskala in 1968, joining the chain gang in 1974. His two children also are Licking Heights graduates and the youngest of his five grandchildren, Jessica Frost, is a freshman cheerleader.

"I've never accidentally got involved (in a play), but I've hollered at the referees a couple of times and that's not good, either. You get excited and can't help it," he said. "You just have to force yourself to be neutral as can be."

Despite a professional approach, Chaney, who noted that there were several others in his high school named Kermit and that he "never thought twice about the name until that frog (from Sesame Street) came along," admits mistakes are made from time to time.

"You're always told not to move when you see a (penalty) flag," he said. "One time I remember we didn't see one and we took off down the field with the chains after a big play and didn't even notice the officials were going the other way. We set up again and couldn't figure out what the delay was for. Somebody finally asked us, 'Hey, what are you guys doing down here?'

"I'm glad stuff like that doesn't happen very often, though. Sometimes we'll have the wrong down, something like that or maybe (have a problem) with the spot (of the ball). Those things can affect the game. It's embarrassing when it happens and we all take it pretty hard."

Over the years, friendships within the group have developed. Chaney, Donavan and Jenkins have a standing golf date every Wednesday at Willow Run, for example. They've seen their football responsibilities change over that time, too.

"It used to be the chain-gang guys painted the field before games," said Jenkins, a former football boosters member who has been on sideline duty for about 10 years now. "When I first started, we used spray cans. Those were some long Thursday nights, and every once in awhile it'd rain and we'd have to come back and start over."

Wheeler's involvement with the school surpasses that of the others and dates to 1959 when he played in the marching band as a seventh-grader, which was typical of the era. One of his two children also graduated from Licking Heights.

"I played in the band first and then I joined the team and I've been enjoying Friday nights here ever since," said Wheeler, who retired from Ohio State after a career in medical electronics. "My freshman year I weighed 81 pounds. I was the secret weapon, a uniform running around with nobody in it. I became the starting quarterback as a junior, and even then I only weighed 108 pounds. Boy, these kids playing today are like giants compared to me."

The group has seen its share of successful Licking Heights teams, including the school's first playoff qualifier in 2001, and many others that weren't.

"Boy, I remember when we played in the (Licking County League) with (Watkins Memorial) and Newark Catholic, we'd get drubbed a lot," Chaney said. "It's not like that anymore. The (home) playoff game last year with Portsmouth (42-34 victory), it was electric down on the sideline and I doubt any of us will forget it.

"It was kind of like our Super Bowl."