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Gerry Engelbert, left, and Dick VanDyke work on the sidelines of a recent Scotus Central Catholic High School football game as members of the ‘chain gang.’

Lifelong friends spent decades on ‘chain gang’

For lifelong friends Gerry Engelbert and Dick VanDyke, many Friday nights during the fall in Columbus meant one thing: Scotus Central Catholic High School football.

And for nearly 40 years, they’ve had an up-close view of the action as members of the four-man sidelines crew, or "chain gang."

That changed Oct. 20, when they retired after Scotus Central Catholic defeated Adams Central Junior-Senior High School of Hastings.

As part of the crew, Engelbert held and operated the sign indicating the down, and VanDyke placed yardage reference clips on the 10-yard chain held by two other crew members and used to measure first downs.

Both men grew up in the former St. Bernard Parish and School, between Humphrey and Lindsay, in St. Bernard Township, and attended St. Francis High School in Humphrey.

Now members of St. Bonaventure Parish in Columbus, Engelbert with wife, Kathy, and VanDyke with wife, Joan, each had four sons and one daughter, all of whom graduated from Scotus Central Catholic.

The men volunteered for the crew while some of their sons played for the team, and continued to volunteer as a way to stay connected to the school, VanDyke said.

"We always knew all the kids playing and their parents, so it’s been a chance to keep in touch with people," Engelbert said.

They also have been active volunteers in their parish, the high school and the Columbus community.

Engelbert, 79, and VanDyke, 77, said that given their ages and the possibility of being injured on the sideline, it was time to step aside.

VanDyke said it also was time to make room for younger dads who had expressed interest in volunteering. "If there’s the desire, we ought to let them take their turn," he said.

Both men said they will miss the chain gang, but will remain faithful fans, watching games from the stands with their wives. And they’ll always be available to substitute.

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