By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Fred Dodson has been working quite some time on the chain gang. No, not one like in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” or in Sam Cooke’s hit song of the early 1960s, but on the sidelines at Mitchell Stadium.
Friday night will not only kick off the 87th meeting of the Bluefield Beavers and Graham G-Men on the gridiron, but it will be the 50th year that Dodson has been working the sidelines.
It all started when a friend needed help and it has continued from the coaching days of Merrill Gainer, John Chmara and Fred Simon.
“‘Mouse’ Farley got me started. He was a member of the 1959 (Bluefield) championship team and he went to Georgia Tech on a football scholarship,” Dodson said. “He got homesick and came back and went to Concord and played four years and he helped Coach Gainer carry the chains.
He called me and said, 'I need help! You come over here.' I said, 'OK.' That's what started it and I've been doing it ever since.”
At that time in the early 1960s the chain crew consisted of three people and one had to come from the visiting team and what is known as a clip, used to mark chains on a painted line to ensure accuracy in measurements, was not used at the time.
“I guess for security reasons they had one person from either team doing the chains, so I had to go to all the away games too for a number of years,” Dodson said. “Then they changed it to where the home team had their chain crew but then they started with the clip.
“That's when the officials really got involved with this. They'd come over and set the clip and you'd leave. Now, of course, they just point you in the right direction.”
A 1963 graduate of Bluefield High School, Dodson was a Class AAA All-State basketball player for the Beavers his senior year. He was also a member of the football team, although it was not by his choosing.
“Coach Gainer, if you played basketball, you played football. So I was on the football team. I was on the team for three years,” he said. “He wanted to know where you were and that you were involved in something,
“Football wasn't my sport, basketball was, but if you were going to play basketball, you had to be on the team. I was on the (football) championship team in 62.”
Over the years there have been changes, such as moving the down markers from the side of the field occupied by the team, to the side opposite the press box. In making that move, Dodson said they were able to see and hear a lot of things from opposing teams, kind of a good, bad and ugly situation.
“One of the things I like being over here (opposite side of press box) is you know what the plays are for the other team, or you have a sense of what they are,” he said. But to see the coaches and their reaction, we’ve seen some things.”
“We had a coach just a couple of years ago, he did nothing but cry at the officials, 'Give me something, give me something.' He just consistently did that and that just gets to you after a while,” Dodson added. “We've had some coaches that have cussed the kids, run out there and jerk them to get them off the field, drag them off the field and that upsets you.
“It's a game and they're kids. We had one coach that was trying to hurt some of our kids. He was purposely telling the guys to go out there and get their knees. It was no question about that. It's unreal.”
The chain crew has evolved from Dodson working with friends, to a family affair where he works with his brothers David and Paul, his son Charlie and his son-in-law Derrick. He told of a time when his brother teases his about being kicked out of a game at Mitchell Stadium.
“We were playing Andrew Lewis out of Salem, and they had championship teams. We played them up here one year and the coach's son was on that team at Andrew Lewis and we were killing them and their coaches were just out of their mind crazy,” Dodson said. “I had the down marker and one of the coaches went by me and he was mouthing everybody and as he went by me he threw his elbow at me.
“I put the down marker up and he hit the down marker. Well, the head coach didn't see the first part but he saw the last part. He came running over there and claimed I hit him with the down marker. The officials saw it, but they just wouldn't give up on it. They kept on me and on me and I didn't say a word to them. Finally the official came over to me and said, 'Fred, it's best that you go on the other side.' I said, 'I'm not going!' He said, "I know you didn't do anything.' I could tell it was getting real heated.
“So he got someone else to do it and I walked across the field. That's when Coach Chmara was here. I just stood over there. After the game Coach came over and he said, 'What did you come over here for?' I told him and he went ballistic. My brothers say, 'You got thrown out of the ball game!'
Witnessing the game from the sidelines for the past 50 years, Dodson said he sees the coaches, especially the younger ones, get more excited on the sidelines and that the players are much bigger. While there are instances where sideline workers get injured during games, he and his crewmates have been fortunate in that they have not suffered any major injuries.
“I’ve had some close calls, but none recently,” Dodson said. “We always try to watch because when they come to the sidelines you’ve got to move. We’ve had some guys who have been knocked down and some down markers that have been bowed, but you just have to be careful.”
Dodson has no plans to wrap up his duties anytime soon.
“I’ll be over here one way or another,” he said. “One year I had a motorcycle accident and they thought I had a massive head injury. I salvaged the season. I got on the field two, or three times. I wasn’t going to miss a year. I just got down here on the sidelines and they made me stay back.
“You just enjoy it and until they tell me no, or my body tells me no, one of the two, I will keep doing it. I do it because I like it.
“Somebody once asked me what do I get paid for it? Well, Coach Gainer gave me a football one year. Coach Chmara gave us jackets with our names on them. That’s plenty. I get in the games, so what the heck? It’s enjoyable, it has been a lot of fun.”
— Contact Bob Redd at