Tradition and history has always been an important part of Napoleon football, and that includes people who are not coaches or players.
The four-man “chain gang” crew of Marv Barlow, Tom Baughman, Joe Meyer and Larry Vocke have worked the sidelines making sure first downs are measured correctly each week for the last 15 seasons. This year the Napoleon football program recognized their efforts by giving each of them the same jacket the Wildcat football coaches wore this season.
Barlow is the longest tenured member of the crew, starting full time in 1989.
“My wife wouldn’t let me sit in the stands with her, so I started doing this,” said Barlow. “This is the best seat in the house.”
The crew works the visitor’s sidelines for each home game, using the down boxes and chain set. Vocke, the youngest member of the crew, has the job of clipping the chain.
“I got that job because I was the youngest and I could bend over easier,” said Vocke. “Now I have been bending over a long time, it’s not as easy.”
Baughman started a couple of years after Barlow.
“I liked playing football,” said Baughman. “I played quarterback during the 1969 season (at Napoleon). I just love the game and this keeps me close to it.”
Meyer took over for Mike Borstelman in 1994.
“I did not play football,” said Meyer, who was a standout baseball player for the Wildcats. “I love the game and to get to watch it from so close up, it’s great.”
Vocke and Baughman each watched their sons play football from the sideline vantage point, while Meyer has seen grandkids play in the program.
“That was nervous for me,” said Vocke. “I was sitting on the enemy sidelines. But, if my kid screwed up I was all the way on the other side of the field. I miss those games, I really liked watching my kids play.”
Baughman said he has a grandson in sixth grade and can’t wait to watch him play from his unique vantage point.
The crew has been together so long, referees recognize them.
“They come over before the game and will say, Oh, it’s you guys. You know what you’re doing,’” said Barlow. “I keep waiting for one of them to let us make a call. That hasn’t happened, but they will ask if they got a call right sometimes.”
Being so close to the action, sometimes things get a little hairy on the sidelines.
“I remember one time, before we had turf, there was a big puddle right where I was standing and a Defiance player fell right in it and splashed mud all over me,” said Meyer. “I am good friends with (then Defiance coach) Jerry Buti. He rushed over and got in my face and said, ‘Don’t you love it.’”
However, one incident wasn’t so funny.
While working the sidelines back at Loose Field, Barlow was run over by Fostoria quarterback Derek Kidwell.
“I remember getting hit right in the chest,” said Barlow. “I ended up having to spend three days in the hospital. That was scary. The kids now are even bigger and faster.”
“That’s why I drop the box and run right away,” said Meyer.
Napoleon Athletics Director Andy Ham said it is nice knowing those guys are there every week.
“One of the first things I was told when I started here was I didn’t have to worry about the chain gang,” said Ham. “And, I haven’t. They are here, or they get their own replacement, who knows what they are doing.
“They do a great job,” added Ham. “They are the best crew in northwest Ohio and one of the best crews in the state. They have been doing it as long as any crew in Ohio.”
All four said they have no plans to stop doing the job.
“I don’t think my wife is ready for me to sit in the stands, yet,” said Barlow.