HOPKINS, Minn. (WCCO) — A junior varsity football game at The Blake School is dominated by seniors.
And by seniors we don’t mean seniors in high school, more like the great grandfathers of the seniors in high school.
“We have to look out for kids getting close because if we got hit once, that would be enough,” said Lenny Sidle.
At 95 years old, Sidle is the captain of the chain gang that moves the first-down chains for the Blake School’s junior varsity football games. On the other end of the chain is Rollie Herriges, still nimble at the young age of 93.
“I can still move pretty quick when the play is heading for our chains. We just drop the sticks and get out of the way,” said Herriges, who used to run the chains for Hopkins High School during the Hoover administration.
After taking a few decades off, he’s back at it.
“I loved football, but I was too small when I was in high school,” said Herriges.
Then there’s a third member. No longer a rookie and in his second year, 83-year-old Jerry Alch operates the first-down marker. He played football for the University of Minnesota in the 1940s.
“Left halfback. I cried a lot when I got hurt,” said Alch.
The combined age of this chain gang is 271 years. Putting that in perspective, it’s nearly three centuries of football knowledge crammed into one very veteran team. Their coach, so to speak, is 64-year-old Haven Lucas. He was the head football coach at the Blake School for 26 years.
When Lucas retired, he began working at Copperfield Hill, an assisted living home in Robbinsdale. Five years ago, he met Lenny and Rollie and recruited two of the more dedicated chain operators around.
“The players love them, the coaches love them, the referees love them. It keeps them young and it’s great for me to see that because you know, I’m 64. I know if I do things right I can make it to 95 and still be on the sidelines of a football game. So it’s wonderful,” said Lucas.
Wonderful and a chance for the men to reminisce. All three men are veterans. Lenny, who has spent his entire life in north Minneapolis, can remember playing football on Sundays when equipment was hard to come by.
“Some of us didn’t even have an outfit. If somebody was out of the game we would use their shoes,” said Sidle.
But the men know time is ticking by. They don’t know when their team will dismantle, and they no longer look ahead in terms of years. Instead, they take it one day at a time.
“The fact that I can do things like this helps us. Otherwise you sit around there and you can get old awfully quick,” said Sidle.
This past spring, Herriges lost his wife of 65 years. He has also been having problems with his legs, but not enough to stop him from being at the games with his friends. When this ends, the gang can hang their hats knowing they worked hard and they had a lot of fun while it lasted.
“It’s nice to volunteer. If you didn’t do that what would you fill your time with? You kind of enjoy working. You’ve done it your whole life,” said Herriges.
“Actually it makes us feel really proud that at our age we can still do stuff like this. Even if younger guys can do it better. But we like the idea that they are still asking us to do it,” said Sidle.
Herriges said that even though Sidle is the oldest by a year and a half, he doesn’t boss him around. The two are close friends. All three men are war veterans, and while they love the Vikings and Twins, their favorite Minnesota sports team to follow is Gophers football.