Chain Gang Enjoys ‘Best Seats in the House’

Saugus chaingang, Don Lutes, Robert Lutes, Bruce Olson and Johnnie McDow on the filed during the game between Saugus High and Villa Park at COC. Head Linesman Corwyn Lewis, right, 110918. Dan Watson/The Signal
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By Haley Sawyer
Signal Sports Editor

While the Saugus football team laid it all on the line throughout the 2018 prep football season, a group of men has been hard at work from the sidelines determining exactly where that line is.

The Saugus chain gang — comprised of Roy Lutes, Robert Lutes, Don Lutes, Steve Graham, Johnie McDow and Bruce Olsen — is on the sidelines every Friday night, just as they have been for years.

There’s six members of the crew in total, but only three are required on game nights. Two are the designated “rod men” and another is the “box man” who holds the rod with the box on top that indicates the down.

“There’s a total of six of us, and we use that many because sometimes some can’t make it,” Roy Lutes said. “And we promise to do what we can for the high school to be there and give the best possible chain gang that you can possibly have.”

Olsen is the longest-tenured chain gang member with 40 years on the job. He had kids who were involved in Saugus football, and consequently got roped into the job.

Roy has the second-most experience at 38 years. His wife originally had a job in the cafeteria at Saugus High School and worked with wives of chain gang workers. He was invited to be a substitute, but still was in attendance for every game for his first year.

His second year is when he began doing it full-time, as his work schedule was flexible and allowed him to have Friday evenings off.

Roy’s two sons, Robert and Don, joined the crew about 25 years ago, right around the time the crew began doing the varsity and JV games consistently. Graham joined six years ago and McDow three.

The group’s claim to fame is working a CIF-Southern Section Division 5 championship game in the 1990s. During a Saugus game against Palmdale, a player attacked a referee and took him out of the game.

The CIF interviewed the chain gang about what they had seen in the incident, then watched the group work a handful of games and liked what they saw. Next thing they knew, they were on the sidelines at Angel Stadium at a CIF-SS title game.

“(It) was kind of a highlight for what we have been doing,” said Roy. “The referees give us nothing but give us accolades with what we are doing.”

The job also keeps the six men active. They’re constantly in motion and moving with the flow of the game, trying to keep a consistent speed and pace.

“We have to hurry down the field and get down there as quick as possible and be in place as quick as possible,” Roy said. “It allows the team if they wish to do a hurry up offense they can and if they want to slow it down it’s up to them but we always try to be punctual and on time.”

The crew is self-sufficient, supplying its own equipment and always showing up on time. There’s no temptation to move to the college ranks, which comes with a paycheck, for any of the chain gang members.

“We enjoy football and we enjoy high school football and we have the best seats in the house,” Roy said. “We are right on the sidelines and we can see everything that is going on, and it is just the best dimension of being able to watch a football game.”

Diego Marquez contributed to this story. 

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