Mark Pooler, left, waits and watches as Jeremy Webster uses a clip to adjust the length of the down measurement chain before a Sept. 9 football game at Hoch Field in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — For current Gardiner football players, “moving the chains” is a figurative thing; for a group of former Tigers, it’s a literal one.

Mark Pooler, Pat Mertzel and Mike Cote have been regulars on the Gardiner chain crew ever since Sonny Gamache — who ran the show on the sidelines for more than six decades — stepped away in 2014. The search for a fourth chain-crew person has varied from week to week — but it’s also spurred one of Maine high school football’s newest traditions.

Each week this year, Pooler has selected a Gardiner football legend of years gone by to work as the fourth chain-crew runner for the team’s home games. The ritual, “Gardiner Chain-Gang Legends,” has become a well-anticipated one that’s already a staple of Friday nights at Hoch Field.

“We’ve been doing it every home game this year starting with the preseason game, and it’s gotten a great reception,” said Pooler, a 1980 Gardiner Area High School graduate. “It’s brought a lot of smiles to people’s faces. Everyone has been really excited about it.”

In the past, Pooler would simply seek out whoever was available to fill the fourth chain-crew spot on the sidelines. There was no real thought process as to whom; from friends to acquaintances to his own sons, anyone physically capable and willing to do the job on a Friday night was worth a call.

For one game last season, though, Pooler brought on a former standout player, Tom Staples, to do the job. It was an enjoyable experience, one that prompted Pooler to consider inviting other legends of Gardiner football’s past to join the chain crew on the Hoch Field sidelines.


“It was a lot of fun, and it just kind of dawned on me: ‘You know what? Maybe I should get more guys like that who played for Gardiner,’” Pooler said. “I went back into my memory banks and the pages of some sports sections and made a list of a bunch of people.”

It began with Gardiner’s Week 2 game against Belfast as Gary McAllister, the Tigers’ starting quarterback from 1974-76, joined Pooler, Mertzel and Cote on the sidelines. Barry Warren, a key member of Gardiner’s 1979 state championship-winning team, followed for the team’s Week 4 game against Brunswick.

McAllister was floored by the opportunity, even more so as the first person to take part in the new tradition. The turf at Hoch Field was a much different setting than that of McAllister’s playing days on the Quimby Field grass, but to the former quarterback, it still felt like old times.

“I just had a wonderful time,” McAllister said. “You’re down there, you’re on the field, and the coaches and the players are all behind you. I love that because I’m an old quarterback. It’s spectacular to hear that talk and hear them calling the plays and everything like that.”

Official Chris Barstow, left, laughs with Gary McAllister, center, and Mark Pooler before a Sept. 9 football game at Hoch Field in Gardiner. McAllister was a special guest of the chain crew that night. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Before games, the past Gardiner legends are brought to the Hoch Field press box, where they’re introduced by public-address announcer Sam Shaw. They also chat with former head coach and current broadcaster Rob Munzing of Munzing Media, who will later reminisce about the individual’s playing days on-air during the game.

“Rob coached pretty much all of these guys over the years, so he knows them as players pretty well and has a lot of stories about them,” Pooler said. “He always does a great job telling stories, and he’ll point them out on the field while they’re doing the chain gang during the game. People love it.”


The new tradition has been incredibly well-received with Gardiner legends booked out all the way through next season. Of the many people Pooler has asked to join the weekly trio on the field, only two have declined — both because of physical incapacity rather than lack of interest.

That reception was not necessarily something that was expected when Pooler introduced the idea prior to the season. Pooler thought the idea might run its course quickly, and Mertzel, who played for Gardiner from 1988-91, has been blown away by how popular it’s become.

“We just kind of threw it out there, and the support we got, we just couldn’t believe it,” Mertzel said. “It’s fun to do it and see who they pick each week to do it, especially with me being the young guy on the crew; it’s great to see some of those older guys who played before me do it with us and tell stories from their playing days.”

Over the offseason, Pooler pitched the idea to Gardiner Athletic Director Nate Stubbert. Seeing the idea as a great way to bring exposure to Gardiner athletics (and with Pooler coordinating the entire operation himself), Stubbert was quick to give it his approval.

“That’s the perfect part: I don’t have to coordinate anything at all,” Stubbert said. “He and his guys have been doing the chain gang for a while now, so it’s another thing I don’t have to worry about, which is fantastic. It’s very nostalgic, and it’s awesome to have on Friday nights.”

Pooler announces each Gardiner Legend on his Facebook page prior to each home game at the beginning of the week. For Friday’s Cony-Gardiner game, Chris Whalen, a member of the Tigers’ 1991 Class A East title-winning team, was set to be the third former player to do the honors.

Whalen and future Gardiner Legends, McAllister can attest, are in for a treat. From being up close to the action on the sidelines again to regaling old playing experiences, the experience was one that the first former player to take part in the tradition won’t soon forget.

“Those guys behind me are going to have a blast,” McAllister said. “I was just flattered that they picked me, and I was surprised after all these years that someone still remembered me and thought of me to do it. It’s a great thing.”

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