Chain Gang Linked by Decades of Down & Distance

By Pam Shebest
Special for

September 18, 2018

SCHOOLCRAFT — Skip Fox figures he and his buddies have the best seats in the house when it comes to Schoolcraft football.

And the four have had them for a combined 167 years.

Fox, Jeff Bell, David Krum and Dick Goldschmeding make up the chain gang for the Eagles’ home games, and boast tenures individually and working together that surely rank among the longest in Michigan for providing that gameday duty.

They work well together, an asset when it comes to games like Schoolcraft’s 49-48 double overtime win against Saugatuck last Friday.

Each has a specific job with Bell and Goldschmeding working the chains, Krum the clip and Fox the down box.

Do they lose focus during those long games?

“Never,” Bell said, as the others burst into laughter, with one chiming in: “Good answer.”

“We’re always consummate chain people,” Bell continued. “Never once have I been leaning on that stake and having Dick on the other end pull me along to get going.”

The camaraderie among the four is evident as they share memories.

Fox, who is in his 55th season working the chains, started on the sidelines after his 1964 graduation from Schoolcraft High School.

“When I started, it was a three-man crew,” he said. “We always invited somebody from the opposing team to be on the chains. Then they started changing some of the rules.

“At that time, we worked one half on the visitors’ side and one half on the home side. When the chains had to be opposite the press box, we started working the games all on one side.

“It’s always the opposing side, so we’ve heard a lot of opposing coaches over the years. We’ve learned a few new words.”

Bell, a 1966 Schoolcraft grad, joined the crew 51 years ago.

Before retiring, he was a middle school teacher in the district for 28 years and “doing that, you get to know all the kids so it was always fun to be down there watching the kids you knew.

“It’s different now (that he is retired). We kind of refer to the program all the time to make sure we know who’s who on the team.”

The gang has seen definite changes in the game over their tenure.

“We see a lot more conditioning and a lot more safety regulations,” Bell said. “The rules change and we try to keep up with that as much as possible.

“It’s a faster paced game than it was when we first started.”

Krum worked part-time on the chain gang from 1965 to 1970 while he attended Michigan State University and has been full-time the last 49 seasons.

One down side of the job, he said, is “Mother Nature. At times I wished we weren’t out there because we can’t leave. We’re stuck there rain or snow.”

Bell said weather seems to be one of the biggest changes over the years.

“At least half of the season we worked in Carhartts and snow was at least ankle deep,” he said. “Now we usually don’t see snow, but we get cold weather, mosquitoes, things like that.”

Krum really did have the best seat in the house to see his son, Dean, make an outstanding play several years ago.

“It was right in front of us in the end zone,” Krum said. “He knocked a pass down on the last play and we won the game. The whole crowd went crazy.

“I was in utter shock. I kept asking the guys, ‘He didn’t get a penalty, did he?’ It saved a two-pointer and we won the game by one.”

Krum is the one who protects the sideline.

“I’m the one who tells the coaches and players to please get back as we are going up and down,” he said. “You’ve got to talk to them all the time.”

Goldschmeding is the new guy on the crew. 

A graduate of Portage Central High school, he moved to Schoolcraft 50 years ago and was recruited 12 years ago.

“We’ve been friends for a number of years, and they said they had an opening on the chain gang and would I be interested,” Goldschmeding said. “I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

“At the time I was assisting on the (Schoolcraft) sideline at football games, so I moved from one side of the field to the other.”

As an assistant coach, Goldschmeding said he was well aware of the guys working the chains across the field.

“I think every coach is aware of what is going on on the other side of the field because they have to be involved in every play,” he said. “They’re thinking two or three plays ahead all the time.”

One of the first things the crew does is meet with game officials to coordinate moves.

“When a first down is made, one of us will mark the spot and the other will extend the chain the full extent of the 10 yards,” Bell said. “We hold that position until the officials give us the nod.”

Sometimes the crew has to scamper down the field, which becomes time for Fox’s stand-in to appear.

“When they have a 40- or 50-yard run, David’s nephew (Blake Krum) takes over and runs down the field for me,” Fox said. “At age 72, I’m not that fast anymore.”

Bell said the crew’s goal is to go unnoticed.

“If you hold up the game, that’s real bad,” he said. “You want to do your job, and if you’re not noticed and nobody has anything to say about the chain gang, you’ve done your job. That’s pretty much the way it works.”

Fox said about the only downside of the job is not sitting with their wives at games.

“All our wives sit on the other side without us,” he said. “You’ve got to have understanding wives.”

Sideline service one of many school connections

For Fox, Schoolcraft football has been a generational thing.

He lettered in football all four years and added, “My oldest son (Matthew) was on the championship team in 1990 and my other son, Mark, made all-state on both offense and defense, which was a rarity.”

“I’ve got four grandsons, and they all played for Schoolcraft.”

He also served on the Schoolcraft Board of Education for 34 years.

Bell played basketball for the Eagles and his son, Ross, played on the MHSAA Division 6 champion football team in 2001.

Krum did not play sports, but was a sports enthusiast in school.

He spent 29½ years on the school board.

Although he wasn’t involved in Eagles sports as a student, Goldschmeding’s two sons, John and Josh, played football at Schoolcraft and he was involved in the Athletic Boosters. He also has grandchildren involved in Schoolcraft sports.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Schoolcraft's Jeff Bell, Skip Fox, David Krum, Dick Goldschmeding work the chains during a game this season. (Middle) Clockwise, from top left: Bell, Fox, Goldschmeding and Krum. (Below) From left, Goldschmeding, Bell and Krum meet with game officials. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)