Some football fans at Lackawanna Trail may have noticed an absence on the sidelines this season.
That is because for the past 42 years, Paul Daley has been manning the chains for the Lions, through every level of the district’s program.
But this year, Daley has had to scale back his duties, and become a mere spectator to the game he loves so much.
A chain gang, or chain crew, is a group of volunteer assistants to the officials whose job is to mark where a team begins a series and how far they need to go to get a first down. They do this by holding vertical marking poles on each of the field’s sidelines. The chain crew, under the direction of the head linesman, signals the officials’ decisions; it does not make decisions.
Players look to the chain crew to see the down number and the line to gain. Officials may rely on the chain crew after a play whose outcome depends on the original spot of the ball.
The chain gang is a very important responsibility in producing a football game and offers the best view of the action on the field.
Daley has been a fan of the Lion’s football team since he and his family moved into their house on Tunnel Hill Road across from the high school in 1972.
“One of my earliest memories,” said Daley’s daughter Gena Lengel, “is traveling to see the team in a playoff game that year. My dad loves sports and above all he loves kids. He says living by the school and seeing all the kids in their sports activities keeps him young.”
He attended as many games as possible in those early days, simply because he loved the game. As a former three sport athlete at the old Archbald High School, now Valley View, athletics were a big part of Daley’s life.
“I was a quarterback and safety on the football team, but the sport I loved the most was baseball. I was a shortstop for the school team,” he recalled.
Daley, a retired property officer at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, coached the junior Lions football team, and dabbled in some little league coaching, but admits his sons weren’t really into sports.
“My daughter, Gena, was though. She was on Trail’s field hockey team that won states,” boasted the proud dad. “She was the tournament MVP as well.”
He added, “I have always been around sports, and always loved to play.”
So it made sense when he took the next step, volunteering at the Lions’ home games.
“At that time, they would look to the stands for someone to help out. Sometimes they would pick me, and I loved it,” said Daley. “This went on for about two years before they asked me to do it permanently.”
Lengel, now an English teacher at Trail, said, “I don’t think he’s ever missed a game - not even after a double knee replacement. In fact, his goal after that surgery was to be recovered in time for football season. Through the years he’s traveled to many away games, too, and often ended up volunteering on the chain crew at those games as well. He loves the excitement of the games and being in on the action. After games he’d often call me to give me the play-by-play, tell me about running out for important measurements, and all about the sideline excitement. He’s loved getting to know the players, coaches, officials, trainers, reporters, and anyone else he’s met on the sidelines.”
Daley worked a two man crew, most recently with Mike Paone.
But this year, Daley has had to step back from the activity.
“I am 83 years old, and sickly, this is the first year I missed being on the sidelines,” he said sadly.
He quickly moved on from the sad thoughts, and recalled a story that sticks out in his mind.
“Last year, we ran all the way across the field for a measurement, most people don’t know that the width of the football field is 52 yards. Anyway, we were called out to the far sideline, clear across the field to do our job, then had to run back to our position,” he said. “Then, on the very next play, the same thing happened. We had to run all the way to the other side and back. Once we got back, I looked at Mike and said, ‘I’m not doing that again’ and had to catch my breath. We had run 104 yards total yards in about a minute’s time”
“Being on the sidelines always made me feel like I was a part of the game,” said Daley. “I just love the game.”
Last year, the team’s run to States was a memorable experience for Daley, as he called the season “exciting.”
“The atmosphere was amazing, it was so great. The prospect of the Lions being able to get to the state game was just unbelievable,” he said.
Daley estimates he has been through at least six head coaches in his tenure, beginning with Roy Davis, but current coach Steve Jervis holds a special place in his heart.
He said of Jervis, “He is the greatest. He just loves those kids and they feel the same about him. He has a great system in place.”
In a touching gesture from Jervis and the team, about three weeks ago the boys showed up on Mr. Daley’s doorstep with a “BSWAT” tee shirt and a lawn sign for their biggest fan.
BSWAT, as every Lions football fan knows, is the team motto that stands for Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
“It was completely unexpected,” said Daley with a catch in his voice.
Jervis said of the longtime volunteer, “I would love talking to Mr. Daley about our opponents after the games. He always had a very unique perspective. He is just one of those guys that loves Lackawanna Trail- you can’t find a better guy than Paul Daley.”
Lengel was on hand to document it all in a video she captured and posted on Facebook.
“He was so very appreciative when Coach Jervis had the team visit him at his house one Saturday morning this season. He just loves the Trail football team, and all those kids, and he continues to be one of their biggest fans,” she said.
Sadly, Daley has only been able to attend one game this season. His health won’t allow him.
“My dad is very sad that health issues have actually sidelined him this year. He really misses being on the sidelines but he still follows the team and listens to every game being broadcast,” said Lengel. “When he was in the hospital and I’d visit him and the first thing he’d ask me is “How’d Trail do?”
She added, “My husband and I took him to a home game this season and as soon as we sat down in the bleachers we heard Joe Ross, the P.A. announcer, say that the chain gang was looking for a volunteer. My dad said if he could have, he would have run right out there.”
Daley said, “It is just too tough to walk, but I don’t miss a play- I listen to all the games on the radio, or watch it if it is broadcast.”
One thing is clear, though. When the Lions take the field this Friday night in Morrisville, Daley’s heart will
be on the sidelines even if his body is listening to the game at home.