After 40 years, Kunkel, Martz dropping the chains

2013-10-24T17:00:00Z 2013-10-26T19:52:19Z After 40 years, Kunkel, Martz dropping the chainsJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 24, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Back in 1974, when Jere Kunkel and Jim Martz climbed out of the Trumble Field stands to fill in as the chain crew at a Portage football game, they never imagined it would become a full-time gig.

"After the game, the A.D said we did a good job and asked if we would mind doing it the rest of the season and we said OK," Kunkel recalled. "It turned into another small career."

The men, both former teachers at Fegely Middle School, wound up as  fixtures, outlasting several coaches and athletic directors over a span of 40 years. They missed but a handful of games in that time.

"I've enjoyed doing it," Martz said. "Obviously, it's the best venue for a watching a game. You're down on the field, up close and personal. That's the big thing I'll miss, being so close to the action, hearing and seeing what's going on during a game."

Kunkel, 70, retired from teaching 15 years ago. Martz, 69, did the same in 2009, though he still does volunteer work with the Valparaiso Schools. That didn't keep either from continuing to work the sidelines, Jere as the box man, Jim on one end of the chain.

"Why not? What better way to spend a Friday night?" Martz said.

Jay White has been at the other end of the chain for the last 20 or so years, with Bruce Sawochka the clip man.

"Years ago, we didn't have a clip man," Martz said. "When we were at Trumble Field, we were on the home side. It's been a different vantage point from the other side. Not too much is said to us. Coaches and kids are generally pretty respectful. They make their way for us."

"(Coaches) might say, 'Hey, pull that a little tighter', or, 'Stretch that all the way out,'" Kunkel said. "It's like any other sport. They're just trying to support their team."

Kunkel particularly enjoyed the Craig Buzea era during the 1990s and 2000s, Portage's last great stretch of success.

"'Buz' would come over and say, 'Nice job tonight,'" Kunkel said. "He was an innovator all along, offensively and defensively. It was an up-tempo kind of football."

Both made it through the years unscathed, though Martz had one close call. About a decade ago, in a game with Valpo, he got pinched between the action and couldn't get out of the way.

"All of a sudden, I went flying," he said. "Jason Renn's dad (former Valpo assistant Rich Renn) came over and asked me if I was all right. I said, 'I think I am.' I was very fortunate. There was some terrible weather, where you're wondering why you're out here, using the pole to hold against the wind."

There was no numerology to their decision to drop the chains for the last time.

"It was just time to pull the pin, like with teaching," Kunkel said. "It's still Portage, but I'm so far removed. We've served our time. We were a small cog, not a big wheel."

Martz mentioned the possibility during a game this season and Kunkel quickly confirmed this was it for him.

"We've been together for years as friends, teachers. runners," Martz said.

Kunkel was ready to move on, though Martz was happy to see Portage draw a home game to open the playoffs tonight with Penn.

"It was fine with me to squeeze in one more," he said. "We only had a three-game home season. I'm interested in seeing supposedly the state's No. 1 team."

Portage recognized them for their service at the last home game, athletic director Kelly Bermes presenting them with plaques and giving them lifetime passes. Both will remain fans, though they've become spoiled by their view.

"I'll probably try to catch a few games if Kelly will allow me to find a way down to the field," Martz said. "It's to the point now that I go to a game and it's just not the same (in the stands)."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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