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David Dyer (left) and Johnny Brown (right) are the most experienced members of the chain gang for John Milledge Academy football games. Dyer has been on the crew for 41 years and Brown for 35 years. Mike McGee and Andy Cowart are the other members of the JMA chain gang. 

 

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — David Dyer was not going to let a little thing like Atlanta traffic keep him from making kickoff for a John Milledge Academy football game last season.

Dyer and his wife, Rosemary, were part of a group from the First Baptist Church on a four-day trip to the (Noah's) Ark Adventure and the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky.

The rest of the group went on a chartered bus. The Dyers took their car.

He had a job to do with the John Milledge football chain gang on that Friday night and he didn't want to be late.

Dyer was able to skirt the Atlanta traffic and make kickoff in plenty of time. The bus didn't arrive at the church until almost 10 p.m.

Starting his 41st season as a member of the JMA chain gang when the Trojans play host to Gatewood on Aug. 30, Dyer has missed only a handful of games.

Dyer, a retired banker, is part of a veteran JMA chain gang. The others are Johnny Brown, retired from Georgia Power, 35 years on the crew; Mike McGee, a retired pharmacist, 32 years on the crew; and Andy Cowart, a State Farm Insurance agent, 17 years on the crew.

The chain gang crew warmed up at a preseason scrimmage between John Milledge and George Walton last week.

Like clockwork every summer, Dyer calls JMA head coach J.T. Wall and asks if he needs the crew for another season.

"He always says, 'Yes,' so I call everybody and get commitments for another season," Dyer said. "The 'Old Fogeys' are coming back."

All four have numerous John Milledge connections.

Dyer had two sons who played football and one who played basketball. His grandson, Carson, is a junior guard on the football team. Getting to watch his grandson play is another reason Dyer doesn't want to miss any games.

Brown had children and grandchildren who attended John Milledge, McGee had a daughter and Cowart had two daughters.

Brown said he started on the chain gang when a friend said they needed someone on Friday nights. 

"So you step in," Brown said, "and I've been doing it ever since."

Another preseason task for the crew is to agree on the color of the coordinating caps and shirts that proudly proclaim "John Milledge Academy Chain Gang."

McGee said he came up with the idea for the shirts. Dyer added the hats.

"We've got about five different iterations of the shirts," Dyer said. "Black ones, yellow ones … I’ve got a closet full."

"I've got so many, I ought to donate some to Goodwill," Brown said, smiling.

From their spot along the visitor's sideline, the chain gang is right in the middle of the action.

It can be dangerous when 300-pound players come flying at you.

"I got hit so hard one time that it knocked me out of my shoes," Brown said.

McGee injured his back after being hit. 

"I rolled over," he said, "and I still feel a pain in my back sometimes.

"But that's part of pulling the chains."

Cowart has a different problem. He said his knees are shot after officiating college basketball games for almost 40 years.

"No more cartilage, the doctor tells me," Cowart said. "I've got to figure out a way to stand up (all game). Maybe I'll bring a chair."

And the chain gang often gets an earful from opposing coaches.

"Sometimes coaches question where we put the scrimmage line marker, but we put it down where the refs spot it," Brown said.

Brown, who is also a former basketball official, doesn't worry about what coaches say.

"Sometimes you learn a lot about their character," he said.

The JMA chain gang also must determine who'll man which position.

At the preseason game, Dyer and Cowart were the "Rod Men," carrying the poles covered by bright orange padding that are connected by a 10-yard chain.

Brown is the "Box Man," carrying a separate pole with a box that contains the down indicators.

McGee is the "Clip Man.” The clip, which goes on the closest forward 5-yard marker, helps ensure that the original line of scrimmage is not lost.

"We swap the positions around," Brown said. "It just kind of evolves."

The JMA chain gang could be working up to nine or 10 games this season, depending on how far the Trojans advance in the playoffs.

The more games, the better, they say.

"I think I can speak for the others," Dyer said. "We are honored and privileged to be able to do this. We enjoy each other's company and we enjoy the ballgames. It's just fun."

And, Brown said, "We've got the best seats in the house."

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