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Alma's Chain Crew - 'Best Seat in the House!' 9/16/21

‘Best seat in the house!’


By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Curtis Howells is a free spirit who has never met a stranger. Jimmy Scoggins is the quiet one of the bunch — though his stories are on point, and funny, as well. 


What do former football players do on Friday nights? They work the chains for their hometown football team, of course. 


Collectively, Howells, Scoggins, Perry McCourt, and Randy Strickland have been an Alma staple for a quarter-century or more.


“Perry’s been down here the longest (1996),” Strickland said. “He’s got some good stories.”


“Tommy Tice, the former Harrison coach, he was hilarious,” McCourt said. “He was out of timeouts one time and this is when (my son) Austin was playing; we were up 39-to-nothing. Tice wanted a timeout. He was over here hollering at the ref, ‘Time out, time out!’ 


“The ref said, ‘You don’t have any more timeouts.’ He said, ‘Dang it, can you throw me one?’ He was always on his players, too. He chewed one out one time and said, ‘You’re always on me about playing…and that’s why I don’t play you!’ He was hilarious.”


Not all coaches are upbeat. 


“Van Buren had a coach who would get off the bus in a bad mood; he was hard to be around,” McCourt said. “One time he kept saying, ‘You cost us the game; you cost us a touchdown!’ He never had a positive thing to say to his players or the officials. He was literally mad from the time he walked out on the field.”


“Then there was Poteau the other night,” Scoggins said. “They had a ton of kids and they were lined up behind the black line. They were very respectful. You can tell they (coaches) teach them right from wrong.”


“I think the most interesting thing for me is you can tell within five minutes — based on the coaches — what kind of a team they are,” Howells said. “The way the kid's act, the way they respond to the coaches, and the attitude of the coaches on the sideline. I find that very remarkable.”


Looking across the field, the crew has witnessed some Alma meltdowns, too. 


The crew is on their fourth coach — Frank Vines, Todd Dillbeck, Doug Loughridge, and Rusty Bush. 


“Back years ago, when Frankie was still here, when they marked the lines off, a lot of times it looked like a dog leg,” Scoggins said. “We took the ball on the 20-yard line one time, and on third down, the nose of the ball was touching the white line. But they measured it, and the referee said, ‘Fourth down!’ 


“He (Vines) came unglued over there.”


“That was always fun when Frankie was jumping up and down,” Strickland said. 


The guys have witnessed great leadership, too. 


Back in 2017, Greenwood quarterback, Connor Noland found himself in a good old-fashioned dogfight, though his team eventually pulled away for a 54-28 victory on the third week of non-conference play. 


“I remember a couple of years ago (2017) when Connor played here his senior year, we were down early but we came back and it was like 35-28,” Howells said. “He came over to the sideline and said, ‘Dang boys, we’ve got a game.’


“To see the leadership from him, he was different.”


Then you had a player from Morrilton. 


“It was all about him,” Howells said. “It’s incredible how different staffs treat players, and it’s top to bottom. But that’s one of the fun things to see for me.”


The youngest member of Alma’s chain crew, it wasn’t that long ago when Howells was on the same field playing for Vines. Since 2010, he’s been a fixture on the other side of the field. 


The crew work varsity and junior varsity games. 


For Scoggins and McCourt, working the chains gave them a front-row seat to watch their kids play quarterback — Russell Scoggins and Austin McCourt, respectively. 


McCourt, himself a former college football player, witnessed Austin McCourt throw 37 passes (nine of which were completed to Josh Lohman, alone) during a 35-21 win over Morrilton in 2010. 


“You have to remember you’re here to do a job,” McCourt said.


“It was a joy,” Scoggins said. “I enjoyed watching him play. I remember we had a playoff game, the first round, and about halfway through the third quarter, Russell picked up a first down. And the head coach went running to the defensive coordinator and said, ‘You told me you would have him knocked out by halftime!’ 


“The defensive coordinator said, ‘He’s better than I thought.’ And then he walked away.”


Scoggins had a front-row seat for Scoggins’ two deep playoff runs. The former Alma quarterback was 4-2 in six career playoff games. 


But only one of those was at home — a 9-0 first-round win over White Hall in 2000.  


“One time we had to take the chains out to measure during a playoff game,” Strickland said. “We went out there and it was like they (Alma) made it by an inch. When the ref handed me the pole back, the chain was wrapped around the pole by one length. It was a critical point in the game. I showed that to the ref and he said, ‘We’ve already measured, get off the field!’


“Thankfully, I was the only one that noticed it, but I think it would have made a difference in the measurement.”


“We’ve bowled over some coaches in our day,” McCourt said. “I sent a radio guy flying one time — electronic stuff went everywhere. I looked down and there were batteries all over the place.”


“One time I turned around and the Greenwood principal was holding a baby,” Strickland said. “He had about a 2-month-old baby down here on the sideline. That was probably 10 years ago. I don’t think that would be too safe.”


Then there was the time Rick Jones’ face turned red when he realized the team’s junior varsity 

kicker had missed a PAT attempt.


The former Greenwood coach showed up for a junior varsity game about midway through the first half. When he saw that Greenwood had missed a point-after try, he let his coaches have it.


“It was 20-to-7, and Greenwood was winning, and he’s walking across the field yelling,” Strickland said. “‘Did we miss an extra point? Did we miss an extra point?’


“That’s the kind of coach he was — details!”


In 2003, Jones’ predecessor, the late Harv Welch, picked a flag once and chucked it about 20 yards. 


“He threw that thing about 20 yards,” McCourt said. “You get to see the coaches rant and rave, plus you’re down here where the action is. You’ve got to be quick on your feet to get out of the way every now and then. 


“It’s the best seat in the house!”


McCourt started subbing in the 1990s, he said. “Then one of them dropped off and I became permanent. I’ve been here ever since.”


Before the field was turfed, mid-November playoff games were often accompanied by poor weather — and sometimes rain and mud.


“The mud holes were awful,” Strickland said. “Plus, you have limited room.”


With turf, the crew isn’t forced to set up on the field. 


“We used to set up on the yard markers, and now we’re back about two yards,” Strickland said. “It makes it a lot better. Plus, coaches do a better job of keeping players out of the way than they used to.”