Fall Friday nights in Shelby mean one thing to a lot of people, Shelby High School football. Home games pack the stands, the smell of concessions fills the air, the atmosphere of excitement and pride is almost tangible. As the players take the field, the crowd cheers, hardly noticing the group of four dedicated men taking their spots on the sideline, a group that definitely also deserves some recognition and applause, the Coyote Chain Gang.
The current Coyote Chain Gang has worked together now for a decade. For the past 10 years, Wyatt Frydenlund, Merlin Frydenlund, Joe Fretheim and Doug Hellinger have arrived a half hour early for every home game to meet with the officials to go over the rules and prepare for the game. They spend the game hustling up and down the sidelines, marking where each play ends.
All four are SHS graduates. Merlin graduated in 1971, Wyatt in 1975, Doug in 1979 and Joe in 1983. Wyatt was the first to join the chain gang and has been doing it now for about 15 years. He joined the gang with Brett Odden and Bill Halver.
“I can’t remember the fourth one, it might have been my brother, Keith,” said Wyatt. “We each got onto the gang as somebody else gave it up.”
All four agree that they have the best seats in the house, one reason why Joe agreed to join the gang when he was asked.
“I started because my son, Brad, was playing and it looked like a great seat to watch the game,” said Joe. “I’m still doing it because it’s a great group of guys and a chance to give back and still be a small part of the game.”
Doug agreed. “It’s fun to do and I really enjoy being that close to the action.”
“We have the BEST seats in the house to watch the game,” added Wyatt.
The best seats in the house don’t come without a few challenges. Brutal cold at times, mosquitoes, trying not to run over players and coaches and sometimes just making it to the field.
“Shutting down the tractor or the combine,” smiled Joe when asked about some of the challenges. “Or asking the wife to take over.”
The guys all agree that Wyatt is their “fearless leader,” but it’s truly all four of them, working together as a team, that makes this chain gang one of the best in the state. A lot of memories have been made, some that stick in their minds, and one that is now portrayed on their T-shirts and sweatshirts.
“Playoff games are fun,” said Joe. “The Coyote game we worked at Washington Grizzly stadium was cool! And it was the game where an unnamed member of our crew ran over a visiting team’s coach, which led to our slogan ‘Stay off my Line’.”
Wyatt recalls the same memory. “Most memorable for me is Doug trying to get down the sideline and running into players that wouldn’t get out of the way. It hurts a little in the arm and shoulder when they step on the chain when you are pulling it. That’s where the picture on our shirts and sweatshirt came from, is Doug running into the other team.”
The Chain Gang has seen witnessed quite a few changes over their years on the sidelines, but all agree the biggest change has been Shelby going from 11-man to eight-man football.
“And we don’t have the rivalry that we used to have with the towns around us,” noted Wyatt.
“I miss the rivalry with Conrad, Cut Bank and Fairfield when they would come to town,” said Joe. “But it’s still high school football and fun to be a small part of.”
With 10 years together–and still counting–the gang has no thoughts of retirement from their Friday night job. All have lived and worked here for most of their lives, all are proud SHS grads and have sent their kids to school in Shelby. All four also proudly have roots in the Devon area.
“They say I am in charge because I’ve been here the longest,” smiled Wyatt. “I plan on doing it as long as I can, and I hope the other three keep doing it too.”
“I’ll keep on doing it as long as they’ll let me and my body holds up,” concluded Doug.