ELKHART — Rice Field is like a second home to Dave Duthie. 

Since the fall of 1972, Duthie has worked on the down box as part of the chain crew for Elkhart Central High School home football games.

"I've always enjoyed high school sports and I don't have to buy a ticket on Friday nights," said Duthie.

Behind some help from legendary Elkhart and Elkhart Central High School football coach Tom Kurth, Duthie got the job on Friday nights. 

"Kenny App had been on the chain crew before the two Elkhart school split," Duthie said. "Kenny was a great guy who volunteered his time. I think he wanted to work for both Central and Memorial, but Tom (Kurth) told him to pick one. It was probably upsetting to Kenny. That was about the time I taught Tom's son Frank at Riverview Elementary. Tom asked me if I was interested in taking over for Kenny on the chain crew. I said I would try and I guess it worked." 

For 48 high school football seasons, Duthie has spotted the ball on every down and kept track what down it is for coaches, players and everyone else involved.

During that time, the 75-year old, who has lived all his life in Elkhart, has witnessed some terrific moments and admired some great athletes and coaches.

"What I remember probably the most is Amos Dooley kicking the winning field goal for Elkhart Central in a 9-7 win over Elkhart Memorial in 1972," Duthie said. That was the first game of the rivalry between the schools.

"I've watched some outstanding players over the years from Elkhart and from visiting schools. 

"Me and coach Kurth have become close friends. He's worked with so many young people and has had a positive influence on them. It's wonderful what he's done and probably the most important thing I take from this job."

On the field, has been close to many interesting conversations on the sidelines.

"One of the most enjoyable parts of the job as part of the chain crew is witnessing the interaction on the visitors sidelines between players and coaches and coaches and referees," Duthie said. "That can be interesting."  

For Duthie, the love of sports began when he was a teacher. From 1966-69, he was a teacher at LaSalle Elementary in MIshawaka. After that, Duthie was a teacher for 36 years at Riverview Elementary in Elkhart.  

Duthie, who was a cross country and baseball athlete at Elkhart High School, coached flag football, basketball, softball and track when he was a teacher. 

"I enjoyed following those kids I coached when they went to high school," Duthie said. "I've always been fortunate that I've had good kids to work with. That's always made it enjoyable for me. 

"My wife (Gail) giving me Friday nights off for a number of years has also been a key part of it."

In June, Dave and Gail will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. 

"She did come to my high school football games when we were both younger and when my son (Joel) played for coach Kurth," Duthie said. "She doesn't come as often to games now. She enjoys her time alone at home. She always asks who won the game and how the kids played." 

Duthie has been a very dependable chain crew worker. He can recall missing only three games over the 48 seasons.

"We took our sons (Joel and Matt) to college to Purdue on a Friday and helped them set up," Duthie said. "I also missed one game because of my wife's birthday.

"I've been so fortunate all these years not to have any health issues. I had a broken leg a couple years ago six weeks before the season. At the first couple of games I had a boot on and did other things and wasn't on the box."

Duthie has also stayed injury free during games.

"Knock on wood," he said. "I've been fortunate not to have gotten hurt during games. Several guys I've been with have been taken down. In fact, one guy I remember had open heart surgery several months before football season and he was knocked back on the track one night. That was pretty scary. I've had numerous close calls. Players are running for the first down mark and I'm not at that point so that's helped me out."

Through the years, Duthie has seen a change in the players that participate in high school football.

"The whole training process has changed the way kids look," Duthie said. "The kids are stronger, faster and bigger. The big kids seem so much faster than the big kids were in the past."   

Duthie is happy to see the success that Elkhart Central is enjoying this season. The Blue Blazers currently are 3-0 and ranked seventh (Class 5A) in the state.

"They look like a pretty solid team," Duthie said. "They have fine athletes with good speed and size. I think we're headed for an outstanding season.  

"Internally, I pull for them, but I shouldn't demonstrate any partiality during games."

Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial combining into one school again next year might impact Duthie's future on the chain crew.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this was my last year with the schools going back together. I'm also not getting any younger. We'll kind of see when next year comes around if they ask me to come around. Then I'll give some consideration to it."

Would he like to continue to work on the sidelines?

"Check with my wife," Duthie said.

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