Working Tommy Stewart Field’s sidelines: Brad Thompson, Rick Aeilts, Tim McMahon.

Listen to this article

A high school Hall of Famer with NFL experience. Rick Aeilts has his pick of seats at Tommy Stewart Field. But he’s most comfortable roaming the sidelines as part of Champaign Central’s chain gang.

“Best place to watch the action,” he said after working Friday’s rivalry game against Centennial. “I love the sounds of the game, the impacts, the shouting, coaching, players celebrating or getting in each other’s faces, the energy on the sidelines. Everything you miss from a seat in the stands.”

Aeilts (Class of ‘84) has worked the chains for the last six years, even as his sports-minded kids have moved on. His volunteer run, however, will be interrupted this fall when he undergoes hip surgery.

Is retirement in the cards?

“I sure hope not,” he said. “I plan to be back out next season if they will have me.“

Have a chain gang story to tell? Email N-G Media’s Jim Rossow at