OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES: Kemp has been a fixture at football games in Woodsfield
WOODSFIELD — As a student at old Woodsfield High, Walter Kemp didn’t play football.
The school didn’t offer the sport at the time, he said, so he went the hoops route.
“We didn’t have a team when I was in school,” the 1958 graduate said last week as Monroe Central prepared to play host to Fort Frye at City Park. “They didn’t have a football field.
They went out to the fairground and lined off the inside of the racetrack and out a couple of goalposts up. Barnesville was the first game, I think.”
At 129 pounds, Kemp, affectionately known as “Bunky” to some, was in the right place on the hardwood. Woodsfield had some good teams in those days.
But, as the years moved ahead, Kemp kept football close to his heart. And, as the 1970s began, Jay Circosta began building a dynasty in Monroe County. Toward the end of the decade, Kemp was able to get up close and personal with the Redskins when he became part of the chain gang. He’s part of the group, still, today.
“Three years ago at halftime, they introduced everyone on the chain gang,” he said, “and I was at 37 then.”
Kemp doesn’t know exactly how he became part of the chain gang, although he remembers telling some of the “older guys” who were part of it then that if they ever decided to retire that he’d be glad to fill the void.
That’s what happened. Now, Kemp is a familiar face on the visiting sideline clad in special orange gear, symbolic of chain gang members.
Kemp is actually 80-years-young. Prior to the game against the Cadets, Kemp could be found joking with officials and his friends on the Sideliners, the Monroe Central boosters group which Kemp also helps on game nights.
“I’d do 50-50s or whatever else, then go on the field,” he said. “I used to park cars, too.”
For the chain gang, Kemp serves as “the clip guy.”
“That’s always the best job because you don’t have to hold anything,” he chuckled.
While Kemp has seen many of his peers on the chain gang have to step away through the years due to health reasons, he’s healthy and ready to tackle any challenge a game might present.
“I’m going great,” he said. “I run as good as anyone.”
And, sometimes, that comes in handy, especially considering the speed of today’s players.
“In 40 years, I’ve only been run over three times, none seriously,” he laughed.
While Kemp has been privileged to cross paths with many great players through the years, his favorite moments were reserved for watching his son, Troy, and grandson, Jon, suit up.
“I’ll tell ya what,” he said. “This is the best place to watch a football game. You’re right where all the action is. Sometimes, though, you get too close.”
The possibility of getting hit on the sideline, or anything else, isn’t going to keep Kemp from doing his job. He has no plans to step away anytime soon.
“I’m going to keep doing this until I get it right,” he smiled.
“I have no intention of quitting. In fact, one of the other chain gang fellas, Larry Keylor, told me a while back that we need to give this up and let some younger fellas take over.
“I said, ‘Speak for yourself.’ As long as my health is good and I feel like I can do it, I’m gonna do it.”