MICHIGAN CITY – With 54 years on the sidelines working the chains for Michigan City football, few folks have seen more lows – Red Devils, Raiders or Wolves – than Warren Foster.
Winning seasons, let alone post-season titles, have been few and far between.
So when the Wolves host Concord tonight in the first high school football regional ever to be played at Ames Field, the Elston grad and M.C. Football Hall of Famer will be savoring the moment.
"It's unbelievable what's happening," Foster said. "Words can't describe it. I was at the high school (Wednesday) talking to (A.D.) Craig (Shaman) and was saying it's phenomenal what (coach Phil Mason) has done in three years. The whole outlook of the kids has changed.
"You hear people talking in town like you've never heard before. It's great for the Michigan City community. It's a testament to the time and effort the coaching staff and kids have put into it."
Foster, 74, entered the military out of high school but was discharged after a knee injury. He returned home, where he worked for the city water department before going into the wholesale live bait and tackle business, retiring seven years ago. Foster was also part of the new Ames Field project committee.
When he was 20, Elston coach Vic Overman asked him to help with the chains for home games. That sometimes entailed Thursdays and Fridays, as Elston and Rogers shared the cavernous old ball yard that also once housed the minor-league baseball Whitecaps.
That was 1964. Foster hasn't missed a game since, not one, a total that easily exceeds 300.
"He's been doing it so long, it's expected," said Warren's son Dan, a Rogers alum who joined the chain crew in 1985. "We even started doing JV games the last couple seasons. He doesn't do it for attention. He does it for his absolute love of the game, his love of the team, the whole high school."
The Cal Ripken-type streak was in danger six years ago when Foster had to have surgery in the summer to remove a tumor from his spinal cord. Sure enough, he bounced back in time to be on the sticks come August.
"We've got the best seats in town," Dan said. "We look forward to Friday night football games. We get to spend time together. It's so much fun. I absolutely cherish it."
Foster has had a litany of partners, including the Koepke family, which did Rogers games. Pat O'Leary took Rick Koepke's place 14 years ago and in 2012, it became a three-generation deal when Dan's son and Warren's grandson, Travis, a City grad, joined the crew.
"Travis does the (chain) clip, Pat's got the (down) box, and whatever way the ball's going, I'll take the stick on the long end of the field," Dan said. "We try to keep dad away from the play, in a safe area."
As bad as some of the City, Elston and Rogers teams used to be, the notorious weather along the lake has been just as rough. But like the old mailman mantra, the Wolves chain gang has always been there.
"You see it all," said Warren, who even stores the sticks and chains in his shed.
"You just have to be prepared, dress for it. Boots, parkas, everything you need. I know they're talking about the four-letter 'S' word (snow). I hope it's a great turnout. I just hope the wind's not out of the northnorthwest. If it is, the home side will feel the brunt of it more than the opponent side. I've been there. Believe me, I know."
Along with his run of longevity on the sidelines, Foster has a nearly as impressive string at the basketball scorer's table. He's been keeping the team book over that same time frame, and the one game he missed, by chance, was Elston's 1966 state championship game. Dan accepts the blame for that one.
"I was being born," he said.
Warren makes a couple trips to the chiropractor every week to make sure the back's good to go for the extensive standing during games, but besides some aches and pains, nothing's slowing him down, so there's no plan for giving it up any time soon.
"As long as I still feel good," Foster said. "I'm going to keep on doing it 'til I can't do it anymore."