Smoes family in 50th season of chain crewing GVSU football games

Three generations volunteer at every Lakers home game
Smoes family moving the chains at Grand Valley football games
Posted at 10:31 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 23:02:11-04

ALLENDALE, Mich. — The Grand Valley football program has seen several changes over it's 50 years of existence; from coaches, players, stadium renovations, and everything in between.

However, there's one group that has remained a constant at every single home game since 1971.

"They were at a coffee shop one morning and someone from Grand Valley came in and asked if they would do the chains for all home football games," smiled Kevin Smoes of Coopersville.

Smoes Family moving the chains

Kevin's father and uncles were happy to do and the rest is history.

Now fifty years after that first-ever game, the Smoes family legacy continues at Lubbers Stadium.

The first days of chain ganging
The first days of Smoes family chain crewing at Grand Valley football games.

"It's crazy to see the growth of what it was to when they first put the first field in to what it is now and the successes they've had," added Kevin's brother, Kirk Smoes.

Kevin has been a part of the chain crew for the past forty years and even with his father's passing five years ago, he knows the legacy must continue.

"I think it's kind of neat, we're all of course very dedicated to it," Kevin smiled.

So dedicated, in fact, that even a cancer diagnosis couldn't keep Kevin off of the sidelines back in 2012, as he still hasn't missed a game in over 40 years.

"That almost ended my career here doing this, in July [of 2012] I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I had surgery in August but I was back here and I never missed a game."

Smoes family chain ganging at GVSU

For Kirk, seeing his brother back on the sidelines weeks after that surgery meant the world.

"That's probably the highlight of doing this is having him come back as quick as he did," Kirk said, choked up, "he's a strong man, I've learned a lot from him. Although, we didn't let him work the down box that game, we didn't want him in the action," he chuckled.

It's not just Kevin and Kirk, however, it's a complete family dedication from brother-in-laws, cousins, even wives and daughters have helped fill in when needed.

"Right now, our ages on the crew go from late 60s all the way down to 16," Kevin said.

It's a way for the family to bond over football with the best seat in the house at Lubbers Stadium.

"As we get older, it's harder for us to get together, so this is one opportunity for us to do that," added Kirk.

The best part is it's all volunteer. While the family does get game tickets and other perks, they don't get paid a cent.

"We're not here to watch the game, we're here to work the game," added Kirk, "we've been run into, kicked, cleated, stepped on, you name it, it's happened to us."

GVSU chain crew from years back

The Smoes family takes their role very seriously, in fact their chain gang has been called the best in the business by several different officiating crews that have come through Grand Valley State University.

This Saturday, the crew will work another Anchor-Bone Classic when No. 2 Ferris State takes on the No. 7 ranked Lakers.

"The Ferris Grand Valley rivalry especially is a big one, we love being down on the field," Kevin laughed.

Kirk adds that while the environment is incredible, they are focused on doing the best job they can for the game officials.

"We'll stay focused and do our job but we feel the excitement around us, you can't help but feel that, we're looking forward to it, every one of us."

Smoes family chain gang at GVSU

And the legacy isn't going anywhere, Kevin and Kirk both say they're committed to running the chains for years to come and there are several younger in the family coming up through the ranks.

The Lakers and Bulldogs are slated to kickoff on Saturday at 7:00 PM in Allendale.