GARDINER — Many things have changed over the past 60 years.

The dedication Francis “Sonnie” Gamache has to Gardiner football isn’t one of them.

Cony and Gardiner area high schools have played football against each other for nearly as long as the sport has existed. The rivalry will add its 138th edition at 7 p.m. Friday at Augusta’s Alumni Field, and Gamache plans to be one of several thousand in attendance – to little surprise of those in orange and black.

For at least the last six decades – Gamache admits his memory isn’t what it used to be – the 82-year-old has been a member of the Gardiner “chain gang,” those in charge of marking the down and distance on the field.

“I did them all four years of high school and then I was in the service for two years,” Gamache said Wednesday. “Then I come out and I haven’t missed a home game, championship game, playoff game or Gold Ball game since.”

In that time, 12 presidents and 11 Gardiner head football coaches have come and gone, yet Sonnie has always been on the sideline – most of the time with his friend and fellow chain gang member, Bill Leavitt, who died last July.

“(Sonnie) has always been there. He’s just a true fan,” said Cheverus head coach John Wolfgram, who coached the Tigers from 1975-1985. “He was with you through thick or thin.”

In the past 40 years, six men have served as head coach of Gardiner’s football team – Wolfgram, Rob Munzing (1986-99), Matt Brown (2000-07), Jim Palmer (2008-10), Matt Burgess (2011-14) and the current coach, Joe White. None can remember a home game without Gamache working the chains.

“He kind of epitomizes the tradition of the rivalry,” Munzing said. “He’s been there in the rain and snow and sleet and hail.

“… Sonnie took time to serve our country and came back to serve Gardiner football. He’s a giver. That’s what I would say about Sonnie. He’s one of those guys that just wants to give back.”

That dedication was clear to many.

Matt Burgess’ father, John, was the head coach at Cony from 1972-75 and went on to work as an assistant under Wolfgram then Munzing at Gardiner. The 77-year-old Burgess cited the 1997 Class A East championship that Gardiner won in a blizzard at Bangor as an example of Gamache’s loyalty.

“Everyone from Gardiner made it. The cheerleaders made it, the band made it and Sonnie made it,” the elder Burgess said. “He just went to every game and was there with us all the time.

“He was always there as a positive person, that’s the big thing about it.”

White, Gardiner’s current coach, appreciates the perspective Gamache brings to the game, and to life.

“Those old-timers usually have some very simple way of putting things to put your mind at ease,” White said. “That generation, these guys are fewer and farther between now. A lot of gentlemen I know his age have seen a lot and experienced a lot of down times. They don’t have anything to hang their head about. They’re grateful to be around and helping out and be a part of things. They don’t have time to be negative.” In that regard, Sonnie has never changed. He and those like him have helped carry the legacy of the Cony-Gardiner rivalry from one generation to the next, all while fostering it in a positive, simple manner.

Evan Crawley can be contacted at 621-5640 or at:

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Twitter: @Evan_Crawley