GARDINER — Over the past 60 years the world has vastly changed.

Advances in technology have shaped the world into a different place, one where the past is known to some only through flicks and swipes of a monitor.

Littered among the world there are still relics, though, links to the ones who came before us and beacons of enduring tradition.

Francis “Sonnie” Gamache is one of those symbols.

Cony and Gardiner Area high schools have played football against each other for nearly as long as the sport’s existence. The rivalry will add the 138th edition to its canon 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 is not quite what it used to be when it comes to dates — the 82-year-old has been a member of the Gardiner “chain gang,” those in charge of measuring whether or not first downs have been achieved.


“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 current Cheverus head coach John Wolfgram, who coached the Tigers from 1975 to 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 — and each cannot 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.”


The positivity and dedication of Gamache — who previously worked as a mechanic and currently at the Randolph Redemption Center — has stood out to each coach. Matt Burgess’ father, John, was the head coach at Cony from 1972 to 1975 and later went on to work as an assistant with Wolfgram and Munzing at Gardiner.

The 77-year-old Burgess quickly recalled the 1997 Class A East championship game as an example of Gamache’s persistence, a win for Gardiner in a game played at Bangor in a blizzard.

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. The thing that always amazed me about Sonnie was I never heard him say … anything negative about anybody that was concerned with Gardiner football.”

Palmer, a 1987 graduate of Gardiner and former player, began his coaching career with the Tigers in 1995 as an assistant. Many things stuck with Palmer about Gamache over the years, but more than anything else it has been a simple question: “Do you want a stick of gum?”

“For me, anyways, it always put things in perspective. If you just had a bad half, you’re mad at the world; or if you had a good half, you’re on cloud nine,” Palmer said. “It was just a game and somebody comes up and says, ‘Hey, do you want a piece of gum?’ It just kind of puts everything in perspective, that it’s just a game and there are people out there that — not that the game didn’t mean anything to them — but just being nice and offering something was more important.”


While coordinators focus on one specific aspect of the game, head coaches have to look at things through a larger scope. They must have in mind not just game plans, but everything down to the minute details such as whether the team has enough water or extra chin straps.

At times, the best thing one can do is take a step back.

“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 football game from one generation to the next, all the while fostering it in a positive, yet simple manner.

Gamache has still been a fixture at the Tigers’ home games this season and has continued to show the same attitude.

When asked why he has continued to work the sticks for so long, he offered up a straightforward yet fitting answer.

“It’s still the best seat in the house,” Gamache said.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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