Kenneth Hartsoe will be the first to tell you that he is superstitious.
But it was his deep rooted superstition that landed the 76-year-old York football chain crew supervisor on the sidelines, literally. Having been a member of the York chain crew for 43 years, Hartsoe, known as Kenny to his many friends, recalled the night of Sept. 5 when the Cougars hosted the South Pointe Stallions.
“I had been down on the sideline earlier but went to sit with my wife at halftime,” he said. “Being superstitious I think the team will keep winning if I’m down there so I went back down.”
Hartsoe’s current duty is more of a crew supervisor, although he does fill in when needed. Mostly, he stays several feet back from the crew.
“I could see the (South Pointe player) coming and about the time he got to the sideline a York guy pushed him and he hit me head-on,” said Hartsoe. “I didn’t think I was hurt but they ended up taking me to a Charlotte hospital trauma unit.”
He was hurt. Hartsoe’s wife, Freida, said her husband broke two vertebrae in his neck.
“I didn’t want him to go back down after halftime but he is so superstitious,” she said. “As long as York is winning, he wears the same shirt, same pants, same socks, and same underwear.”
Eric Elliott, a current crew member and longtime friend of Hartsoe’s, wasn’t initially sure what had happened.
“We were 40 or 50 yards away from him,” said Elliott, who has worked on York’s chain crew for 41 years. “We didn’t know it was Kenny that got hit. One of the other chain guys said he thought a kid had gotten hurt but we later found out it was Kenny.”
Hartsoe’s desire to be on the field near the action was ingrained in him during his high school days.
“On Friday afternoons I had a library class. Tommy Oates, the football coach back then, would get me out of class to help line the field for the game that night,” Hartsoe said. “When I would be down there I said to myself ‘this is where I want to be.’ I really started being a chain crew member back in 1969 as a pole-holder.”
Hartsoe’s affection for York athletics is known by many folks. Lifelong friend and York athletics director Steve Boyd fondly speaks of Hartsoe.
“He has a great love for York athletics, especially football,” said Boyd. “In my 38 years as a high school coach and my employment at five school districts, I have only known a few volunteers that has been as devoted to serving their local school as Mr. Hartsoe. He is highly thought of here in York. I could never pay him enough for the many hours of service to YCHS.”
Boyd’s praise for Hartsoe is exemplified by two plaques that adorn the wall of the family living room.
One is for his recent induction into the York School District One Hall of Fame – Class of 1956. The other plaque is a 30-year Cougar Service Award for the many Friday nights devoted to the chain crew. Freida proudly points out that the whole family has always been involved in sports including one of their two sons, Dwayne – the Fort Mill athletics director – and daughter Renee.
As one would surmise, spending all those years close to York football, Hartsoe has fond memories of certain games and coaches, starting with the Cougars’ 1986 3A state championship. That squad started 1-3, but then won 10 in a row under coach Bill Pate, a run that culminated in York’s 10-7 win over Strom Thurmond in the final.
The players’ names are seemingly endless but wife Freida was quick to point out one player – Lester Ramsey – in particular. “He was my brother,” she said with a laugh.
Despite Hartsoe’s love for football he readily admits that his high school athletic career was confined to the baseball diamond.
“I played second base and shortstop,” he said. “I was not a good hitter but I played good defense. Coach Gene Knight asked me back then to come play some golf with him sometime, but I told him I couldn’t hit a baseball much less a golf ball.”
Hartsoe was happy to shoot the breeze during a recent interview, if only to take his mind off the neck brace that he “can’t wait to take off.” He hopes to attend the upcoming York-Gaffney game but said, “I will not be down on the field.”
After all, even strong superstition has its limits.