Holding the Sticks 101
Three volunteers are asked at each game to hold the sticks.
At the start of the game and second half and after each score there is a kickoff. After a kickoff the ball is placed by the referee and a first down is given to one of the teams. This is where the "sticks" come in.
There are two poles connected by a ten yard chain that usually looks like a downward facing arrow and a target at the top (or an arrow to indicate the direction of the play). The back stick is placed at the line of scrimmage on a first down. The line of scrimmage is the nose of the football (the end of the football that is facing the defence). The front stick is placed with the chain held tight and indicates the distance to the first down for the offense. The poles are kept in place until instructed by a linesman that a first down has been reached (or a turnover) and then they are reset. As the play changes direction, the back pole becomes the front pole, etc. At the end of a quarter the linesman will hold the chain at a 5 yard marker and the chains will be moved to the other end (with the holders moving past each other). If the sticks have a directional arrows remember to point them in the direction that the offense is going (towards the defense) this won't effect the game but makes it easier for the fans.
The third pole is the Down-Marker and is a pole that has the numbers 1, 2 and 3 at the top. At the first down this pole will be in the same position as the back stick on the chain, and the number 1 is displayed at the top. After a play the linesman (under the intruction of the referee) will intruct the down-marker to advance (or move back) to the new line of scrimmage and the down is changed to a 2 (and then to a 3). It is very important that the down-marker not move the pole until instructed, as it is the last line of scrimmage where most penatlies will be assessed from!
A good rule of thumb for all three sticks....If you see a flag (a penalty flag thrown by an official); stay where you are until you are sure that all the officials are in agreement.
At the end of a quarter the referee will move the ball to the corresponding spot at the other end of the field (and the teams change places). The down-marker can simply walk along the sideline to the new spot of the ball and reset at the nose of the football (the linesman will be busy moving the chains)
When a first down is acheived the linesman will intruct all the holders to reset at the new line of scrimmage. (Pay attention, if it was a long play they could signal you from the other end of the field.) Try to reset as quickly as you can to keep the game flowing.
When a first down is inside the 10 yard line, the chains are no longer required, but the down-marker still marks the line of scrimmage and the down.
No sticks are required for the extra point. Take a break and enjoy the view (it's way better than the bleachers). After the extra point move closer to mid-field for the kickoff and for the next first down.
As a final point, occasionaly the play will go out of bounds near the sticks. As play approaches you, lay the sticks down perpindicular to the sidelines and get out of the way. (This is why the poles are padded). If it is a sudden event and you take the stick with you, better safe than sorry. One of the sticks at the end of the chain should be able to stay put. The down marker stick holder should always be aware of their position to be able to reset (if the pole is moved)).
That's it.....don't worry if your nervous at first. Tell the other volunteers it is your first time and they'll help you out. After you get the hang of it, you won't believe you didn't try it sooner.