Les Witmer is in his 16th year of helping run the Deep South Classic basketball tournament and his fifth as the Tournament Director.
In this latest installment of "Getting to Know...," Witmer talks with staff writer Corey Clark on a variety of topics, including the genesis of the Deep South, his time in Vietnam and his first car.
CC: So how did you get involved with the Deep South?
LW: It all started back when Craig was a player at Brookwood (Craig Witmer is now the boys basketball head coach). I was on the Tip-Off Club. Eddie Martin was the coach there and Dave Hunter was the athletic director. And they got together with the Tip-Off Club and formed our own tournament. It started off with eight schools and it was just here at Brookwood. Craig played in the very first Deep South Classic, and to me he was very close to being named MVP. Marist beat them by four points in the championship game.
Anyway, he became a coach here and one morning he asked my advice on who I thought should take Bruce (Huckle's) place as tournament director. Little did I know he had already made his mind up. And I really enjoy it. It's a lot of fun. It can be a lot of work with the coordination, but once the tournament starts, it's a lot of fun.
CC: How does it work exactly - do teams call you or do you call them?
LW: We've really got a great reputation. I was actually talking to the Redondo Union (Calif.) coach (Thursday) morning and he said, 'We travel to a lot of tournaments and this is one of the best tournaments we've ever been to.' So a lot of it is word of mouth from coaches who have been here. And we've advertised on some Web sites here and there and that's how the word gets around.
CC: Do you ever see the Deep South becoming a national event like the Tournament of Champions or Academy Invitational? Or would you rather keep it more localized?
LW: We've been approached by a couple of major sponsors in the past. But one of the problems is that those sponsors run those tournaments. They have their own people and they put their name in front of your tournament. What we're proud of is we have all local sponsors and local volunteers.
CC: So what kind of fat paycheck does the tournament director receive each year?
LW: (Laughs) I get a handshake from my son.
CC: So are you retired?
LW: Well, sort of ... coming out of college there was a big Vietnam buildup, with the draft. I got drafted and I went through the officer candidate program and served in Vietnam. I retired from the reserves after 26 years. I was last activated for Desert Storm (the first one), that was my last active duty. And when I went into the reserves, I went to work for the IRS. Not as an auditor though, I was in administration. And I worked for the IRS for 24 years before I retired (in 2001). Presently I'm doing consulting work. I'm a consultant. And I go to Washington once or twice a month - I'm a moderator on a television program on taxes that is webcast for accountants and tax attorneys and people like that. And I do the same thing for the Justice Department for community-oriented police service.
CC: Like Vietnam, we're in a pretty unpopular war right now, but the troops definitely seem to get treated better than they did when you were serving - is that true?
LW: Oh yeah. Back then it was really an interesting time to be in uniform. Frankly the troops weren't supported. I really feel so proud of the troops and what they've done in Iraq and Afghanistan.
CC: What's the most realistic Vietnam movie?
LW: Probably "Platoon." I didn't look at a lot of the stuff, but "Platoon" was about the 25th infantry division and you could see that patch on their shoulders in the movie. So that raised my awareness. But probably what happened in a two-hour movie would have taken a year in real life. But it was very realistic.
CC: I assume you've been to the Vietnam Memorial, too?
LW: Yeah, it took a while for me to do it. But I went there and looked up some of the names. And you just sit there and look at the sheer waste of our young people. The numbers were just really something.
CC: All right, on to something a little more lighthearted ...
LW: (Laughs) Yeah, let's do that.
CC: What was your first car?
LW: Oh boy, that was great. It was a '66 Camaro Super Sport. Lemon yellow, with a black vinyl top. And a four-speed manual shift.
CC: And what are you driving now?
LW: A pickup truck. A Toyota Tundra. It's not quite as sleek as the Camaro, but it's easier to get in. It's more of a utility vehicle.
CC: If not for the military or IRS, what's another job you would have liked to pursue?
LW: With my love of sports, if somebody told me I could have a fantasy job it would be either a sports broadcaster or something in sports management ... and you go through periods you know. The thing that is kind of neat is being called 'Dad.' But it's also heartwarming to me when you run into a young man that you might coached in rec league and he still refers to me as 'Coach.' But of course, 'Grand daddy' is about the most important.