Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Les Witmer, tournament director for the Deep South Classic, watches the Peachtree Ridge girls take on Forest Park for a few minutes as he travels back and forth between the two gyms at Brookwood High School on Tuesday. Witmer is retiring from his position as director after this year.
SNELLVILLE -- Few people probably notice the hidden corner, tucked under the main gym entrance, where Deep South Classic tournament director Les Witmer takes in basketball games.
It's a good spot to see the court and it keeps Witmer, except for a few ceremonial appearances at halfcourt, largely out of the spotlight. But the man who makes the 19th annual event run smoothly likes it that way.
He didn't take the job for its prestige. He took it partly to help his son Craig, formerly head coach of the Brookwood boys, but also to volunteer his time for high school kids. His tenure as director brought some exciting new changes to the event, and lately he also has steered it through tough economic times when losses of sponsorship are hitting high school tourneys hard.
Witmer said he expects this year's tourney to be his last -- his wife Ruth told him they were visiting their new grandson in Myrtle Beach next year after Christmas -- though he plans to offer assistance as a consultant if he's needed.
Though most fans won't notice next year when a new tournament director is sitting in the enclave in the corner of the Bronco gym, those associated with the tournament will notice Witmer's absence. The large numbers of parents, volunteers, coaches and players have grown accustomed to his smile, his engaging personality and his overall hospitality.
Others have gotten used to what Witmer does behind the scenes, pretty much everything, to make the tournament happen.
"Les and (former tournament director) Bruce Huckle, they're both the heart and soul of the tournament," Brookwood girls coach Scott Terry said. "For us as coaches, it's wonderful to be able to host a tournament like the Deep South and not have to worry about it at all. Literally, (boys coach) Daniel (Bowles) and I could show up like we were going to a tournament at another school. He gets everything ready."
Witmer's ties to the tournament started back in 1991, when his son Craig was the Broncos' starting point guard. He got it started and then returned to service in 2004, when Huckle stepped down and his son offered him the job.
He even stayed on this season when Craig stepped down to spend more time with his young children. Now it's time for him to be a retired grandfather, with more time for woodworking and golf. And less time for basketball.
The Deep South won't be the same without him, but he's earned the time off. He deserves to be sitting on a beach next December, instead of his usual Brookwood hideaway.
"He's done so much for this tournament," Terry said. "He's going to be greatly missed."
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays.