(L to R) Rotary Club of Peachtree City President John Belizaire, Whitewater coach Bryan Holley, Sandy Creek coach Brett Garvin, McIntosh coach and 2017 Crying Towel winner Lee Belknap, Fayette County coach Mike Davis, and George Martin with Rotary. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)

It was practically over before it started. Just like the coach that he is, Lee Belknap came into this year’s Crying Towel Luncheon with a gameplan, and he executed it to perfection. The Rotary Club of Peachtree City hosted the popular annual football kickoff luncheon, and Belknap kicked it off with the laughs to bring home the trophy.

The winner of the day is the head football coach who can spin the saddest tale of woe heading into the season ahead. With a little embellishment (or a lot), coaches trying to leave the crowd in stitches and take the Towel home.

“I’m just going to be honest with you, it’s time to bring the Crying Towel back to Walt Banks Road,” Belknap said of McIntosh’s home. “I’ve been putting in hours getting prepared for this.”

And away he went. For Belknap, the word of the day was young.

“Everybody says they’re young, but nobody ever proves it,” he said. “I’m going to prove it.”

With a fresh batch of players, he set the demand from his staff to start with the very basics, right done to a proper stance. Turns out, he said, they couldn’t even quite get the dressing down right. One player wore his girdle on the outside of his pants, one wore it outside and backwards, and another wore the girdle and nothing else. When yet another player passed out, Belknap’s CPR training kicked pulled his mouthpiece out to find he had it in backwards like a clown pulling out the never-ending scarf.

Oh, but the team isn’t just young he said, they’re also small. After the girdle goof-up, it was time for a lesson on proper attire. The manager gave him the last girdle left.

“I’m going to send it back. We don’t have any player in the program who can wear it. It’s too big,” the trainer told Coach. “It’s a (size) large. We don’t have one kid who can wear a large.”

Their contact at T&G Allsports came across a similar problem when ordering gear for the players from Badger, their supplier.

“Coach, Badger just called and said your guys have exhausted their inventory of smalls,” he said. “Do you have any kids who can wear a medium?”

Taking it out with a bang, Belknap recounted a pair of bid emails he received, one to provide pre-game meals and one for game pants. Those interested companies? Gerber and OshKosh B’Gosh.

Fayette County’s Mike Davis, never one to back down on the field, knew he had been beaten before he even took the microphone. Given the unenviable task of following Belknap, he shook his hand and said, “It’s over.”

Youth is also a theme for the Tigers he said. Out of the 80 kids in the program, only 10 are senior.

“It’s exciting on one end, but it’s scary on the other,” said Davis, asking those in the audience to remember when they might have had boys in their early teenage years. “Imagine having 80 of them running around.”

He closed with another message for Belknap.

“Congratulations to the winner.”

Whitewater’s Bryan Holley shared the misfortune of players unsure how to properly wear their girdles.

“We’ve got some seniors, and we still make those mistakes,” he said. “We had to tell them how to tie their shoes this morning.”

The Wildcats also had a near miss. This summer, a 6’4” specimen came to coach interested in playing football. Asked what size he needed for his pads, the disconnect became clear.

“I want to play football, you know, soccer,” said the new student.

Sandy Creek’s Brett Garvin, the new head man for the Patriots, was making his debut at the luncheon, and he traded barbs with the Chiefs.

“We don’t have any real girdles,” he said. “They have logos on their shirts. We can’t even afford that. We only got two of them, and our kids share those.”

Garvin also lamented the tricks they have to employ to get the players to buy in.

“We have to play dodgeball in weight training just to get them to show up,” he said.

New Athletic Director Shane Ratliff had to fill in for Starr’s Mill with Chad Phillips away at a coaching clinic.

“I’ve been on the job for four days, and Coach decided he wanted to go do a retreat today,” joked Ratliff. “He must be a little bit worried if he couldn’t be here to talk about the program.”

For all the chuckles, there was also plenty of heartfelt sentiment from the coaches.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of this passionate game. Football coaches have the greatest job,” said Belknap. “We get to educate, train, and inspire each and every young man that’s under our care.”

“Being in Fayette County is amazing. There’s so much talent in this one little area. It’s unbelievable,” said Davis. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

“Fayette County is the hidden gem of Georgia and probably the southeastern United States. There ain’t no question,” said Garvin.

“I challenge my coaches with this, and I want to challenge you,” said Holley, quoting 1 Peter. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you. Be an example to the flock.”

The other coaches nodded in agreement.

“That’s how I view coaching. We’ve been entrusted with numerous young men to influence and impact,” he said. “We have an opportunity to impact roughly 100 kids a year. We’ll impact more kids in one year than the average person will in a lifetime, and that’s a job that we take very seriously.”

The luncheon capped off just as Belknap wanted. With an overwhelming ovation, he’s bringing the Crying Towel back to McIntosh.