GAINESVILLE – You didn’t need to be a Georgia Bulldog fan to enjoy the 15th annual Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier “Future for Kids” gala at the Gainesville Civic Center Monday evening, but being one sure did make things more festive.
That’s because Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart was the event’s keynote speaker; and if you’re shocked when the majority of 440 well-dressed adults in a semi-formal setting start barking in unison as a football coach is summoned to the stage, you don’t know much about our area.
“When I got asked to do this event, the first thing I asked was, ‘When?’” Smart said with his voice noticeably raspy.
Smart said when he was told it was during the team’s bye week, he gladly accepted, but later began to have second thoughts. “I thought, ‘Okay, so we could be anywhere from 7-0 to 0-7.’”
Referring to his team’s performance against Missouri two days previous, Smart said jokingly, “Somewhere along the first quarter the other night, after that second 70-yard touchdown pass (against Georgia’s defense), I started to text and see if I could cancel, because I wasn’t sure I could stand before you if we didn’t play the way we were capable of.”
“There were some anxious moments the other night; you can probably tell that from the tone of my voice that I have left.”
On a more serious note, Smart said Boys & Girls Clubs are special to him. “I think a lot of the Boys & Girls Club organization.”
He said before leaving Athens earlier in the day he asked his players if any of them were involved in Boys & Girls Clubs. “I told them after practice that if any of you were a part of Boys & Girls Clubs growing up would you mind staying, because I wanted to talk to them, talk about some of their experiences.”
“We had three guys that ended up staying…Deandre Baker, who is one of our starting corners…said every day all he ever wanted to do growing up is go to the Boys & Girls Club.”
“The worse thing was they made me do all my school work before I could go out and play,” Baker told Smart.
Smart said Baker shared, “It’s the only reason I am here today…people gave their time to me.”
Smart said Baker told him, “I really hope you’ll go to Gainesville and tell them how much it meant to me.”
Smart did just as Baker asked, and before returning to Athens the Bulldogs coach left something behind at the banquet.
Event chairman Phil Bonelli said moments after Smart exited the ballroom, “Coach Smart donated $5000 to our club before leaving.”
Across the room people could be seen reaching for the donation envelopes at the center of the table.
Among those receiving awards at the banquet:
Jayla Thompson, Youth of the Year (third consecutive YOTY award)
Alumni Hall Of Fame Award: Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, David Chester, Jasmine Clark, Phillip Sartain, Philip Wilheit and Jerome Yarbrough