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Liberty teens raise funds for fallen friend
Joe Watkins tourney draws 16 teams
Levi Deese chases a ball carrier during Saturdays Joe Watkins Memorial Flag Football Tournament at the YMCA. Another organizer, Brandon Whitmore, is in the background. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon

Joe Watkins had a lot of friends. That was evident during a flag football tournament bearing his name, as 16 teams signed up and competed to help raise funds.
The tournament was held at the YMCA recreation field Saturday morning. Most of Watkins’ former Liberty County High School baseball teammates and a few additional friends donned pink to play for the Kalamazoo Conquistadors (what Watkins named his fantasy football team). They participated  to honor their friend’s memory and eventually won the first-place trophy.
Watkins died Nov. 26 from injuries he sustained in a car wreck Nov. 18 on Isle of Wight Road. Watkins, the son of Coastal Courier online editor Pat Watkins and his  wife, Jan Williams, was airlifted to Shands hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., where the teen’s mother, father,  brother Richard Watkins and a large group of friends kept a constant vigil.
During his time in the hospital, Watkins’ friends wanted to do what they could to help the family, and that’s when plans for the tournament started to take shape, family friend Lynn Whitmore said.
“When we were at Shands in Jacksonville, Levi (Deese) and Mystery (Ellert) started talking about it,” Whitmore said. “They wanted to do something because they knew there would be needs.”
Deese, Ellert, Brandon Whitmore, Trey Sikes, Cameron Harris, Javaughn Shuman and Austin Schultz took the idea and ran with it, Lynn Whitmore said.
“The teenagers put this together,” she said. “They got the teams together and did most of the organizing. Kathy Sikes has done a lot with the food and organized it and I kind of helped where I could, but the teenagers deserve the credit for this.”
The Joe Watkins Memorial Flag Football Tournament raised funds that the Watkins family can use to help pay medical bills associated with Watkins’ weeklong stay in the hospital. It also will allow the family to set up a scholarship fund in his name.
Watkins was a star baseball player at Liberty County High School and had earned a baseball scholarship to Georgia Southern. He was in his freshman year at GSU when the wreck occurred.
“We were thinking of a way to raise money for Joe’s family, and we were thinking of the favorite things that Joe liked to do. It is pretty hard to put together a baseball tournament. His second-favorite sport is football. We can’t really do tackle … so we picked flag football,” said Deese, who knew Watkins for eight years.
“I was talking with Jan (Williams) and we were thinking of doing this every December, when all the guys come back from school and college, and keep a scholarship fund going in Joe’s name,” Lynn Whitmore said.
Teams comprised of Watkins’ former teammates came out, along with some who played against him.
There were teams from Division 1 Sports in Savannah and teams from Richmond Hill. Former Panthers baseball player Chris Arnold, who played with Watkins in high school, brought a team comprised of his Savannah State baseball teammates.
Former Panther teammate and friend Cody French organized a team after coming home from Valdosta State University. The Panthers’ football team had a few players form a squad, and players from Savannah Christian’s state-champion football team even came out to participate.
In all, more than 100 people came to play or watch and enjoy grilled burgers and camaraderie.
“It was a shock. When you lose somebody that you don’t think will be going away for a long time, you never expect that,” Deese said. “A lot of people have donated money, even if they were not playing, but the registration fees alone will raise more than $1,000.”

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