George Belskey is a fixture on the Largo High School football team's sideline when the Packers play at home. Wherever the football goes, he's goes. Even at age 70 and after two knee replacement surgeries, Belskey still is there helping mark the football's movement and keeping track of downs as part of the game's chain crew. It's been that way Friday nights at Largo's home stadium for 27 years. "Being there and part of the action of the game and taking the whole thing in is a man's dream," Belskey said of working on the chain crew. "Just being a part of the game is a thrill to me."
Belskey loves football and has been a part of the game and Largo High School in some capacity for years. All four of his children, the oldest 42 and the youngest 29, graduated from Largo High.
His son ran track and cross country. Two of his daughters were captains of the cheerleader squad and his youngest daughter was on the swim team.
In 1973, Belskey, who lives on the last street in southern Clearwater before it turns to the city of Largo, became active in the school's booster club. He was president of the club for about 10 years.
In 1975, he began working on the chain crew, which is all volunteer.
"I don't think I'd take any money," Belskey said. "It's an honor. You get to see a good football game and you are right there on the sideline. You are not in the game, but you are a part of the game."
From 1977 to 1989, Belskey coached youth football for the Largo Junior Packers. From 1990 to 2006, he coached football with the Clearwater for Youth. He sees many of the same athletes on Friday nights playing for Largo and Clearwater high schools.
"I've always wanted to help with the youth," Belskey said. "I want to help them have a better life."
Belskey retired after 25 years as a food salesman in Florida. He took early retirement at 62 and worked part time at an auto dealership for four years.
He has been a member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, which is right across the street from Largo High, since 1972. Belskey spends a lot of his time now working at the church.
He does all the shopping and cooking for the church's Wednesday supper. He coordinated the men's prayer breakfast and handles coffee hour between Sunday services. He also has been singing bass in the choir since 1974.
"We have a great choir," he said.
Belskey, who has five grandchildren, has been married to Faye, 64, for 43 years. She approves of his Friday night gig.
"She knows where I'm at," he chuckled.
The chain crew's value is often unnoticed.
"It's crucial to the flow of the game," said Ed Bates, president of the Sunshine Football Officials Association, which provides officials for 35 schools mostly in Pinellas County. "With a good crew, the head linesman can concentrate on what's on the field.
"Sometimes, when you get younger kids or a new school, you have people who move the chains before it's time and you have to reconstruct the origination of the play."
Belskey agrees that "a good chain crew is hard to find."
"Not many schools have a chain crew that's been together for any amount of time," he said. "A good crew helps the game's flow and the officials really appreciate it. They can rely on you and they don't have to go over a lot of the ground rules every week."
While Belskey enjoys the game while standing just beyond the gridiron, it's having the opportunity to work with his son that makes Friday nights extra special. He's trained his son, Michael Belskey, and his friends — Jack Callahan, Dan Melzer and Jeff Schoen — to handle the chains.
They have been working with him for about five years.
"It's really neat to work with my son," Belskey said. "He loves the game and we enjoy football."
Michael Belskey, 38, said it's a good experience.
"He knows a lot of people and everyone always comes and talks to him about football," Michael said. "It's just a great feeling for him. We spend a lot of time together, but this is a little extra bonus. He can't get up and down the field like he used to, but he still enjoys the game from the sideline."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com.