The veteran Central High School basketball coach — who now leads the girls’ program — recalls the 1986 tournament, in particular, where both the Lions and Villa Rica were fresh off state championships on the gridiron. LeBlanc ultimately remembers the camaraderie that was shared between the local communities and schools during that special time in Carroll County.
“So the tournament’s backed up a day or two and you just have the communities, you have coaching staffs from all sports just hanging out together for all these basketball games and it was a festive event,” LeBlanc said. “It was actually something you associated with the Christmas holiday. It wasn’t Christmas until the Christmas tournament happened. Then after the Christmas tournament, everybody went home and enjoyed things with their family. So it was a part of your Christmas celebration.”
And for the first time since the 1993-94 season, the five county schools and a handful of other neighboring programs will take part in the West Georgia Holiday Classic, which begins today and runs through Saturday, with all games on the final day being held at The Coliseum on the University of West Georgia campus.
Competition on the first two days will be held at Bowdon and Central high schools, where Bowdon, Mt. Zion, Villa Rica, Central, Temple, Bremen, Paulding County and Handley (Ala.) are representing the eight-team field for the boys, while the five county schools will be joined by Bremen, Rockmart and Paulding County on the girls’ side.
Mt. Zion High School girls’ basketball coach Bill Bailey has experienced the holiday hoops environment as both a player and coach through the years, and he’s glad to see it finally come back this season.
“I think it’s good for the community. It gives the people of Carroll County the chance to come home and see their teams play. If you’re a big basketball fan, you can come to West Georgia on Saturday and watch high school basketball games from 10 in the morning until late that night,” Bailey said. “It’s just a big event. I played in it in high school and I’ve coached in it, and it’s just a great atmosphere for the kids. I think it’s something that they can remember and be a part of. Hopefully, if we keep it going, they can come back during the holidays and they can come back and watch and still be a part of it.”
Jason Robinson spent several holidays during his childhood as a spectator in the stands at the annual tournament and is looking forward to being on the sidelines over the next three days leading the VR boys against some local foes.
“It’s something that’s been talked about for four or five years. We just couldn’t ever get it agreed upon with a venue and just exactly how we were going to put it together and run the tournament. But we finally got all the coaches together. I think everybody agreed that part of it, economically, is was just smart for us to keep the tournament local instead of everybody having to travel and all,” Robinson said.
“For the most part, I think it’s a really big thing for our community. We were able to bring the communities back in and they’ve been a huge part of the tournament setting again.”
The Classic, which is being sponsored by System and Methods, Inc., along with several other local businesses, should also feature a competitive field in both brackets. With region play right around the corner for most of the teams, the next three days will serve as a last chance to iron out any wrinkles to their game.
“It’s an opportunity to get three games in before the real season starts in January and you start playing your region schedule. You can kind of fine-tune up and there’s going to be some good competition there, so you’re going to definitely get tested,” Bailey said.
And though the Villa Rica squads have already started region play, Robinson thinks the Classic will be a good-natured break while still serving up some healthy competition.
“I think it’s bigger for the fans more than the coaches and the players. We see each other over the summer, so it’s not like we never see those guys. But as far as just the community itself, I think it’s really good for them to get out and see how their school and their alma mater matches up with the other local schools,” Robinson said.
Of course, getting to play at West Georgia on the final day is a nice reward for the players and fans alike in what should be a tremendous atmosphere to ring in the holiday.
“I think it’s a big plus for the community and West Georgia. It’s an opportunity for them to showcase that facility out there and I’m sure it’s a great opportunity anytime you get a high school kid to go out and play on a college court. The majority of our kids won’t go on to play college basketball, any way, so it’s a great opportunity for them to get to play in that arena,” Bailey said.
And after all these years, LeBlanc is just happy to see the tournament back on full display.
“The local flavor to it really is an exciting thing. We’ve had so many people that have talked about how much they missed a tournament with a lot of local teams in it together and whatnot, so that’s pretty exciting,” LeBlanc said. “And then, of course, the arrangements for Saturday to be able to play that whole day of games on West Georgia’s campus and in The Coliseum at that venue is going to be pretty exciting, too.”