As brought out in his Thursday column, Sports Editor Daniel Shirley thought the Grand High Poobahs at the Georgia High School Association, the organization responsible for oversight of high school athletics for most public and private schools in the state, would move its basketball state championships from Macon to another arena. Macon will get the blame and there will be some locals who will agree with that perception. That thought was confirmed late Thursday afternoon by the GHSA in a media release that stated: “The Georgia High School Association, in conjunction with the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, today announces that agreements have been reached allowing the two schools to share the hosting of the 16 championship games of the 2017 GHSA state basketball tournament. These March 2017 games will mark the return of the basketball finals to Georgia Tech for the first time since 2003 and will be the first ever for the University of Georgia.”
UGA's Stegeman Coliseum will host eight championship games on March 8 and March 9, 2017 and Tech's McCamish Pavilion will have the March 10 and March 11, games.
We knew this deal was in the works and Macon deserves some of the blame. The coliseum is an old facility that first opened in 1968, but Stegeman is four years older. McCamish Pavilion won’t celebrate its fourth birthday until November.
Our coliseum has seen everything from ice hockey — by several different home teams — including the Macon Whoopee to Arena Football. It has also witnessed some of the greatest high school basketball games ever played. Battles between Southwest, Northeast and Central are legendary. Any team that wanted to be a state champion for a period of more than two decades knew it had to come through Macon and its stable of top-notch coaches, Don Richardson, Walter Johnson and Randy Brown — and the Macon Coliseum’s home fan base.
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Now as the building approaches its 50th birthday, the world has changed. Cell coverage inside the facility’s concrete infrastructure is spotty at best. Wireless connections for the media? Forgetabouit. Cleanliness? Certainly not the best. And parking. Whoever made the decision to charge team buses for parking during the basketball state championship didn’t have their head on straight. And finally, the last straw, the placement of the basketball goals a foot farther back on each end of the court — and even when the GHSA officials were made aware of the problem, they decided not to fix it.
Here’s the real issue: These are football guys. We would bet if the goal posts were a foot farther back than regulation during a state championship football game, it would be stopped until the posts were properly placed. If the field were lined incorrectly, the field judge would have noticed and officials would have informed the coaches. But no, not for basketball. That blame sits with the GHSA. People paid good money ($10) to park and $14 to enter only to see a nonregulation state championship. That’s embarrassing.
A new operator for the coliseum was already being sought when the championship debacle was underway, but who is going to hold the GHSA accountable? Maybe they should get a flag thrown they can understand? How about blocking Macon illegally below the knees?
We applaud Georgia Tech and UGA for stepping up and hosting the state championships. It will give both universities a chance to see how much basketball talent there is in the state. Despite the improperly placed baskets, that talent was on display during the 2016 state championship games, but it could have been so much better.
Macon, though, remains the geographic center of the state. The Flag City is equally accessible from all directions, most by interstate highway. All that said, we wish the teams much success. Maybe this is the push we needed to get our act together. This is not the first time that the championships have moved from the coliseum and we hope it’s not the last time they return.