Jamaal Garman has been here before, sort of.
Two years ago, the Warner Robins boys team was set to host power Miller Grove in a GHSA Class 5A quarterfinal game.
Back then, the GHSA rule was that a host facility in that classification had to have a seating capacity of 1,200 for a quarterfinal game. Visiting teams could waive that requirement, but Miller Grove, with a traveling fan base, chose to invoke it, so the game was played at Veterans.
Everything went well for Warner Robins, which knocked off the perennial state finalist 63-57 in overtime before about two-and-a-half times as many people as a typical capacity crowd for a normal Demons home game.
The GHSA changed the rule, and now the minimum is in place for all rounds of the playoffs but can still be waived by the visiting team.
And the boys and girls teams at Warner Robins and Northside have home first-round playoff games this week, as do the Veterans boys, who finished second to Warner Robins in the Region 1-5A tournament.
Five teams, one gym in the county legitimately big enough to host.
The GHSA’s executive committee approved minimums in August for the entire playoffs: 1,200 for Classes 7A, 6A and 5A, 1,000 for 4A, 700 for 3A and 2A and 500 for Class 1A.
As it is, the teams from Warner Robins and Northside will have no trouble hosting the first-round games. The records of the four visiting teams are 6-20, 10-17, 12-14 and 11-16, meaning it’s doubtful any will invoke the rule because of a large traveling crowd. The shortest drive belongs to Griffin’s boys, who visit Warner Robins.
Both Warner Robins teams and the Northside girls are assured of second-round home games if they win, and odds are against any of the three facing the need for a bigger arena. Kell’s boys, the second-place team from Region 7-5A, are 21-7 and would travel to Warner Robins if it beats Southwest DeKalb. Kell lost 66-42 to Southwest DeKalb in last year’s first round, but the Longhorns, located in Marietta, are having their best season in more than a decade.
The boys from Northside and Veterans are both just under .500, and both would need a break, and a win from an underdog, to host in the second round.
Garman will only look ahead when asked to and sees a potential third-round matchup that would probably lead to a rerun of two years ago.
“The third round would be Buford and whoever they’re playing,” Garman said. “The third round would be a big one. If (Buford’s Wolves) lose the coin toss, I’m sure they’d want to move that game, because they travel with a crowd.
“We just focusing on Griffin right now.”
Buford is 24-2, and first-round opponent Lithia Springs is 15-11. Union Grove (21-7) and New Hampstead (17-8) are on the Buford side of the bracket.
The Warner Robins-Miller Grove game was a statewide marquee game that more than lived up to the bigger stage, and facility, drawing in fans from throughout the county and Middle Georgia, as would a home game against Buford.
High school courts are at least 84 feet long, with bleachers often extending several feet past the baseline several feet. With bleachers that go about 100 feet, using the GHSA’s measurement of 24 inches per seat, that comes to about 42 people per row, not counting space for aisles. So a facility would need at least 15 rows to qualify.
Warner Robins seats roughly 900, with Northside and Houston County between 950 and 1,000.
There is hope on the horizon, with new gyms at Warner Robins and Northside — as well as Houston County and Perry — on the county’s agenda with funding coming from the 2017-2022 SPLOST.
Board of education director of facilities Scott Hill said a request for quotation was put out and 11 firms responded. The list will be shortened and the interview process will begin for designs.
Among the details to be officially determined is the order of the projects, but Hill said he expects work to begin this summer.
Warner Robins’ new gym is tentatively set for the Rumble campus next door and Northside’s on the Tabor Academy side of that campus. Houston County’s would be in a plot of land next to the soccer and baseball fields, while land has been purchased between the football stadium parking lot at Perry and Macon Road to house the Panthers’ gym.
Multi-purpose facilities are also part of the plans as the system hopes to alleviate the general traffic — outside of potentially big playoff games — at schools.
With boys and girls varsity and junior varsity and a freshman team needing to practice, not to mention an outdoor sports team needing to work out inside because of weather, as well as wrestling and cheerleading among other activities, gyms get worn out and the day grows into a fairly late night.
“It’s not going to be a (physical education) gym,” Hill said. “It’ll be a gym that houses events.
“You don’t want these kids there until 9 o’clock at night, too. School starts at 7:30, 7:45, and they’re there until that late at night.”