After years of complaints about the Macon Coliseum came to a head in March, the Georgia High School Association has decided to part with tradition and move the boys and girls basketball championship games out of Macon.
Following widespread criticism about misplaced baskets at the coliseum during this year’s state finals, the GHSA has awarded hosting rights for the 2017 championship games to Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum and Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, according to a statement Thursday from the GHSA.
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The move ends a long history of basketball championship play in Macon. At least one championship game a year has been played in Macon from the 1940s on, first at the City Auditorium and later at the Macon Coliseum.
Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore said Thursday that local officials were in touch with the GHSA earlier this week.
Mayor Robert Reichert spoke with representatives from the Thomaston-based high school sports governing body after hearing that the group might move its March hoops tournament elsewhere, Floore said.
As Floore recalled it, the mayor told them, “We are sorry to see you go.”
The city made the GHSA aware that plans were in the works to bring in new coliseum management.
“And we wanted them to hear from us directly that we want them back,” Floore said. “It’s more now ... what do we need to do to get them back?”
The arena’s new management, Philadelphia-based Spectra, has been in touch with the GHSA to find out what exactly went wrong and what can be done to improve.
“They’ve been talking the past week to learn more about it,” Floore said. “And hopefully we can bring them back in the next couple of years. ... Hopefully they’ll come back.”
Roland Biron, director of sales and marketing for the coliseum, could not be reached for comment. Georgia Tech issued a email saying the university is not allowed to comment because of NCAA compliance rules.
Next year, Stegeman Coliseum will host games March 8-9, while McCamish Pavilion will host games March 10-11. Specific game times for each classification were not announced, but the news release said games would begin at 2 p.m. each day, two hours earlier than the weekday sessions at the Macon Coliseum.
“The University of Georgia and Georgia Tech have two of the premier basketball complexes in the state,” GHSA Executive Director Gary Phillips said in the release. “Both schools worked tirelessly with the GHSA to devise a schedule that eliminates any conflict between the state championship games and the Bulldogs’ and Yellow Jackets’ own use of these marvelous facilities. The primary goal of the GHSA is to promote the best interests of Georgia’s high school student-athletes, and we are thrilled at the experience these venues will offer to the teams, their schools and their fans.”
Georgia Tech has hosted basketball championship games on numerous occasions, splitting duties with Macon. The university last hosted championship games in 2003.
Stegeman Coliseum will be hosting the GHSA finals for the first time.
The departure of the GHSA basketball finals delivers another blow to Macon’s sports image. The move comes 14 years after Macon saw its minor-league baseball team, the Braves, depart the 1920s-era Luther Williams Field for a new stadium in Rome. The city also saw minor-league hockey and indoor football teams depart within the past decade and a half, although hockey returned last fall when the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Macon Mayhem took the ice.
As with the Braves’ departure, facility issues played a leading role in the GHSA basketball finals’ departure.
The Macon Coliseum, built in 1968, has been the subject of numerous complaints in recent years during the state finals, from parking to concessions to restrooms. Cellphones largely do not work in the arena, and coliseum management had not made public Wi-Fi available.
During this year’s championship games, officials eventually discovered that the baskets were set up incorrectly. They were a foot deeper than they should have been, making a 15-foot foul shot a 16-foot shot. GHSA officials chose not to adjust the baskets once the problem was pointed out.
“I don’t think that the GHSA really had much of a choice with the goal mishap,” Westside head coach Josh Grube said. “I really hate to see it move out of Macon. It was a good central location.”
Putnam County girls basketball coach Jerusha Hudson was disappointed to see the championships leave, as well.
“It’s going to affect us just in terms of convenience,” Hudson said. “I’m one of those people who feel like it could have stayed.”
One school affected by the departure is Wilkinson County. The Warriors won eight boys basketball championships, all at the Macon Coliseum.
“The kids take a lot of pride in going to the Coliseum,” Wilkinson County head coach Aaron Geter said. “Our supporters will follow them wherever they go. Macon is a lot easier since they don’t have to take the day off work, but they will follow them.
“The GHSA makes good decisions, and we’ll make the adjustments. But I hope at some point they get things worked out and bring it back to Macon.”
The economic impact of the tournament’s departure could be difficult to quantify. In recent years the GHSA has moved to holding championship games only in Macon, spreading semifinal games around the state. Because of that, not every team playing in Macon spends the night in the city.
According to Robin North, the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s vice president of sales and services, the GHSA basketball finals did not contract many hotel rooms in Macon and was not an event that the bureau handled.
North wrote in an email that the GHSA team wrestling duals, held in January at the coliseum, had an economic impact of more than $400,000. She added that the 2015 individual wrestling finals, also held at the Coliseum, had an economic impact of more than $600,000. Both events are three-day competitions in which student athletes took part on multiple days.
Calls to Phillips, the GHSA’s executive director, for additional comments regarding the tournament’s move from Macon were not returned.
Telegraph staff writers Joe Kovac Jr., Justin Baxley and Avery Braxton contributed to this report.