On Thursday, both the women’s and men’s basketball teams will play their first games in school history as they travel to East Mississippi Community College. Then on Sunday, both squads will put another page in the history books as they host Wallace State for their first home games in the program’s history.
The Lady Chargers, who will host the Berry Lady Vikings tonight in a scrimmage, will begin the festivities on Sunday as they tip it off at 2 p.m., with the men’s team following at 4 p.m.
The local community will be able to witness some history this weekend, and also get a chance to cheer on some local talent. Former Darlington standout Rachel Turrentine will suit up for the women’s team, and former Armuchee star Matt Catanzano for the men’s team.
There is another local legend that will be involved in this first basketball season — coach Andy Akin.
Akin, who stepped down as Model High boys coach after last season, has been added by men’s head coach Phil Gaffney to his coaching staff for the Chargers.
“It’s exciting,” said Akin. “I feel fortunate to able to be a small part of this.”
Gaffney is also the GHC athletic director.
“We’re thrilled to death to have Andy,” said Gaffney. “He’s a Roman through and through, and there’s no bigger name than Andy in this basketball community. He’s great guy, great coach and a great representative of Georgia Highlands with his integrity and basketball knowledge.
“He knows everybody and knows the area very well for recruiting and he also gives us some credibility,” added Gaffney. “When you’re a first-year program, people have to know you’re serious about everything you do. Obviously hiring Andy gives us instant credibility, and he’s a great basketball coach with a great basketball mind.”
Akin has spent the majority of his life in Rome. He graduated from East Rome in 1970 and was one of the key players on the state champion Gladiators team that year. Akin has coached at East Rome, and served as both the Model girls and boys coaches during different periods.
“He really adds another dimension to our coaching staff,” said Gaffney. “He relates super well to the players, which is important. He works with our big guys, but he relates well to all the kids, so we’re glad to have him.”
For Akin, finally seeing a basketball team at GHC has been a long time in the making.
“I think it’s special,” said Akin. “This has been in the works, and people have been talking about it for 40 years, and they’ve finally done it. This now gives people the opportunity they wanted to play at the next level who maybe didn’t get an offer from a school they wanted, and this is a great place to get better and noticed.
“Being apart of Rome and growing up here everybody has always wanted a program here, and I think it’s been in everybody’s mind since I can remember,” added Akin. “I’ve tried to tell the kids that they’re a part of something special here — this is the first year. I think the people in Rome are going to support and love it.”
Akin, who just retired from teaching and coaching high school, has spent the majority of his career on the high school level, but this is not his first time coaching in the college ranks. He was an assistant coach at Alabama in 1981 when the women’s team was starting up.
Akin, who played his college ball at Dalton State, has experience dealing with young college kids, who are only a year older than the kids he was teaching and coaching in high school.
“I played college ball, and I know that this is an adjustment for all these kids,” said Akin. “They were probably the best players on their teams when they were in high school, and now they’ve come here and have to mesh together and find their roles.
“It’s a new start, and it can be tough for some kids,” added Akin. “But we’ve got a bunch of good kids, and I’m enjoying this.”
Practices have been going on for weeks now, and not only are the teams excited for the season to start, but so are Gaffney and Akin.
“I think this is tremendous, and I hope a lot of people in the Rome community come out and watch it,” said Akin. “It’s going to be exciting and fun to watch.”