This year’s tournament will take place Dec. 17-21 at Georgia Highlands College and Berry College.
Andy Akin, who played in the tournament while a student at East Rome High, coached several schools in the tournament and will have twin daughters Karlee and Kaylee Akin on the hardwood this fall, reminisced about the oldest basketball tournament in Georgia with members of the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club on Tuesday afternoon.
Akin remembered the pain of a loss to Pepperell in the 1969 championship game during his senior year at East Rome, along with the highs of his first two back-to-back championships while coaching at East Rome. Last year, one of his daughters, Karlee Akin, was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
“These Gold Balls right here are the most special trophy of any trophy I think I’ve ever been part of,” Akin said. “From my childhood, that is what I wanted right there, that gold ball. When I was coaching I had two goals, to make it to the state tournament and to win the Gold Ball.”
Akin said he still feels a little deprived by not winning the Gold Ball as a senior in high school even though East Rome went on to win the state tournament that year.
Akin said playing in old Memorial Gymnasium was like a cathedral to ball players and coaches decades ago.
“People would just be hanging off the rafters,” Akin said. “I can kind of get that feeling right now. It’s just a very special tournament.”
Last year’s winning coaches, Sally Echols from Model and Mike Tobin from Woodland, who is now the head coach at Cartersville High, each commented about how special winning the Christmas tournament is.
“It creates a different atmosphere,” Echols said. “You see teams that you see a lot, but it’s in a more competitive atmosphere.”
When asked what winning the tournament means to her, she cracked a wry smile and said, “it’s kind of a big deal,” then said, with a more serious tone, “it’s an honor.”
Tobin suggested that winning the Rome News-Tribune/Seven Hills Rotary Club tournament is a bigger deal than the state tournaments.
“Just because of the atmosphere, the fans. The first round of the state tournament we might play in front of 500 people,” Tobin said. “We come to this tournament and the gym is packed. The kids love it (and) I appreciate all the work Rome does for this tournament.”
All of the proceeds from ticket sales are returned to the participating schools through a formula based on games played. The Seven Hills Rotary Club sold corporate sponsorships for the tournament that it will return to the community through its numerous outreach programs.