PREP BASKETBALL: Four local games moved to Civic Center on Jan. 7

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Forget the long lines, sweltering gyms and even being told you can't attend one of the area's many great local high school basketball games because the host facility has reached its capacity.

Prep hoops is coming back to the Albany Civic Center -- and it may just be here to stay.

Kenneth Goseer, the new Dougherty County School System's Assistant Superintendent, told The Herald on Wednesday that he's heard the numerous complaints loud and clear over the last few years about huge area marquee boys and girls games being sold out, leaving countless fans unable to attend.

So he did something about it.

In what's being billed as a trial run to gauge the type of community support the games will bring in, four big-time matchups -- Westover vs. Thomasville and Monroe vs. Dougherty boys and girls -- will be moved from the Westover and Monroe gyms to the Civic Center on Jan. 7, with action tipping off with the WHS-THS girls at 4 p.m., followed by the MHS-Dougherty girls game at 5:30 p.m., the WHS-THS boys at 7 p.m. and ending with the MHS-Dougherty boys city rivalry showdown at 8:30 p.m.

"The prior history of basketball in this town was that the Civic Center was a hub-bub for (city basketball games)," said Goseer, who remembers the good ol' days well, having coached at Monroe as an assistant under James Little for 12 years and participated in annual matchups at Albany's biggest venue many times. "By doing this, we're hoping to rekindle this spirit and involve the entire city in basketball once again, as well as drum up some attendance at the Civic Center."

The cost for the games will be one flat fee of $8 for adults and children, which Goseer sees as another benefit.

"It's four games, instead of two, and it boils down to $2 a game," he said. "Tickets are normally $5 (for just a boys and girls game at one gym), so we see it as a real bargain in these tough economic times, in addition to having games played at a great venue like the Civic Center."

The matchups are expected to draw a huge crowd, especially after last season's city rivalry showdowns -- between Monroe-Westover, Westover-Dougherty and Monroe-Dougherty -- typically saw all their gyms reach capacity shortly after doors opened, and many fans were then turned away by the fire marshal. Westover's gym is the largest in the area, but it only seats 1,150 fans. The Civic Center, meanwhile, can host as many as 10,000.

And Goseer thinks these games can fill those seats -- all of them.

"I don't want to put a figure on what we expect (attendance-wise), but we are looking for a capacity crowd," said Goseer, who added that he thought the last time a local prep basketball game was played at the Civic Center was in 2002. "(And we think that will be the case because) so far, we've had nothing but positive reviews on moving the games there. The student body is enthusiastic about it, and beyond that, I think the older crowd is, too. Those gyms are not exactly suited for baby boomers -- folks who used to go to these games all the time back in the day at the Civic Center -- and we think going back to the Civic Center will get them back out to the games."

The obvious question that remains, however, is simple: Will there be more games this season moved to the Civic Center, like Monroe vs. Westover -- easily the biggest draw last year when hoards of fans were unable to attend the standing-room-only sellouts because of the small gyms -- on Jan. 14 and Feb. 8?

Short answer, said Goseer: there's a strong possibility.

"We intend in the future to construct our schedules to bring more games to the Civic Center, including our local rivalries," he said. "At this point, we just need to see what kind of participation we have (from the first games on Jan. 7) and go from there. We haven't ruled out moving more games to the Civic Center -- even this year."

Some, however, are taking a wait-and-see approach to the move, including Dougherty County Director of Athletics, Johnny Seabrooks.

After all, two of the teams involved in the Jan. 7 matchups -- Monroe and Westover -- are giving up home games by having the contests moved to the Civic Center.

"I don't really have a comment on it at this point. You'd have to ask the coaches (who are giving up a home game) how they feel about it. It's their call. They're the ones being affected by not playing the game at home," Seabrooks said Wednesday. "We'll just have to wait and see (how it goes over)."

One of those coaches, Monroe's Cheryl Cheeks, says the reaction was mixed when they found out the news that their game against Dougherty would be taken off the Lady Tornadoes' home floor, but that no assurance was given that the same would be done when Monroe faces Dougherty on Feb. 1 for their second meeting this season -- but only this time on Dougherty's home floor, rather than at the Civic Center.

"I don't have a problem moving it to the Civic Center, but I, personally, would rather be at home because it's a rivalry game and that homecourt advantage is important," Cheeks said. "The girls were excited, but then they asked, 'Well, wait ... when we play Dougherty (later on in the season), do we still have to play them at Dougherty?' And I told them, 'Yes.' So they seemed to think that wasn't fair."

Others, like Westover principal William Chunn, like the move and says he would be all for moving Westover vs. Monroe -- or any other big game that's expected to draw a beyond-capacity crowd -- out of The Boston Garden and into the Civic Center.

"All we have to do is be asked," Chunn said. "If the new assistant superintendent asks us to move that game, we'll move that game. We want to do what's best for the system."

Goseer thinks it is. And after being hired by new superintendent Joshua Murfree just last month, he made getting the games back to where they once were held in the hey day one of his immediate goals.

"I'm not really sure why basketball games stopped being played at the Civic Center or how that relationship dwindled (after 2002)," he said. "But anyone who remembers those hot, competitive situations we once had over there, knows how exciting they were. We're just looking to bring that enthusiasm back and get everyone involved."