It's official: Monroe vs. Westover hoops moved to Civic Center

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

ALBANY -- Read these words slowly, because you have rarely seen or heard this statement in recent years whenever Westover and Monroe meet on the basketball court: Plenty of seats available.

That's right, it's done.

Westover and Monroe, the two biggest basketball rivals in Albany, will meet at the Albany Civic Center on Jan. 14 in a game that should attract thousands.

The minute the school system decided to put area prep games back in the Civic Center, where a doubleheader will be played Friday featuring Monroe vs. Dougherty and Westover vs. Thomasville, the immediate question was asked: What about Westover and Monroe?

The answer came Wednesday when Dougherty County School Superintendent Joshua Murfree told The Herald that the Jan. 14 game that was originally scheduled to be played at Monroe will be played in the Civic Center, which seats 10,000.

"We want to get the whole community involved and get people in all parts of our city to come out and see some good games at a venue that can hold big crowds,'' Murfree said. "In the past (few years when the games have been at each teams' home gyms), a lot of people have missed the games because the gyms get filled up and we have to follow the fire marshal's rules (when the gyms reach capacity).

"We don't want to limit the opportunity for anyone to see these games -- and by moving them to the Civic Center, it's a great opportunity for more folks to come out and see our wonderful student-athletes play."

Fans aren't the only ones who've been shut out.

"There have been scouts who have come to see our players play that haven't been able to get into the games in the past, and holding the games in this arena will make sure no one misses any of the action,'' Murfree said. "And this gives our players a chance to showcase, if you will, their talents for the entire public to see. The students, the coaches and the administrators are all very excited about it and it was the right thing to do (to accommodate) the big crowds who want to see these games, but haven't been able to in the past."

Everyone involved expects a big crowd for Friday's doubleheader and an event bigger crowd for the Monroe-Westover game.

"It's great for the fans,'' Westover boys coach Dallis Smith said. "When we play each other, half the people who want to see the game can't see it. They can't get in. They get turned away.''

Anyone who has ever attended a Monroe-Westover basketball game knows the feeling. The term "standing-room-only" doesn't quite do it justice as fans are stacked everywhere.

"They're hanging from the rafters,'' Smith has often said of the packed gyms for those games.

The idea to return to the glory days of high school basketball in the Goodlife City and put games back in the Civic Center emerged last month, and this week's doubleheader will be a gauge to see if there is enough interest in area prep basketball to make the Civic Center a viable venue.

"I'm fine with it,'' Dougherty County Director of Athletics Johnny Seabrooks said Wednesday. "Whatever is best for the system is what I want to do. My biggest thought is for the students and a coaches, and to make budget. If people show up and we make budget, then it's great. If we go into the hole, that's different.''

Seabrooks hopes fans flock to the Civic Center the way they did years ago.

"I hope we generate the revenue we get in the gyms for these games,'' he said. "We have overhead at the Civic Center. The reason we left the Civic Center was because of the rent.''

Seabrooks simply doesn't know what the cost factor will be because there is much more overhead at the Civic Center than at high school gyms, where the only cost is for officials and the schools get the revenue from concessions, as well as ticket sales.

"I can't say what it will be right now, but (after Friday's games at the Civic Center) then I can assess where we are,'' Seabrooks said.

He knows that many games played throughout the season don't bring big crowds, and that schools and athletic programs depend on the big rivalry games such as Monroe and Westover to carry them.

"Unless it's a rivalry game, attendance is very low among students and adults for games,'' Seabrooks said. "You get a chance to make that up with the rivalry games. This isn't a Dougherty County thing. Attendance is down all over the country.''

Still, Seabrooks is all for having games in the Civic Center if they can draw large crowds.

"If attendance is great and we are financially sound and we take care of the overhead, then it's the greatest thing since sliced bread,'' Seabrooks said.

Monroe and Westover are scheduled to play twice in the regular season, and Monroe will be giving up a home game, which brings the next question: Where will Game 2 be played?

"The only way to make it fair is to play both games in the Civic Center,'' said Smith, whose team is scheduled to host to Monroe on Feb. 8. "It wouldn't be right for Monroe to give up a home game and for us to play them (in our gym).''

Monroe girls coach Cheryl Cheeks brought up the same point when she heard her game against Dougherty would be at the Civic Center instead of at Monroe. Cheeks said her players wanted to know if the rematch against Dougherty would be at Dougherty, and they didn't feel that would be fair if it wasn't.

Monroe is now losing two home-court advantages, because both the rematch against Dougherty and against Westover are away games for the Tornadoes.

That problem might be solved soon, Murfree said.

"(As far as the rematches between Monroe-Dougherty and Westover-Monroe), we're looking into that to make sure the playing field is even,'' Murfree said. "We should have an announcement on whether we will soon. But right now, we're just focusing on what should be four wonderful games Friday night (and two more next Friday night)."

There is one more factor in the equation.

Monroe, Westover and Dougherty all play in Region 1-AAA, and the region tournament will be awarded to the school with the best record in boys basketball this year. The best record in girls decided the host site for the region tournament last year.

There was talk last year of possibly moving the Region 1-AAA title game from Westover, which hosted because the Lady Patriots had the best record in the region, to Darton College's gym so more fans could see the rubber match between Monroe and Westover's boys, who were both ranked in the Top 10 in the state after splitting two regular-season games in front of packed houses last year.

There is time to start thinking about moving this year's title game to the Civic Center, but a lot will depend on the kind of crowds that show up for Friday's doubleheader and the Monroe-Westover showdown Jan. 14.

"Any time Monroe and Westover play there, it's a big game with a lot of interest,'' Smith said. "Moving the game to the Civic Center is a great idea because of the fans and the players. It's exciting to think we're playing Monroe in the Civic Center.''