A new basketball season is on the horizon in southwest Georgia, and there is a new place in Albany at Monroe High School for students and the community to appreciate.

The Monroe Tornadoes will host Terrell County on Saturday in a scrimmage in a brand new gymnasium at the campus on Lippitt Drive.

The gym will be dedicated Saturday night during the scrimmage game to honor legendary coach Lewis E. Smith, who coached at Monroe for more than 30 years. The ceremony will take place in the break between the girls’ game and the boys’ game.

“This is not just about the basketball team this year,” Monroe Principal Vinson Davis said.

“This is about the entire Monroe community and the city of Albany. This is much bigger than just a basketball game. We have such a strong alumni community at Monroe with great support. I expect this gym will be used widely in the community.”

While parts of the construction taking place at Monroe are still underway, the gymnasium was completed last spring, and students have been able to use it for physical education classes since the end of last school year.

The gymnasium building contains two gyms where competitions can take place simultaneously. The larger gymnasium will host basketball games and major events, but the smaller gym can be used for other purposes such as wrestling, cheer competitions, JV games and more.

“This facility will allow more of our students to practice or compete at the same time instead of having to wait or move wrestling mats, and it has A/C” Monroe Principal Vinson Davis said. “This is a once-in-a-career-type opportunity for those at Monroe to be able to open a new gymnasium like this.”

The old gym at Monroe hosted games for more than 60 years, but the new facility more than doubles seating capacity to 1,700.

It has special locker rooms for the varsity teams, special seating for the Fastbreak Club, training rooms and more.

The Fastbreak Club is reserved seating with nice chairs near centercourt for fans to watch the game. There are 169 seats, but some have already been reserved for the upcoming basketball season. Monroe fans who want the special seating should call (229) 431-3316 to reserve their seats before the season opens.

Saturday’s events will begin at 9 a.m. with games between local elementary schools — Alice Coachmen, Morningside, West Town and Martin Luther King. There will also be an intrasquad game between the Blue and White teams of Radium Springs Middle School. “We are hoping this will be an annual classic here at Monroe,” Davis said. “We want to do this for this great Monroe community.”

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