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Davis: Gainesville-East Hall rivalry has lost something

POSTED: January 10, 2010 11:18 p.m.
It’s strange to think that one of life’s consistencies is change.

My parents were both born and raised in Commerce and have vivid memories of what the town was like when they were growing up.

It never failed and happened almost on cue when my parents, my sisters and I would reach the edge of Commerce, travelling in to see family. My mother and father would start the “this-used-to-be-here” game.

A story always accompanied the remembrance, whether it was tales of backyard basketball games at a house that no longer stood or funny happenings while having a coke at the dime store that was torn down and replaced by a beauty salon.

I remember thinking while listening that I would never be old enough to relish in the used to be, but also that Gainesville — my hometown — would always be exactly like it was.

It didn’t occur to me that my friends would all eventually move out of their parents’ houses — some of which have been torn down — or that the places we deemed cool and necessary in high school, might not be to those who came after and thus go away.
It didn’t occur to me that growth was inevitable and that change was one of life’s consistencies.

Now when I drive through Gainesville, I think to myself the things my parents said aloud when we’d reach the edge of Commerce, “this used to be here.” And then I think of an accompanying story.

One of those moments occurred Tuesday night at East Hall when the Vikings were playing Gainesville. Growing up, the East Hall-Gainesville rivalry was big. It became huge when I got to high school.

Part of that was due to the fact that the Gainesville girls had caught up, so to speak, and now an intense and competitive girls’ rivalry accompanied the already heated boys’ rivalry.

More than that, however, it was huge because of the sheer athleticism and talent that was on display when the boys teams hit the hardwood.

Every game was standing room only and the place to be. Every crowd was deafening and intent on willing their team to a win. Every player was ready to showcase and every made basket was critical.

Matt and Mark Causey, Brent Benson, Antoine Welchel, Jacob Wilmont, Chezley Watson, Kris Nordholz; these among others sent Hall County, not to mention their own schools, into a frenzy when they took the court against each other.

The Gainesville student section was at its best when Big Red played the mighty Vikings.

It’s cliché and said too often when not meant, but a win against Gainesville or a win against East Hall made the others’ season. It was North Carolina-Duke, Georgia-Georgia Tech, neighbors playing neighbors and, at times, family playing family.

An image seared into my mind, and one that still gives me chills, is our bus — I played basketball for Gainesville — driving down old Cornelia Highway at dusk. The focus on said bus was palpable. Nobody spoke.

We took that right onto East Hall Road and that’s where the cars started. They were parked up and down East Hall Road because the school’s parking lot was already filled, and this was at halftime of the boys’ junior varsity game.

It was already standing room only because the East Hall-Gainesville rivalry was huge.

What happened?

There were people at the game Tuesday night, but they were indifferent. The North Hall players and coaches there to scout outnumbered the Gainesville student section.

There were cheers, but not hearty ones.

People started filing in midway through the girls game and were filing out before the boys game ended.

Do they play each other too much now? Is that it?

Has being in the same region led to overkill? If so, problem solved because East Hall isn’t just moving to another region, but another classification beginning next school year.

But what if that isn’t it?

Have the East Hall boys dominated for so long and made it so uninteresting that the word rivalry no longer fits and, therefore, the feeling of a rivalry no longer exists?

If that’s the case, then explain the intensity with which the Gainesville and East Hall boys played. The game was back and forth, down to the wire, just like the games have always been.

Charles and Dre Perry were money down the stretch for East Hall, and Gainesville’s A.J. Johnson…wow. His one-handed dunk brought what little of the house there was down. Other than that, however, nobody much seemed to care about Tuesday’s Gainesville-East Hall game.

Change is one of life’s consistencies, but it never occurred to me that particular change would come.

Katie B. Davis is a sports writer for The Times. Contact her at kdavis@gainesvilletimes.com.


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