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A dynasty is born
Marquez Jackson dribbles up the floor during the Vikings 2005 championship game. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times


Former Vikings coach Seth Vining talks about coaching at East Hall and the program's future under coach Joe Dix.

A timeout is called, and before the referee is done blowing his whistle the crowd rises to chant in unison, “East Hall,” clapping between the two words.

The Vikings are on a 20-2 run, and the other team simply needs to catch its breath.
Children sitting on the front row, and dressed in East Hall uniforms, run around waving their arms as the cheer reaches a crescendo.

Parents and grandparents who played for, or coached at East Hall, are watching their offspring and call the name of the school with fervor.

Chill bumps rise on the arms of opposing fans who hate the chant, which reaches its climax just as East Hall walks back onto the floor.

It’s a battle cry that haunts the mind or fills the heart.

The words bouncing off the walls of Valhalla are encouraging, intimidating and a reminder of who they’ve been, who they are and who they’ll be: One of the most dominant basketball programs in the state.

From the get-go

For prominent athletic teams there’s a natural order of things.

They come into existence, are built upon, and then thrive.

For instance, it took the Duke University men’s basketball program 86 years to win its first national title, and the University of Tennessee women didn’t win a conference championship for 11 years after the program’s inception.

There are exceptions to the natural order of things, however, and the East Hall boys basketball program is one. The East Hall boys program came into existence and immediately thrived.

In their first year of existence, the East Hall boys led by Dub Jones went 26-4 and won the school’s first region title. That 1957 team lost to eventual state champion Jeff Davis in the state semifinals.

It has sustained a state powerhouse level of success by pulling from Lula, Rabbittown and the surrounding rural areas.

From Eddie Waldrep to Steve Cronic, Chezley Watson to Frank Davis, East Hall has won and done so consistently.

East Hall High opened its doors in 1957. Encompassing the student body were teenagers from Airline High, Riverbend High, Lula High and New Holland High.

Each of the four high schools had basketball programs, only one had a football team.

“When I came to East Hall in 1975, people were talking about the beginning of East Hall basketball and how before the schools combined, basketball had been a big part of their lives,” former Vikings coach Seth Vining said.

“Riverbend (boys basketball team) went to state the year before East Hall existed,” said former Vikings player and coach Eddie Waldrep, who was a senior on the first East Hall team.

Waldrep was a star player for Riverbend before going to East Hall. “We had a real good ball club,” he said, “and we had experience. Add the players picked up by other schools, and we (East Hall) were good.”

The first-year success, in addition to the 23-6 record in East Hall’s second year, created a fan base — a community of Vikings supporters who laid the foundation for the program’s success.

“That first year we were able to win,” Waldrep said. “We had a good fan following as a result. People became, and continued to be, involved with the teams. It (the fan following) contributed to the success.”

And even though the Vikings would struggle over the next 10 years, going 95-133 and winning only one Lanierland title, that community didn’t give up and would soon reap the rewards.

Waldrep took over the boys program in 1969, and during his five-year tenure led the Vikings to four Lanierland titles, four sub-region championships and four region championships.

“I never felt any pressure to win,” Waldrep said. “I never thought I’d lose my job if we didn’t. Then again, we won most of the time.”

Following him were Ron Riley, Glenn Cassell, Vining and Joe Dix, in that order.

Cassell won nine straight region titles, and during Vining’s 12-year reign East Hall won seven region titles and two state championships.

“There was a little bit of pressure,” said Vining, whose first Vikings team didn’t make the region tournament. “We coached for a program where the expectations are high, and when your teams don’t meet those expectations there’s pressure. Those that have coached here though, understand that it’s part of the job description.

"And most would rather be in a situation at East Hall than one where winning wasn’t demanded.”

Sustaining success

“Once you establish a winning program, people want to be involved,” Waldrep said. “There’s always been tremendous support.”

According to East Hall historian Ray Adamson and Vining, children of former players grow up watching East Hall basketball and, as a result, grow up wanting to play East Hall basketball.

Waldrep’s daughter Jill, now the head girls coach at Lumpkin County High, played basketball for East Hall. Nan (Elliott) Bishop played basketball for the Lady Vikings in the '80s, and her son Trevor graduated in 2008 after a successful stint at shooting guard for East Hall. Joshten Hopkins, a reserve guard in 2008 for East Hall, is the son of former East Hall football standout Fidel Hopkins.

All-time leading scorer Chezley Watson’s brothers Jimmy and Ricky Welchel were standout athletes at East Hall, and two of the 19 member of the 1,000-point-club were brothers Aaron and Greg Goudelock.

“There’s an enthusiasm about the East Hall program,” Adamson said. “It’s a great source of pride in the community, and playing basketball for East Hall means something.”

“The atmosphere that the success creates for the younger players is the reason for the sustained success of the program,” Vining said. “You can go look at the park and rec teams right now and you’ll see that there are some talented players coming up and they will be Vikings.”

The numbers

In 51 years, they’ve won 23 Lanierland titles, 25 region championships and three state titles.

Four players have scored more than 2,000 points, 14 have scored more than 500 points in a single season.

From its inception in 1957, the East Hall boys basketball program has grown and remained successful because of the communities that surround it and the families that attend the school.

The Vikings play in tournaments each winter with the top teams in the nation and schedule the top teams in the state, no matter the classification, to play outside of the region.

Because of that rigorous schedule they’ve never had an undefeated season, but it’s because of that schedule the Vikings are ready to face the pressure of playing the state’s best year in and year out.

“Going undefeated in the season is never one of our goals,” Vining said. “We expect more than that at East Hall.

“It’s just a special environment.”

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