When the Lakeview Academy and Chestatee girls basketball teams meet next Friday morning at East Hall High School, the Lanierland basketball tournament will have officially stretched into its sixth decade. At 60 years old, Lanierland is the longest-running annual high school basketball tournament in the state.
But over the years, it’s come to be more than just a sporting event, a fact that has not been lost on Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood. Wood has taken part in many Lanierland tournaments while working at Johnson, North Hall, Gainesville and Cherokee Bluff, and the community building nature of the event has always struck a chord with him.
“As you go to those Lanierland games, you see lots of people who come back just to go to this tournament,” he said. “Lanierland is bigger than just basketball. It’s truly a community event that brings people together.”
Lanierland was founded in 1959 by South Hall High School principal C.W. Davis, who wanted to create a tournament that would feature the four Hall County schools of the day — South Hall, North Hall, East Hall and Gainesville.
Originally, the tournament included teams outside of the county, but as new programs popped up around the area, it became an entirely local affair.
Today, yearly Lanierland brackets are populated by Gainesville, North Hall, East Hall, West Hall, Chestatee, Flowery Branch, Johnson, Cherokee Bluff and Lakeview Academy, with seeding being based on the previous year’s finish. The No. 8 seed is decided by a play-in game — which became a necessity last year when Cherokee Bluff joined in on the event.
East Hall has found the most success at the tournament, with 24 victories on the boys side and 17 for the girls, though recent surges from the Gainesville boys and Flowery Branch girls have evened things out a bit over the past four years.
And while winning the tournament has become one of the best ways to earn bragging rights among local competition, the increasingly iconic Lanierland atmosphere is what has packed gyms around the area and set Hall County’s annual holiday event apart in a good way.
“The environment is electric,” Wood said. “You’re not going to find a better environment at any tournament everywhere than what you have at Lanierland. That’s what makes it special and that’s what keeps people coming, brings them back and brings them together.”
Lanierland Day 1 Schedule
Dec. 27 at East Hall High School
Lakeview Academy girls vs. Chestatee 9:30 a.m.
Cherokee Bluff boys vs. North Hall 11 a.m.
Cherokee Bluff girls vs. Gainesville 12:30 p.m.
Johnson boys vs. Lakeview Academy 2 p.m.
East Hall girls vs. North Hall 3:30 p.m.
West Hall boys vs. East Hall 5 p.m.
Flowery Branch girls vs. West Hall 6:30 p.m.
Gainesville boys vs. Chestatee 8 p.m.