At the time, C.W. Davis had no reason to believe his idea to pull together the Hall County teams for some holiday competition would turn into the longest-running high school basketball tournament in Georgia.
"We were just looking for a tournament the Hall County schools could get into and not have to travel," the former South Hall principal said. "We didn’t have any expectations that it would grow the way it has, but it was a success right from the start."
So, what began in 1960 with four teams will begin it’s 48th annual installment when the North Hall and West Hall girls tip-off the 2007 Lanierland tournament at 4 p.m. today at Johnson High School.
Since its inception, Lanierland has been a staple of early-season basketball in Hall County. It’s also been marked by domination, especially on the boys side. Though the games are tightly contested more often than not, the trend established in Lanierland’s early years has rarely been bucked.
Gainesville’s boys took the first two tournaments, winning in overtime in each of the finals, before East Hall won the first of its 22 championships in 1962. All told, the two schools have combined for 39 wins in the tournament’s first 47 years, and no team other than the Red Elephants and Vikings have hoisted the boys trophy since North Hall won it in 1993. In fact, even though eight teams now compete in Lanierland, only four have ever won the boys tournament (North Hall five times, and South Hall/Johnson three).
In girls play, East Hall won the first two — both over South Hall by a combined margin of five points — before the Gainesville girls got on the board with the first of their eight titles in the tournament’s third year. Since then North Hall has won 10 titles and South Hall/Johnson has won eight, but nobody’s been able to keep pace with the Lady Vikings’ 15 championships.
When it began, Lanierland was the only chance for all the Hall County schools to compete against one another in a tournament-setting. That’s changed in recent years, and with the exception of Lakeview Academy, all the competing schools are members of Region 7-AAA.
That’s been viewed as a drawback by some, stealing some of the luster from Lanierland. But with a new level of parity seeming to surface this season, the next two weekends serve as an appetizer for what’s to come in the remainder of the season.
All of which makes the 2007 Lanierland Tournament that much more more intriguing."In previous years you may have seen first round matchups where everybody was pretty sure who was going to win," tournament coordinator Ross Davis said. "This year, you’ve got some great matchups; some of the best games of the tournament could be played in the first round."
The reasoning? Seven of the eight boys teams enter the weekend with winning records and East Hall, which has won the last five tournaments and 12 of the last 13, comes in as the No. 6 seed. The Vikings (2-1) advanced to the Class AAA state finals last season, and are ranked No. 5 in the state, but they lost to Flowery Branch, which enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed with an unbeaten record and No. 6 state ranking.
And there’s no clear-cut favorite in the girls bracket, either. East Hall’s girls won the Class AAA state title last season, and opened the season still holding the No. 1 ranking, but early season losses to Flowery Branch and Gainesville, indicate their could be a new Lanierland champion on the girls side, as well.
"Ironically, the balance this year in terms of excellent teams may equal the balance of mediocre teams from the early 60s," said Sammy Smith, an unofficial Lanierland historian-of-sorts. "That’s not a criticism, but it wasn’t until the late 60s and into the 70s that high school basketball really advanced in this region. Occasionally there would be some very good teams, but not at the caliber of the teams we have today."
The tournament’s founder agreed.
"I’m amazed at how this tournament has grown," C.W. Davis said, "and even more amazed at the skill the players in Hall County have developed."