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County's new gym boosts high school teams
That's what this facility is for.
Clarence Morgan

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD -- Effingham County High School boys basketball coach Jake Darling jokes about ownership of the recently completed recreation gym at the Clarence E. Morgan Central Recreation Complex.

“Clarence (Morgan) will tell everybody that I think this is my gym,” Darling said, laughing. “I wish it was.”

Certainly, Darling and the Rebels are among the gym’s main tenants. And they played host to a 12-team, round-robin basketball tournament June 23-24 -- the first high school event in the gym since its opening last October.

“That’s what this facility is for,” said Morgan, the county’s recreation sports director. “The more events, the more it’s used, the more I like it.”

The tournament attracted mostly local teams and gave players a chance to compete in multiple games. Coaches got a chance to assess talent.

In two days, 36 games were played at the recreation center.

ECHS hosted a junior varsity camp with another 27 games at the high school.

Games were played in rec-league style -- a one-hour time slot for each contest with running clocks to keep action moving.

The gym had two full-court games going (separated by a curtain) at one time.

“This facility was perfect for what we needed,” Darling said. “Four varsity teams playing at one time allows us to get more teams involved, which means more competition.”

The $4.5 million facility, built with bonds which were paid back with a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), has been a needed addition for local basketball. During the season, Darling began using the recreation gym for after-school practices.

Morgan said sharing the gym has been part of an ongoing special relationship with the county high schools. In the past, local high schools have helped host big recreation events.

“We probably have the best relationship with our high schools in the Southeast,” Morgan said.

Darling sees the reciprocal connection.

“Kids begin playing basketball in the rec leagues and ultimately we’ll feed off of all the kids up from the rec department and they’ll play for Effingham County or South Effingham,” Darling said.

Last week, it was the high schools’ turn again to use the gym. And there’s something to be said about having a home-court advantage. ECHS and SEHS varsity basketball teams each played eight games.

“It feels good not to have to get on a school bus and travel somewhere to play. This was just right down the street,” said SEHS first-year coach Rico Campbell, whose team has played in summer leagues at Savannah High and Savannah Country Day. “We’re appreciative to play (summer games at the recreation gym). It’s a great facility and we’ve had some good crowds coming out from the community to support us. Something like this helps us grow.”