By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD —Effingham County’s boys basketball team got three much-needed wins while participating in the Big Blue Classic at Model High School.
But coach Jake Darling hoped his Rebels gained something maybe not as tangible from the holiday tournament.
“There are practices and games but what you’ll most remember about basketball when it’s all said and done are your teammates, hanging out, your trips,” Darling said.
Darling was the perfect tour guide for the trip to Rome. He earned a degree while playing basketball at nearby Berry College. He met his wife Hannah there and often returns to the area to visit family.
During some down time, Darling took his players to Berry and shared some of the most important experiences in his life.
“I’m not just Mr. Darling, the teacher and basketball coach at Effingham County High School,” he said. “(The Rome area) is part of my basketball life and where I gained the knowledge that I draw on. … And they’ll see there are other things in life than just basketball.”
Although most buildings on Berry's campus were locked for the holidays, Darling could still point out the classrooms, the cafeteria and the dorms. The players peeked through windows to see the gym and the football stadium.
And Darling was able to point out on campus where scenes of the 2000 blockbuster movie “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington were filmed.
Darling had some help showing the players around town. His assistant Ryan McGee played football and graduated from Berry.
Several local basketball teams had bonding excursions over the holidays as well. South Effingham’s boys and girls attended a basketball game at the University of Georgia and the girls also went to a game at Georgia Southern University.
ECHS began its 5 ½-hour trip to Rome on Dec. 27 by stopping in Atlanta to see the Hawks play the Chicago Bulls.
Then, the Rebels took care of their basketball business. They defeated Central of Carrollton 58-41, Wilson Academy 69-48 and Model 63-45 on consecutive nights (Dec. 28-30). Central and Model won 18 and 22 games, respectively, last season and both advanced to their state tournaments.
ECHS’ sophomore Jordan Goldwire scored in double figures in all three games.
“We had a good time and got some quality playing time for a lot of guys,” said Darling, hoping the three-game sweep (upping the team’s winning streak to four) provides momentum for the second half of the season.
Becoming closer as a team off the court was important as well. ECHS has only four seniors on its 12-man roster.
“You’re getting some independence from home but you’re also taking a road trip and you’re stuck with each other,” Darling said. “You have a roommate (in the hotel), where does my towel go after showering?”
Part of ECHS’ shared experience came from making trips a reality. Darling began a team leadership council to prepare for the 2021-22 season. Within the council, there’s a fundraising committee.
Darling said the players raised money selling chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A in the school cafeteria every Wednesday.
The Rebels have been able to finance several overnight trips. They started the season with a three-day tournament in Norcross. During the summer, ECHS attended basketball camp at Mercer University in Macon.
“I always wanted to get the team up here (in Rome), just to get out and see (the basketball styles) of different schools,” Darling said. “We want to show (our players) there’s more out there than Effingham and Savannah.”
The Rebels returned to action from the holiday break against Glynn Academy on Tuesday. ECHS will be home Saturday night against Southeast Bulloch.