Local programs benefit from the contributions made by the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club through tournament sponsorships and those who have played in it take those experiences with them as they work with younger generations.

Both of those aspects of the annual holiday event were in the spotlight Tuesday at the weekly meeting of the Seven Hills Rotary Club at Coosa Country Club, which once again served as the tip-off luncheon for this year’s 65th annual edition of the tournament with participating coaches and players in attendance.

The group has raised more than $20,000 in recent years through donations from businesses and individuals in the name of the tournament. That money goes to organizations like the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Georgia and Restoration Rome, as well as Anna K. Davie Elementary School.

Eric Collins, the senior director of the South Rome Boys & Girls Club, said he has seen first-hand the impact contributions from the Rotary Club can have with the implementation of specific programs, including allowing high school students to visit colleges.

Collins was a junior when the Eagles defeated Model in the 1996 boys’ championship game. He said the intensity of that final game is something he’ll never forget, and it taught him something about the power of sports.

“You could inspire a community through basketball,” Collins said. “Not just through playing in it, but by inspiring the crowd through your grit and performance in the tournament.”

His work as a community coach for the Model High School boys’ team serves as an outlet for him to pass on what he has learned through the game, while his role as a father to his 3-year-old son has led him to share the experience of the tournament with him.

Seven Hills Rotary also uses the money raised from Christmas Tournament sponsors for non-traditional student scholarships for people attending Georgia Highlands College.

Kristen Rivers spoke about how the scholarship has helped her go back to school after starting a family and becoming a licensed nurse.

“For me, I never felt I reached my full potential educationally until now,” Rivers said. “It really takes a lot of financial burden off the shoulders of people like me who want to go to school to be better.”

The 65th annual Rome News-Tribune/Seven Hills Rotary Christmas Tournament begins Dec. 17 at both Berry College and Georgia Highlands College.