Emily Claytor has made a lot of memories at the Christmas Tournament throughout the years as a spectator and as a player for the Pepperell girls’ basketball team.
However, at this year’s tournament, she’s getting to create some more memories with the Lady Dragons — this time as their coach.
At the 66th Annual Seven Hills Rotary/Rome News-Tribune Christmas Tournament, taking place this week at Georgia Highlands College and Berry College, Claytor led her Lady Dragons as their head coach in matchups against Model and Woodland.
“It’s very special,” Claytor said. “I’ve loved this tournament since I was in middle school. I got to play in it and I was blessed to coach in it. It’s special to be back and be a part of it, and be a part of it with my alma mater. It’s pretty awesome.”
Claytor, in her first year as head coach for the Lady Dragons, has coached in the Christmas Tournament before, but it was during her stint with the Trion girls’ team, whom she led into the event beginning with her first year at the helm in 2013.
“It’s special to be able to play some local teams and some surrounding county teams,” Claytor said. “It just feels like a good community here that comes out and supports you. The gym is always a fun atmosphere.”
But it’s not all about the action on the court for Claytor. The Christmas Tournament has entrenched itself in Claytor over the past two decades as a signal of the approaching holiday season.
“My dad and I, it’s kind of a tradition with us,” Claytor said. “We’ve been coming since I was in middle school, and I don’t think I’ve missed a tournament in the past 20 years, either watching it, as a player or as a coach. One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is being a part of it.”
Claytor, who was Emily Burkhalter before marrying current Unity Christian boys’ head coach Matt Claytor, played for the Lady Dragons from 2001-2005, during which she competed in four Christmas Tournaments, and she remembers watching some storied matchups.
“Championship games between Model and Rome always put on a good show,” Claytor said. “I remember coming and watching some of the best basketball games I feel like I’ve ever seen — awesome memories from it. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in.”