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PREP BASKETBALL: Holiday Festival part of life for West Rome alumni

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A tournament in its 64th year of existence can produce plenty of memories. Two women who were a part of many of them got to share their feelings about the annual Holiday Festival basketball tournament on Tuesday.

Former West Rome girls’ basketball coach Ann Peery and Lady Chieftains standout NaeNae Daniels-Saxton joined emcee and local radio broadcaster Randy Davis for Tuesday’s program at the meeting of the Seven Hills Rotary Club.

The meeting served as the tournament’s tip-off luncheon as coaches and players from many of the schools participating in this year’s tournament were on hand to hear from the pair.

Peery played for West Rome during the 1960s, before a girls’ tournament was an official part of the Holiday Festival slate.

“We always wanted to play in the big gym in the Christmas tournament,” Peery said, referring to the old Memorial Gym that once stood next to Barron Stadium on West Third Street.

After attending Berry College and the University of Georgia, Peery looked at coaching in the Holiday Festival as a goal.

“To me, it’s the greatest tournament in the world,” Peery said.

Daniels-Saxton played for Peery through her senior season in 1990-1991 before going to Alabama where she played on the 1994 Crimson Tide women’s team that advanced to the NCAA Final Four after winning the Midwest Regional.

She said she always wanted to win the Holiday Festival tournament’s recognizable Gold Ball championship trophy. She has seen her daughter Victaria Saxton get to lift the trophy the last two years as a player for Model.

“We fought for so many years trying to get that ball. Just doing everything coach would tell me to do.” Daniels-Saxton said. “Now going out and watching kids who I’ve helped train and watching them battle in the tournament is just so much fun.”

Peery coached the Lady Chieftains from 1974-1992 when East and West Rome consolidated. She then became the head girls’ coach at the new Rome High School and won the Holiday Festival title that first season.

“You kids playing in the tournament this year, take the memories with you,” Peery said. “It’s a wonderful thing, and I hope it goes on for another 64 years.”

The 64th annual Rome News-Tribune Seven Hills Rotary Holiday Festival basketball tournament begins Dec. 18 with four games at both Berry College’s Cage Center and Georgia Highlands College. The finals are scheduled for Dec. 22 at Berry College.

This year will feature the varsity boys’ and girls’ teams from 10 area high schools. Participating schools are Armuchee, Calhoun, Cartersville, Coosa, Darlington, Model, Pepperell, Rome, Sonoraville and Woodland.