For decades, young athletes have watched their sports idols on television and dreamed of one day competing at the highest level of play.

During the holiday break, Rome High School’s varsity basketball teams had the unique opportunity to launch three-point shots on the floor of State Farm Arena in exhibition with Americus-Sumter High School’s Panthers. It is important to note that this floor is the same floor where the Atlanta Dream and Hawks host pro teams for home games in Atlanta.

This opportunity was born from a relationship RHS Principal Dr. Eric Holland formed during his early days of coaching high school basketball.

“Many moons ago when I used to coach basketball, the team at my former high school was actually one of the first teams to participate in this program,” Dr. Holland explained. “I met a guy who worked with the Atlanta Hawks organization, and his name was Carter Berry. At that time, I wanted to create an opportunity for South Georgia kids, because many of them had never left South Georgia. We started a program called the Court of Dreams where our students were offered the chance to play in exhibition before a Hawks game and stay to watch the professionals play later in the evening.”

Dr. Holland said that normally, the students would get a pre-game introduction with the cheerleaders, giving the experience an immersive feel and allowing students to dream about one day running out of the tunnel as a professional athlete. But, with COVID numbers on the rise, he was happy that he was able to continue this tradition with RHS students and offer Rome’s boys and girls teams the chance to compete in this special way.

“I was able to reach out to Emily, who now helps us with this program, and after talking with Coach (John) McFather and Coach (Thomas) McAboy with our boys’ and girls’ basketball programs, we were able to get our kids down to State Farm Arena to play a game. It is wonderful to watch them play on a professional court, but our primary focus is to allow them to create lasting memories together.”

The girls took the floor first and were able to secure a win over Americus-Sumter, and the boys fell just short of the win. However, not one student left the arena without a smile; they all realized that these games were more about the opportunity and less about the win.

“I think this court was definitely great for our conditioning. It is quite a bit longer than a high school floor,” said McAboy with a chuckle after the game. “After the Christmas Tournament, we really did not practice much due to a couple of our players falling ill, so this has been really great for our team. I am proud of how we played, but I call tell you that they were more concerned about who was going to be famous by being seen courtside before the Hawks game.”

Coach McFather also said that his guys were thrilled about the chance to play in a pro arena. “We had one message for today, and that was to dream big,” McFather said. “We believe in that. When we look at Trae Young and follow his example, we see a young man who dreamed big. A lot of people thought he was undersized as a 6-foot-2-inch guard, but here he is today leading the Atlanta Hawks. He fulfilled his dream, and we always say that if you play with heart and passion, there is no dream that is too big. Hopefully, this day will inspire some of our guys.”

When asked, the students said that the intent hit the mark and they will never forget playing a game at State Farm Arena.

“This was a great experience,” said Breana Griffin, a sophomore guard for the Wolves. “It was awesome to see the lights, play on a big court and have my family come down to watch.”

Allison Loveman, a senior, echoed Griffin saying, “We played together, and we passed the ball well. I am glad we shoot free throws at practice because we see that they are important to win late in the game. But we are just all happy to spend some time with our teammates and for the opportunity to play on a professional court.”

Pinky Nation, another senior for the Lady Wolves, had few words about the game, but her face said it all when she was asked about the experience. “It was so much fun,” Nation said with a grin that could stretch from baseline to baseline.”

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