‘The best I have ever seen’
Wow! Basketball playoffs at AHS gym bring in over 12,000 visitors
“There is only one thing a restaurant owner loves more than a bus full of hungry athletes, and that’s the horde of fans filing in right behind them,” said Athens Chamber of Commerce Director Kristin Willingham.
And a horde it has been, thanks to the UIL girls and boys basketball playoff games held at the Athens High School gymnasium over a three-week period. From Feb. 13 to March 4, Athens High School hosted 15 playoff games that brought an influx of approximately 12,200 out-of-towners. For perspective, that’s about the population of Athens.
“Our local economy felt the immense economic impact, especially in retail, food service, travel and lodging,” said Willingham. “The influx of sales tax generated allows for reinvestment opportunities.”
Athens ISD Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims said she’s thrilled with the turnout and the opportunity to showcase “our beautiful town.” She noted that a primary reason for building a gymnasium that seats 2,800 people was to allow for indoor graduation ceremonies that accommodate plenty of family members. “But we also hoped it would draw people to our community and make a positive economic impact on Athens. I believe we can say with confidence both goals have been accomplished.”
AISD Athletic Director Zac Harrell also praised district staff for hosting a successful regional tournament.
“We are really blessed to have one of the nicest gyms in the state of Texas,” said Harrell, “but it’s our great staff, how they run the tournament and take care of the kids, that puts us over the top. There’s no doubt people leave here thinking it was a great experience.”
Martins Mills Head Boys Basketball Coach Greg Jenkins echoed that sentiment when — as his team prepared to play in a region finals game — he posted on Twitter:
“Been lucky to play in a few regional tournament venues over the past 20 years. Make no mistake about it ... Athens ISD and Zac Harrell do it the best I have ever seen.”