No ticket offers a better seat than Mike Herring's.
Since the boys and girls Class AAAAA and AAAA semifinals and finals came to the Arena at Gwinnett Center, Herring has documented every basket, every foul, every timeout and every champion. His seat at the center of the scorer's table is basketball's epicenter for Georgia's two largest classifications.
All field goals, all free throws and all fouls are not official until Herring marks them down. He'll tell you how many timeouts remain for each team. What the scoreboard says doesn't matter. What the team's scorekeepers say don't matter. What the public address announcer says doesn't matter. What Mike Herring says matters.
That's why Mike Herring gets the best seat.
But this year, Herring wants a different seat for a couple of games. He'll give up the location. He'll give up the table. He'll give up the black and white striped garb. For just a couple of games, Herring wants to be away from the epicenter and a part of the quake. For exactly a couple of games.
The GHSA's official scorekeeper doubles as a varsity assistant for the No. 1-ranked Mill Creek girls. Tonight the Hawks play in the team's first-ever state semifinals against Stephenson for a berth in the state finals.
Those are two games Herring is willing to lose his meager stipend to help coach. It's a seat he's occupied before, as an assistant for the state runner-up Berkmar boys in 1998.
"We came up a little short that year," Herring said. "I would like to experience the other end of that feeling once the final horn goes off in the championship game."
Herring exercises little control over the outcome of the Hawks' next game or games. Players control wins and losses. But the assistant coach is a part of the Hawks success both with his coaching and nod to prudence.
Even at the start of the season, Herring recognized Mill Creek as a possible state semifinal and championship contender. After all the Hawks lost to star Maya Moore and Collins Hill in the second round a year ago. But he pushed the thought away for much of the season.
"It has been on my mind since Day 1, but I didn't want to act on it and jinx us," Herring said.
When he had to act he knew who to call.
Malinda Martin is the official scorekeeper for the Norcross boys, who are coached by her husband, Eddie Martin. Norcross follows Mill Creek with its semifinal matchup against Savannah. Malinda Martin had to be there anyway. She has experience and there is a strong possibility Norcross will play in Friday's finals, making her available if Mill Creek plays for its own title.
"She was a natural person to ask," Herring said. "She was happy to do it. I am certainly thankful for that."
As a Mill Creek assistant, Herring's job is similar during games. He keeps track of fouls and timeouts for head coach Ashley Phillips, making suggestions on strategy occasionally. So when there is a stoppage of play late in the game, Herring will get to treat Martin as he is treated. Asking her for the official number of timeouts and fouls. He'll play the role of subject rather than ruler.
But when it is not Martin acting as substitute, the seat belongs to Herring.
"I'll be doing all the games I am not sitting on the bench," Herring said.
Both seats suit Herring. For the past 15 years he has worked as a math teacher and basketball coach. Along with stints as an assistant at Mill Creek and Berkmar, he also spent time as the head coach of the Berkmar girls. Before earning his teaching certificate, Herring worked for the Georgia Tech athletic department helping keep official stats for basketball and football.
"(It's really hard) especially when you are in charge of minutes played when you are playing North Carolina with Dean Smith (coaching)," Herring said. "He would make that last five minutes last 45 with substitutions. That was the most difficult thing I had to keep up with."
After that, keeping track of baskets, fouls, timeouts and the running score came naturally, especially for Mill Creek's math department chair.
"You have to have confidence in yourself to do it," Herring said. "The last thing you want to do is read about the scorekeeper in the newspaper that next day, because only something bad could have happened if that's the case."
He constantly checks and rechecks the scorebook and doesn't like much talking at the scorer's table during games. In all the games where Herring fills the Arena's best seat, he has yet to make a mistake.
That's why he does the job.
"I love the game of basketball and I want to make sure that the game plays out like it is supposed to and that the game isn't decided by some outside force," Herring said. "By doing this interview I hope I am not jinxing myself as far as keeping the book the next three days."
"I'll be fine."