For most folks in the area, the Arena at Gwinnett Center is the hot spot for concerts, the circus and other non-sporting events. Others head there for Gwinnett Gladiators or Georgia Force.
For high school basketball players and wrestlers, it's the ultimate destination. It's the spot where they've gone for years to win, or watch their friends win, state championships.
Unfortunately, some of those memories won't be made at the Duluth venue next year.
A conflict with the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament has pushed the 2013 and 2014 state high school basketball semifinals and finals out of the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The Georgia High School Association has no replacement venue for either year at the moment.
The ultra-popular state high school wrestling championships, held in Gwinnett since 2006, also are in jeopardy for next year. The arena booked the circus for the Feb. 16 and 23 weekends in 2013, bumping the wrestling from its traditional spot. If the Gladiators don't have a Feb. 9 game when their schedule is released later this year, the wrestling tourney could still return to Gwinnett.
GHSA and state wrestling officials have been working frantically in recent months to figure out a plan to keep the popular wrestling tournament, which is in town this week, at its current location. The tourney has been popular in the wrestling community and a boost to area hotels and restaurants because of its substantial attendance.
The three-day attendance for wrestling has fluctuated from the 9,000 to 12,000 range (paid attendance only, doesn't count coaching passes and comps) since it moved to Gwinnett in 2006, and many of those families are staying in hotels near the arena. People who attend the circus aren't using the hotels, so you can bet they're not happy to lose the wrestling tourney, either.
Basketball also brings a flock of fans to Gwinnett, so it's too bad that the hoops schedule can't be adjusted to get it here in 2013 or 2014. It's tough to fault the arena staff for bringing in the SEC tourney (I can't say the same about the circus), but it still hurts to lose a high school showcase event that typically draws a paid attendance of around 15,000 over its three-day run.
Like wrestling, the basketball tourney also has become a marquee event for Georgia high school athletes.
How many wrestlers will always remember that building as the spot of their ultimate athletic achievement, winning the state title? How many basketball players will fondly remember lifting the state championship trophy in Duluth? How many fans (11,831 paid to be there for the 2007 finals) will remember seeing Collins Hill's Maya Moore play her last high school basketball game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center?
I'm sure the arena makes more money on other events than the high school showcases, but few others create as much goodwill and buzz statewide as the state basketball and wrestling championships. That's why it's sad to lose one, and maybe both, for 2013 and basketball for 2014, too.
Let's just hope it's a brief hiccup and both events return to their rightful place in in the future.
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock. For Hammock's blog, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willsworld.