Did anyone in the area predict Aug. 2, 2012 would be so huge on the landscape of local sports? I definitely didn’t have it circled on my calendar.
Yet, Thursday is shaping up to be a major sports day for the city of Dalton. Two sports news conferences are planned in the skinny west side of Interstate 75, a little more than two miles from one another. For a city dominated by high school sports for many years, the local sports scene is about to make a giant boom.
At 10 a.m. in the trade center, the Georgia Rampage will hold an introductory news conference. The indoor football team announced last week it will play its 2013 home schedule in the Carpet Capital. The UIFL franchise will be in its second season after spending this year as a travel team, with no home games and practices in Calhoun. They won the season opener before dropping the next six games to close their inaugural year.
In 2013, the team will play an 11-game slate, with six in the trade center. No, it’s not as big as say, the Atlanta Falcons becoming the Dalton Falcons, but it’s still a minor league professional sports team, the highest level of any sport in the area.
I have yet to cover a high school football season here, but anyone I ask will tell me how much it matters. I’ve heard the “high school football is a religion here” cliché numerous times. I’ve heard about the Dalton-Northwest Whitfield rivalry. And before ever hearing about it, I easily could assume football wears the crown in Northwest Georgia.
Now fans will get an indoor football team to cheer for. And what people will find is how much fun this sport is to watch. The field is shorter and narrower, there are fewer players on the field and rules allow for two offensive players to be in forward motion when the ball is snapped. It creates a high-scoring, fast-paced atmosphere that any football-loving kid or adult will enjoy.
But, lucky for you, that’s not all.
Around three decades ago, Dalton Junior College — now Dalton State College — folded its men’s basketball program. Current Dalton State athletic director Derek Waugh isn’t sure when athletics officially ended at the school — the Roadrunners also played golf and tennis — but he said most viewed basketball stopping as an unofficial ax.
Well, if that is what closed the doors for the first run, then it will be what opens them for the second.
Right down the road from the trade center, and starting an hour after the Rampage’s event, Dalton State officials will hold a conference announcing and introducing the new men’s basketball head coach in room 105 of the James E. Brown Center. As with the Rampage’s conference, the public is invited.
When Waugh was hired in February, he noted hiring a men’s basketball coach as a priority, because the Roadrunners plan to begin competition in the NAIA for the 2013-14 season.
Once summer rolled around, he opened the gates and had 27 official applications. That number was trimmed to eight for phone interviews and four for in-person interviews: Tony Ingle, a North Whitfield graduate and former Kennesaw State University head coach; former University of Tennessee-Chattanooga head coach Henry Dickerson; former Georgia Southern assistant coach Carl Nash; and former Winthrop head coach Randy Peele.
Waugh said the interviews are done and the only thing left is making the big announcement.
“We finished up (Monday),” Waugh said.
Again, while intercollegiate athletics is a good year from tipping off its second era at Dalton State, Thursday marks a major milestone in bringing it back both to the school and city. The Rampage coming is new and folks might not completely realize the significance of that, but Dalton State bringing back athletics has been sinking in with the public since February.
From my experience covering this search since the beginning of the summer, there is a definite excitement in the athletic department and a buzz within the community.
For decades, the area has devoured its share of high school sports. From Friday nights under the fall gridiron lights to Christmas tournaments on the hardwood and spring weekends racing around the track, preps has been the platform.
And that won’t change. Dalton-Northwest will still matter. Volleyball, cross country and softball will still kick off the fall in style. Area prep soccer will continue to explode.
But the city’s sports scene is expanding beyond the teenagers, and Thursday marks the official “welcome” and “welcome back” parties for the Rampage and Roadrunners.
And wait until the Rampage and Roadrunners start playing games in Dalton. Days like Aug. 2, 2012 will happen a lot more often.
Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at email@example.com.