For Them, It's Not About Politics, It's About the Love of the Game

Former Players, Coaches Remember ACC Championships

GREENSBORO, NC – “Heart’s beating. You don’t know what to do until you start smelling the popcorn and feel the lights on you.”

Josh Howard, a former Wake Forest Basketball player remembers the four years he played in the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. The team made it four years straight in 1999-2003. They never won; knocked out every time in the second round. But for Howard, a Winston-Salem native, there was no greater feeling than walking into the Charlotte and Greensboro Coliseums.

“It’s kind of like the NBA. Everyone is there for good basketball.”

The ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament heads to Brooklyn for 2017 and 2018. For now, the tournament returns to Charlotte in 2019 and Greensboro in 2020. But, following the NCAA’s lead, the ACC pulled all 2016-2017 neutral site championships from the state of North Carolina over the controversial HB2 law. Women’s soccer, football, men’s and women’s swimming and diving are gone, as is the Women’s Basketball tournament.

Sylvia Hatchell, UNC Women’s Head Basketball Coach said in a statement

“I respect the decision made by the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA this week on their stance regarding House Bill 2. However, I’m disappointed that the ACC Tournament is being taken out of Greensboro. I love Greensboro and so does our student-athletes, fans and alumni! It has become a tradition to spend the start of March Madness in the Greensboro Coliseum. I think we will all realize just how much Greensboro loves our tournament and loves women’s basketball. It’s my hope we’re back soon.”

Longtime High School Coach and current Greensboro Day Athletics’ Director Freddy Johnson agreed; it the hope they’re back soon.

“I don’t miss it. I’m at every game,” said Johnson. “It is the number one thing. When it comes here, you can’t go anywhere, whether it’s the grocery store or a restaurant where someone doesn’t want to talk about it.”

HB2, a law which nullified  local government ordinances establishing anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, also requires people in publicly owned buildings to use the restroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate.

The ACC Council of Presidents said, “(It is) our collective commitment to uphold the values of equality, diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.”

Johnson said he wasn’t going to get political when responding to the ACC’s decision. But, as a coach who had many players leave his programs and head to one of the four schools in the ACC conference, moving the tournaments out of the state is a hard-hitting blow to the morale of young North Carolina student athletes.

“Greensboro is tournament town and I think we do a wonderful job of rolling out the tournaments and for my players, to get the chance to play at the coliseum and play on that floor, it’s been a very special thing over the years,” said Johnson.

“Oh, it was special,” said Keith Gatlin, a former University of Maryland basketball player. “Being from North Carolina and watching it as a child and being able to play in it, I was very blessed.”

Gatlin is now the head coach for Wesleyan Christian Academy. In 1984, Gatlin and his Maryland team won. Maryland, is now in a different conference, the Big 10, but Gatlin said for him, Greensboro is still the mecca.

 “You always marked it in the calendar that in March you was coming here for the ACC tournament,” said Gatlin.

Howard, along with Gatlin, wanted to stay away from political talk during interviews.

“Losing that kind of inflates us. It makes us wonder, what’s next?” asked Howard, now the head coach for Piedmont International University. “It’s North Carolina law. Ain’t really nothing you can do is just wait for change.”

The ACC only pulled championship events for the 2016-2017 season. No decision has been made on future events, including the Men’s Basketball Tournament.

“I would hate to look that far ahead. It would be a huge impact on Greensboro and North Carolina.”

Still, it’s a scary thought, Johnson said, to think about losing the revenue, spotlight and overall joy the tournaments bring to North Carolina.

Governor Pat McCrory responded to the ACC’s decision with a statement almost identical to the statement his office released regarding the NCAA’s decision.

"The issue of redefining gender and basic norms of privacy will be resolved in the near future in the United States court system for not only North Carolina, but the entire nation. I strongly encourage all public and private institutions to both respect and allow our nation’s judicial system to proceed without economic threats or political retaliation toward the 22 states that are currently challenging government overreach."

Copyright 2016 WFMY


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