By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County men’s basketball team earned three well-deserved victories while competing in the Big Blue Classic at Model High School.
But coach Jake Darling hoped his Rebels might win something less tangible from the holiday tournament.
“There are practices and games, but what you will remember most about basketball when it’s all said and done is your teammates, your outings, your travels,” Darling said.
Darling was the perfect guide for the trip to Rome. He earned a degree while playing basketball at nearby Berry College. He met his wife Hannah there and often returns to the area to visit family.
During a downtime, Darling took his players to the Berry and shared some of the most important experiences of his life.
“I’m not just Mr. Darling, the basketball teacher and coach at Effingham County High School,” he said. “(The Rome area) is part of my life as a basketball player and that’s where I got the knowledge that I draw on. …And they’ll see there’s more to life than basketball .
Although most buildings on the Berry campus were closed for the holidays, Darling could still point out the classrooms, cafeteria, and dorms. The players peeked out the windows to see the gymnasium and football stadium.
And Darling was able to point out on campus where scenes from the hit 2000 movie “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington were filmed.
Darling had some help showing the players around town. His assistant Ryan McGee played football and graduated from Berry.
Several local basketball teams also held bonding trips during the holidays. The boys and girls from South Effingham attended a basketball game at the University of Georgia and the girls also went to a game at Georgia Southern University.
ECHS began its 5.5-hour trip to Rome on Dec. 27, stopping in Atlanta to watch the Hawks take on the Chicago Bulls.
Then the Rebels got on with their basketball business. They beat Central of Carrollton 58-41, Wilson Academy 69-48 and Model 63-45 on consecutive nights (December 28-30). Central and Model won 18 and 22 games respectively last season and both qualified for their state tournaments.
ECHS sophomore Jordan Goldwire scored in double figures in all three games.
“We had a great time and got some quality game time for a lot of guys,” Darling said, hoping the three-game sweep (bringing the team’s winning streak to four) will provide some momentum for the second half of the season.
Coming together as a team off the pitch was also important. The ECHS have just four seniors on their 12-man roster.
“You get some independence from home, but you also take a road trip and get stuck with each other,” Darling said. “You have a roommate (at the hotel), where does my towel go after the shower?”
Part of the shared experience of ECHS came from making trips. Darling has started a team leadership council to prepare for the 2021-22 season. Within the board, there is a fundraising committee.
Darling said the players raised money by selling Chick-fil-A’s Chicken Cookies in the school cafeteria every Wednesday.
The rebels were able to fund several overnight trips. They started the season with a three-day tournament at Norcross. Over the summer, the CHS participated in a basketball camp at Mercer University in Macon.
“I always wanted to bring the team here (to Rome), just to hang out and see (basketball styles) from different schools,” Darling said. “We want to show (our players) that there is more to Effingham and Savannah.”
The Rebels returned to action after the holidays against Glynn Academy on Tuesday. ECHS will be at home Saturday night against Southeast Bulloch.