It will be “Throw-Back Night” tonight as the Blue Devils and Lady Blue Devils host Region 4AAAAAA rival Harrison at the original Marietta Garden.
The high school vacated its old Winn Street campus in the fall of 2001, making the move a few miles west to a spacious new site on Whitlock Avenue, and what was the high school become Marietta Middle School.
Now, Marietta will be back in the old parquet-floor gym that housed the Marietta basketball program for 35 years, including the boys state championship teams of 1983 and 1999.
The evening will begin with the Harrison and Marietta junior varsity girls game at 4:30 p.m., followed by the varsity girls at 6 p.m. and boys at 7:30 p.m.
“This is my fifth year now, and I’ve been trying to do something of this nature since I’ve been here,” Marietta boys coach Matt Lyons said. “I always thought it would be a great idea to bring back the alumni and have a welcome-back to the past. We can celebrate the past and celebrate where we’re going and what we’re moving towards.”
Lyons credited his predecessor, longtime Blue Devils coach Charlie Hood, for stoking the fire of support.
“He has been a big supporter of mine since I’ve been here,” Lyons said. “He and I have formed a great relationship, and it was great for him to reach out to some of his players and ask them to come help us celebrate Marietta basketball.”
Marietta athletic director Paul Hall was on board with the idea right from the start.
“We actually started talking about it a couple of years ago,” he said. “Coach Lyons came to me and said that we ought to do a throwback game at the old school and involve coach Hood and some of the old players and the state championship teams.
“I thought it would be a cool idea. I hope we pull it off.”
According to Lyons, tonight turned out to be the perfect night for the event. The Marietta wrestling team is hosting a junior varsity tournament this weekend at the new Garden, and with Harrison coming in as a region rival, the expectation is that there will be an exciting and festive atmosphere for the games at the old Garden.
“We were looking for a date anyway,” Lyons said, “so it made perfect sense to have the game (tonight). It was the perfect storm. Wrestling was already scheduled at the new gym before we knew what our region schedule looked like, and with all of our region games on Friday night this season, and Harrison as the team coming in play us, it just made sense.”
Hood is scheduled to speak to the team prior to the game and former NBA great and Marietta Hall of Famer Dale Ellis will be the Blue Devils’ honorary captain. Former boys and girls players who played at the old Marietta Garden will be recognized at halftime of the boys’ game.
“The student section is going to wear all ’70s-type style motif things,” Hall said. “We’ll have some old-school music playing and just have fun with it. We’ll honor some folks and see what happens.”
Because the old Garden is a smaller venue, Hall is concerned about the logistics of housing the expected crowd. A graduate of the old Marietta High campus, he’s excited about returning. Walking through the gym, Hall remembered packed games against teams like Wheeler, and other times when the fire marshal would shut down the gym with a line going out the door.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It brings back a lot of memories. The only thing I’m worried about is that I’ve never really hosted a big event over there before. I’m worried how we’re going to run everything logistically, but walking through there several times I got fired up. I can’t wait.
“Any normal-size crowd is going to look even bigger in there, because of what we’re used to. Our gym at the new school is a lot bigger, so this is a little bit different than our place. We’ve been over there several times to try and get a lay of the land and figure it out, but I think we’ll be ready to roll.”
Girls coach Ken Sprague Jr., who is in his 18th season at Marietta, was on board with the idea right from the start.
“I think it’s always a great thing to go back and revisit the past, so I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “To go back and play where my first teams played will be special. Marietta has such a rich tradition, and it will be nice to go back to it.”