(Calhoun, GA) – It wasn’t long after the merger of Northwestern Technical College and Coosa Valley Technical College that there were serious questions as to whether or not athletics would even be offered at newly-formed Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
However, due to the tireless efforts of coaches, players and administrators behind the scenes, athletics did survive at GNTC.
Not only did they survive, they grew.
Today, the college boasts varsity teams in men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s golf and – starting this year- competition cheerleading.
And as of Thursday, May 1, 2014, the college’s athletic department also boasts a Hall of Fame.
The induction of the first Bobcat Hall of Fame class was the headline at GNTC’s annual sports banquet, held this year in the convention hall on the Gordon County campus in Calhoun.
The first class consisted of two of the original founders of athletics at the school with former men’s basketball player, Matt Hill, and retired school administrator, Jeff King.
“We started talking about a Hall of Fame two years ago since we had a region and a national college membership,” GNTC athletic director David Stephenson explained. “When we started all this, we wanted it to be like any other college (athletic) program and most every other college (athletic program) has a Hall of Fame.
“We did some research and decided it was time. We have a three-person (Hall of Fame) committee and when I presented the first two names, the vote was unanimous. These two inductees represent very well what we are trying to do with our Hall of Fame.”
Hill was one of the original Northwestern Mustangs, the club team that was the forerunner to what would eventually become the Georgia Northwestern Bobcats.
A team captain for two of his three seasons, Hill helped the Mustangs to a perfect 11-0 record in that inaugural season of 2008. He went on to play for two more seasons for the Bobcats before ending his eligibility.
“Jeff King actually approached me at a Trion (High School) function about coming to play for (Northwestern) and Coach Stephenson was actually the first person I met at the school,” said the Trion High graduate. “That’s really how it all got started.”
“In our very first game, I was the first person to score any points so that was kind of cool. I guess I’m the answer to a trivia question now, but it’s something to always remember.”
Hill said being named to the Hall of Fame was an honor.
“It’s kind of crazy, because it really wasn’t that long ago when I played,” he said. “It just shows me that you never know how far hard work and dedication can take you. That’s something I learned from Coach Stephenson that I still try to apply to everyday life. A lot of stuff I learned (at GNTC) is stuff I still think about and use today.
“I was never the biggest or the most athletic player, but an honor like this just shows that I did have an impact. This night definitely means a lot to me.”
“Matt was the first player to ever try out at any sport for us,” Stephenson recalled. “He was almost 30 minutes early to the first tryout and when I got to the gym, Matt was asking if there was anything I needed help with.”
He called Hill’s character “impeccable”.
“He would do anything you asked him to,” the coach continued. “Really, he was like a second son to me, and to see him out in the workforce now, married and about to become a father, makes me very happy.”
King served as the college’s interim president prior to the merger and Provost once Northwestern and Coosa Valley became Georgia Northwestern. King retired last year, but continues to work part time for the school on special projects.
He is currently overseeing and helping to manage the construction of GNTC’s new Catoosa County campus in Ringgold.
“This was really a surprise,” King said of the induction. “I didn’t know about the honor, nor was I expecting it, but it means a lot. We’ve had to go over a lot of hurdles with the athletic program, from the start of it to the continuation after the merger and it’s just a blessing that we all have been able to overcome all of these hurdles together.”
He said seeing the college grow from grassroot beginnings to full-fledged junior college athletics has been a thrill.
“We had a dream back then and that dream was to get in a conference where we could play for conference championships,” he said. “When we started, (men’s basketball) was little more than an intramural team. Now, we’re in a league, we have several sports, we’re having our own banquets and now we have a Hall of Fame.”
“We simply would not be having sports banquets and a Hall of Fame without Jeff King and his fighting and pushing to keep us in existence during those early years,” Stephenson explained. “His inclusion (in the Hall of Fame) was a no-brainer.”
King said giving local athletes a chance to continue their athletic careers was rewarding.
“It’s a blessing to the players, but also to us because we feel like we’re really accomplishing something by allowing the kids to keep playing the sports they love,” he added. “Even more is that some of our kids have gone on and gotten a chance to play at four-year colleges.
“Who knows where we will be five years from now, but looking back five years ago, it’s hard to believe where we are today.”
Athletes in several sports were honored at Thursday night’s banquet, including Tavish Reynolds and Hunter Ivester, who were named to the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association’s All-Region Men’s Basketball First Team, while Ivester and Cody Cochran were both named to the GCAA’s All-Academic Team.
Volunteers Betty Murphy and Tony Davis were given special recognition awards by the athletic department.