Best area home-court records since 2001
Howard 109-14 .886
Bradley Central 97-20 .829
Brainerd 85-18 .825
Cleveland 84-20 .808
Arts & Sciences 83-21 .798
McMinn Central 121-9 .931
Cleveland 88-14 .863
Walker Valley 116-19 .859
Chattanooga Christian 90-21 .811
Grundy County 83-31 .728
Long before Under Armour started proclaiming that "We Must Protect This House," sports teams at all levels put an emphasis on protecting their home surfaces. Some teams have just been able to do it better than others.
With league races nearing the end, a loss at home becomes devastating for seeding purposes.
"One home loss really hurts you," LaFayette coach Tommy Swanson said. "You have to be able to win your home games because winning on the road is so difficult in our region [7-AAA]."
In an informal poll taken by the Times Free Press, Bradley Central was selected as the toughest place to get that precious road victory. Since 2001, the Bears have a 97-20 record on the hardwood of Jim Smiddy Arena, which is the second-best mark for a boys' team in the area. Howard was first, having lost only 14 times in that time frame with 109 wins. Brainerd, followed by Cleveland and Arts & Sciences, round out the top five.
McMinn Centra was far and away the best girls' home team, with 121 victories and only nine defeats in Englewood.
Brainerd coach Robert High has battled Howard at multiple venues, as the two teams played at Maclellan Gym at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for years. They've also battled at the old Howard gym, High-Jackson Gymnasium at Brainerd and in various tournaments.
"It's one of the biggest rivalries in the state, if not the biggest," High said. "I used to love playing at places like the old Howard gym, or Maclellan, because it was always a packed house with people basically on the floor."
High said that as competitors, players should be bothered by a loss wherever it takes place, but he admitted that the mentality of his team changes when at High-Jackson.
"One of the things we tell our kids is that this is your home," High said. "Nobody comes into your house and rules; you are in charge. But we have kids that are dedicated and loyal, and it affects them anywhere they get beat at -- at home or on the road."
Ooltewah boys' coach Jesse Nayadley said his team really gets up to play at Bradley.
"I don't think it's a favoritism thing, but it's just a different style and a different way of refereeing than what we're used to here," Nayadley said.
District 5-AAA is one of the few leagues in Tennessee that uses refs from two separate associations -- both the Hamilton County and McMinn County groups.
"It's not home cooking; it's just a different way of reffing," Nayadley said. "It's just a credit to Kent [Smith] and his program, though. It all makes it harder to win there. As coaches, we all try to build that reputation at our school."
The Bears once had a 50-game win streak in their arena. Smith said he's always emphasized home success and the guys take pride in it.
"The student body has been amazing for us," he said. "We've always stressed to 'Defend our Wood'; you can't let another team come on our floor and beat us. Anybody would want to have a 10-point advantage as far as playing at home. We've encouraged our students to be involved. As long as they're not taunting and you get on a run and score 12 straight at home, it's going to make it even tougher for any team that comes in here.
"If you come into our house, it's our challenge to not let you leave with a win."
Smith said that Baylor ranks high on his list of toughest places to play, since the Baylor student section sits right behind the visiting team's bench.
"They try to simulate the Cameron Crazies [at Duke University]," Smith said.
The structure of the gym plays a part as well. Baylor has a smaller, more closed-in gymnasium. Arts & Sciences has an old building that makes playing there harder -- especially if you're the visiting team.
"We have the oldest gym in the city," Patriots coach Mark Dragoo said. "It reverberates noise, and we have loud cheerleaders and a loud gym in general. There's just a different feel when you're in there, and the kids take pride in defending their home court. Since we don't have football, basketball is the main draw and fans do tend to get crazy on Third Street."
High has been pleased with the Panthers' ability to garner victories at home and protect the home court but added that "We're Brainerd, so everybody wants to beat us when we go on the road.
"When we walk into unfamiliar territory, we don't want it to affect us much," High said. "If you're one of those schools that doesn't do a lot of traveling, it might affect you going to a place like CSAS."