Aside from the destruction scattered across the streets of downtown Atlanta, the tornado gave the few remaining people on campus during the first weekend of spring break the unique experience of seeing pig calls being answered by grown men barking and scratching behind their heads in the SEC championships held at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
After the tornado ruled the Georgia Dome inoperable, Alexander Memorial Coliseum was chosen as the fill-in sight to host the last four games of the SEC Basketball Tournament, which were held on Saturday and Sunday. Many of the fans lucky enough to get tickets to the weekend games were around the Dome when the tornado hit.
“We were in the CNN Center, we had just gotten Starbucks and we were in the Atrium [when the storm hit]. My husband actually thought it was a terrorist attack,…but we figured out that it was the storm, so we took cover. We were stuck in the CNN Center for like two hours down in the basement,” said Cindy Curtis, an Arkansas fan from Little Rock.
Other fans were actually in the Dome itself since Mississippi State and Alabama were battling in overtime.
“We were in the Dome watching the game when the storm hit…It was surreal. The ceiling was like a big parachute going in all different directions. Loud, loud, loud noise. Then, people on the floor started leaving and stuff started falling out of the sky. Over my right shoulder was the rip in the Dome. They told us stay in our seats and I looked at my husband and said ‘We’re out of here’. We got to the exit and they wouldn’t let us exit because the storm was still coming, so we waited about an hour before we got out” said Carla Rose, an Arkansas fan.
After the tornado had passed, the overtime game was completed. The original last game of the night, UGA vs. Kentucky, was not able to take place. The SEC was forced to finish the tournament within the next two days or lose its automatic bid for their tournament conference champion.
The SEC began to look for an alternate venue to finish the tournament. As Philips Arena’s proximity to the Dome also rendered it inoperable to host the remainder of the tournament, and the Arena at Gwinnet Center already had a Georgia Force game scheduled for the weekend, the SEC decided to look into using the Alexander Memorial Coliseum to host the remainder of the tournament.
“After the Duke game on Friday night, Paul Griffen, our Senior Associate Athletic Director, got a call from Calleal Johnson, probably around 10:15-10:30, letting him know that there were some problems with the Georgia Dome and was wondering if our building would be available…We had the building available and campus was on spring break….we thought we could do it logistically,” said Georgia Tech Athletic Director Dan Radakovich.
The decision to use Alexander Memorial Coliseum did not sit well with many fans since the seating capacity of the Georgia Dome far exceeds that of the Coliseum. The universities had to put restrictions on whose tickets would be honored.
“They told us that if we had a ticket through our university we could get a ticket into [the Coliseum],” Rose said.
UGA was able to win the tournament even though they came in ranked last in the SEC and had to play two games on Saturday. Members of the UGA Basketball Pep-Band still attended all four games even with the circumstances.
“We were there all day [Friday] waiting, then they cancelled the game, so we were kind of upset. Then we got back to Athens round 2:00 in the morning…so I only got two hours of sleep that night [because we had to come back down early on Saturday],” said Will Johnson, a sousaphone player in the UGA Band
“It’s kind of crazy [playing at Tech]. It’s something we never expected . Coming in here, we usually go to Tech and get pumped for a football game, not basketball to play Arkansas or Kentucky,” said Katie Nackars, a trumpet player in the UGA Band.
“None of us really expected our guys to make it this far because we aren’t really known as a basketball school…We all made plans for Friday night because we all thought we were going to lose in the first round on Thursday night.”
Not everyone involved in hosting the SEC at Tech felt the effects of the chaos of the situation.
“[We were contacted] on Friday about 10:00 [P.M.]…As a catering company we are prepared for short notices…As long as people want food, it doesn’t matter who the team is,” said Jason Harrison, a owner of a catering company that serves food at AMC.
“The staff made [the logistics] incredibly easy and thank goodness for cell phones because the communication was very important to get everybody we needed,” Radakovich said.