Williams scored the first basket in Laney High School’s old gym in the 1950s. On Friday night, Bonner performed the honor.
Laney officially opened its new red-and-white gymnasium before playing host to Glenn Hills in the first game on its shiny, waxed court. The gym is named after the school’s longtime boys basketball coach – the “Norman Bonner Athletic Complex” – a man whom school officials and dignitaries paid tribute to, along with longtime girls basketball coach Otis Smart.
“This is wonderful,” Bonner said. “To say I’m pleased is an understatement. To me, this is the ultimate tribute.”
Bonner, 67, was the head coach of the boys basketball team for 39 years. He retired in 2005 after posting a 520-360 record.
Along with naming the gym after Bonner, the school honored him with the unveiling of a portrait. School officials also dedicated the court to Smart, who began working at Laney in 1979 and has accumulated 666 wins entering Friday. On opposite sides of the floor, “Otis L. Smart Jr. Court” is marked in bold, black letters.
“This is a great privilege for me,” Smart said. “I’m going to take it in stride, because I didn’t do it by myself. I’m blessed, and I know it.”
Augusta Commission member Corey Johnson, a 1992 Laney graduate, said Bonner and Smart have made an impact on many students’ lives through the years. State Rep. Wayne Howard, a 1973 alumnus, thanked Bonner and Smart, saying the gymnasium will be a way for everyone in the community to remember them.
Before Laney had its own gym, basketball players used to go across the street to tiny Bethlehem Community Center to play games. According to school board member, Marion Barnes, who graduated in 1950, that gym had just three rows on each side.The new Laney gym which will hold more than 1,000 fans on each side.
“You’ve come a long way, baby,” Barnes said.
Williams said the arena is a special place for the community. It’s a much-improved version of Laney’s old facilities.
“It would’ve been hard to visualize this kind of thing when I was growing up,” Williams said, “but it happened.”