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Sports Teams Energize Communities

June 10, 2016  |  Pamela A. Keene
The Columbus Cottonmouths host the Louisiana IceGators.

Team spirit goes a long way toward building a sense of community, no matter where you live. Cities and towns across the state have options beyond the well-known national professional teams for football, baseball and basketball. Though some have not heard of these teams, they are building strong followings and drawing national and international attention to their home cities.
 
The Columbus Cottonmouths professional hockey team (cottonmouths.com) celebrates its 20th season this year. “We’re a community hockey team,” said Cottonmouth coach Jerome Bechard, who’s been with the team from its start in 1996. “The community is solidly behind us and we pull good audiences.”
 
The team’s 56-game season runs from October 22-April 1, 2017. The Cottonmouths play 56 games each season and are members of the Southern Professional Hockey League. The team plays home games at the Columbus Civic Center and travels across the Southeast to play the league’s other Single A teams. Most of the players hold college degrees. “They participate in our league to continue to play the game they love, and they do get called up to AA,” Bechard said. “In fact, in the past year, we’ve had four call ups.”
 
The city of Columbus knows that having a semi-pro hockey team is good for the economy. “Along with the Columbus Lions indoor football team, the Cottonmouths give the Chattahoochee Valley two great teams to support,” said Director of the Columbus Civic Center Ross Horner. “What they bring to the community in economic development and community pride is very positive for all of us.”
 
Team members of the Georgia Revolution celebrate during a soccer game.
In the city of Conyers, the Georgia Revolution (georgiarevolutionfc.com) was an extension of Rockdale County’s youth soccer program several years ago. Today, the 6-year-old semi-pro team plays in the 85-team National Premier Soccer League and competes against other organizations including the Atlanta Silverbacks. The Revolution finished fourth in Division IV in 2015.
 
“We’ve been around a long time,” said Georgia Revolution Owner Alec Morrison, who grew up around soccer. “You’d be surprised that we have players from 18 different countries, so it’s kind of like the United Nations out on the field. We are truly grassroots soccer.”
 
The season runs this year from late April to early July.
 
The Georgia Revolution is an important part of the sports tourism industry in Conyers and Rockdale County,” said Conyers Mayor Randy Mills. “We are fortunate to have this semi-pro soccer team call our community home and appreciate the economic development dollars it generates locally.”
 
In Savannah, the residents are “going bananas” for the city’s newest sports team, The Savannah Bananas, an expansion team owned by Emily and Jesse Cole, who also own the Gastonia Grizzlies in North Carolina.
 
“It’s been bananas since we announced that we are coming to Savannah,” said Emily Cole. “We’ve had contests to name the team and the mascot, and we’ll be part of the independent Coastal Plain league that has 16 teams.”
 
Team members, many on summer break from college, stay with host families in Savannah, giving the community a chance to further interact with them. Players arrived in early May to prepare for the 60-game season.
 
The team will play in Savannah’s historic Grayson Stadium from early June to mid-August. “These are really good athletes, some of the top college players, and great guys,” said Emily Cole. “Our focus will be about baseball, but also about having really good family fun.”