Saturday, January 13, 2007

Thinking Outside the Box

So I’m perusing the hometown papers and came across something I’d forgotten. At my alma mater, Hiland High School, basketball is king, or in this case, queen. The Classic in the Country is going on this weekend back home. Its a showcase of the best girls basketball teams in Ohio (and other parts). College head coaches fly in to see this thing and its become quite the boom weekend for the area.

They schedule it every year over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend because of his work and the progress made in the area by Perry Reese Jr., legendary boy’s basketball coach of the 80’s and 90’s. Its really quite amazing and is a great weekend of basketball.

Classic in the Country a 'can't miss event'

Daily Record Sports Writer

The Classic in the Country is set for its third go-round, and the girls basketball showcase to be held Saturday through Monday continues to draw rave reviews.

It's ranked as one of the top three high school events in America by the USA Today and it's also drawing a few important new faces this season.

"With a lot of college head coaches having tight schedules, most have sent their assistants to scout the first two years," Hiland coach Dave Schlabach said. "This year we actually have a decent amount of head coaches who have made arrangements to fly into (the Holmes County Airport). They want to come in, see a game of a kid they're recruiting, talk to the family and then be on a private plane out of here."

There are plenty of quality players and games to be seen, as 30 teams will play 20 marquee games over the three-day event hosted by Hiland High School in conjunction with Tom Jenkins and the Ohio Girls Basketball Report. More than 75 Div. I college prospects will take to the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center court between Saturday morning and Monday night.

"I wonder if we can keep saying it year after year, but it should be bigger and better than last year," Schlabach said. "If you look at the player rankings, the state rankings that come out later this week, and the national rankings, it's just unbelievable."

Three of the four reigning Ohio state champions will compete in this year's Classic in the Country. Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (Div. II) is the lone title-holder who will not be on display, but Dayton Chaminade-Julienne (Div. I), South Euclid Regina (Div. III) and Berlin Hiland (Div. IV) will all play in Berlin.

Also joining the host Hawks from the area will be Waynedale and West Holmes.

Waynedale and Lexington tip off the event Saturday at 10 a.m., while West Holmes battles Hoban Monday at 5 p.m. Hiland is the nightcap on two occasions - Saturday at 8:30 versus Fort Recovery and Monday at 8:30 against Garfield Heights Trinity.

"Hoban is an established program with a very solid backcourt," West Holmes coach Matt Voll said. "I feel like our team has gotten out of the chute very well and solidified ourselves as being a good team, but this will be a good test.

"I'm intrigued about how we come out and play in this environment. I am going to learn a lot about my team and I really do think this could act as a springboard for the rest of the season."

Waynedale coach Don McConnell knows his team has a stiff challenge awaiting them.

"We tried to beef up the schedule a little bit to get prepared for tournament time, and to be honest with you, this will be our biggest test of the year," Waynedale coach Don McConnell said. "Lexington has athletes across the board and provide some matchup problems ... but it will be a good opportunity for some of our kids to get some exposure, and for us to play in a tournament-like atmosphere."

The event is not only about good basketball, though.

Intentionally scheduled over the holiday weekend honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the CITC is intended to remember the sacrifices Dr. King made in order to bring about racial harmony in America. It's also meant to remind people of the racial barriers the late, great Hiland boys coach Perry Reese Jr. faced by being the first black coach in Amish Country.

"It's a special event, honoring two special men and held in a special corner of the universe," said Jenkins, the director of OGBR which was voted the No. 1 single-state scouting service in America by NCAA coaches. "The Columbus public schools are not allowed to play on Sunday or Monday in order to honor Dr. King. But to be honest with you, 85 percent of the kids would learn more coming to Berlin and being part of the Classic than they would staying home."

The credit for quality matchups must also go to Jenkins, who projects strength of teams and schedules the CITC games 14 months prior to the event.

Trinity head coach Chrissy Falcone, whose team beat West Holmes in the CITC last season, was sure impressed with the matchups her club received this winter. The Trojans will play the defending Div. I state runner-up (Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame) Sunday and the reigning Div. IV state champions (Berlin Hiland) Monday. After playing Bedford Chanel in a conference game Saturday.

"Do you like that? I did at first, but now I'm not so sure that I do," Falcone joked. "Seriously, though, I didn't request it - but I'm very, very, very excited about it.

"We went 20-3 and 20-2 the last two years, but we had two, three or maybe four decent teams on our schedule. Our schedule has not helped us get ready for the tournament, but I made sure that was going to change this year."

Aside from removing the softball field at the front-entrance area of the Reese Community Center and replacing it with handicapped and regular parking spots, this version of the CITC will not change much.

The sponsorship of 89 area business, and the efforts of close to 250 Holmes County volunteers, will again help the event run smoothly.

Hopefully the college coaches flying in will have as smooth a landing.

And perhaps for our community’s part, this is pertinent…

Dreaming big has paid off for CITC

Daily reocrd Sports Editor

A few thoughts from the week in sports ...

If you dream big, there's no telling what the result might be.

Just look at what the folks in Holmes County have done with the Classic in the Country Challenge.

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