By DAVE MAST
The third leg of the Classic in the Country high school girls basketball showcase is the incredible gift of hospitality exhibited by the countless volunteers who make the event a reality. Well-known throughout the state of Ohio as the finest event to which teams can be invited, that reputation doesn’t exist without the caring professionalism by a devoted volunteer crew.
In its infancy, CitC was created by Tom Jenkins, director of Ohio Girls Basketball Review; Dave Schlabach, head coach of the Hiland Lady Hawks and local business man; and Paul Wackerly, who at the time 13 years ago coached at North Canton Hoover and now coaches the girls team at GlenOak High School.
When the three gathered in the basement of Jenkins’ home in 2002, they wanted to create the premier girls’ basketball showcase in the state, and maybe even in the nation. With Jenkins’ knowledge and contacts in the girls’ basketball scene, Wackerly’s knowledge of the game and Schlabach incredible list of contacts in the Berlin community, the three men hashed out a game plan.
CitC was built on promoting a celebration of sameness in people, regardless of race, color or sex. The idea was to have the event over Martin Luther King. Jr. weekend, and to promote the message of hope that someday there would be equality among everyone and people would treat everyone with respect.
They wanted to bring in the very best in high school girls basketball in the Buckeye state. Jenkins’ rare insight into the high school game in Ohio allows him to accomplish that feat annually, where 20 games and close to 30 teams put on quite a show.
Then there was the idea that in order to make this event the best it could be, it could not take a back seat to any other event in terms of hospitality.
Now in its 13th year, CitC has not fallen short in any of the three areas, and when it comes to treating visiting college coaches, referees, teams, coaching staffs and fans well, the volunteer staff bends over backwards to make that happen.
Cincinnati Glen Este was a first-time visitor to the event this year. They were excited to experience what they had heard so much about. According to head coach Jeff Click and his staff, they were not disappointed.
“You hear so much about this event, and we were so honored to be chosen to play in it,” said Click, whose team made the weekend all the sweeter by nipping Gilmour Academy in a tight dual.
“From the moment we stepped inside the doors, we were greeted by staff who made us feel right at home. Everything we had heard about the Classic was absolutely true. It is an amazing event, and we have been treated like royalty,” Click said.
Andy Booth’s Lady Grizzlies from Wadsworth have been a staple at CitC from the very beginning.
He said, “From the moment you step inside the door, you have three or four people who greet you, and say, ‘How can we help you? Here’s your stuff. Here’s where you’ll be going. Here is where you’re going to eat.’ It’s just first class, and you don’t get that from anywhere else I have ever been to.”
The longtime Wadsworth head coach said the weekend is filled with great high school girls basketball, as well as an incredible message of equality and hope from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but what completes the weekend for his team is the way they are treated.
“That is what really puts it over the top,” Booth said. “We are treated like royalty, and I know our kids really appreciate that. I know it is very humbling as a coaching staff to receive that kind of treatment from a community that cares so much about putting on a quality event.”
After about a five-year hiatus, Wackerly returned to the CitC with his GlenOak squad that defeated Hiland in a wild romp that wrapped up CitC XIII.
He said he was simply in awe at how much the event has grown, and he knows that the dedication to creating something special and memorable for all involved is a big part of the equation.
“We thought this could be pretty good,” said Wackerly of the initial days of creating CitC. “But I walked in here, and looked around, and couldn’t believe it. I mean, I knew it would be great, but I didn’t expect this. It went way past where I thought it would be, and I thought it would be pretty dang good. I love being back and being a part of this, because the people here go to such great lengths to make sure everyone is treated so well.”
The basketball may be the highlight, the message of hope and equality the meat, but the hospitality displayed during this weekend extravaganza is the whipped cream, chocolate fudge and cherry on top of a dessert that has gained huge respect throughout the state and beyond.