By LAUREL SCHEFFEL
T-G Sports Writer
Forget the state girls basketball tournament.
Ohio teams should just try to earn an invitation to the Classic in the Country Challenge at Berlin, Hiland.
Over the weekend, 30 of the best teams in the state participated in the three-day event that drew scouts from 125 colleges around the country, including every Big Ten, Big East and SEC school and locally, Ashland University.
The classic is in its third year, but has been named one of the best in the nation by USA Today. It was easy to see why. I attended the tournament Monday for the final day, and though I didn’t really know what I was getting into, it was worth the $8 cost of admission.
My fiancé—for those of you who don’t know, my boyfriend Eric proposed Sunday and I enthusiastically said ‘Yes.’ — had to cover the Wadsworth vs. Chaminade-Julienne game and since we were busy getting engaged in Athens, where we met at Ohio University, the day before, I tagged along rather than make Eric go out of his way to take me home first.
I’m glad I went. It truly was some of the best high school basketball I have seen. Area teams would have benefited from watching. (I know I at least saw Ashland junior varsity coach Josh Packard there taking in the scene.)
The games were so good, they were over in an hour and 15 minutes, but it felt like it was only 20. A lot of games I have been to this season have stretched over two hours because of way too many turnovers and silly fouls.
I didn’t see much of that Monday. The tournament selection committee successfully drew a slew of talented teams. Hiland director of athletics Colin Mishler even stated in the program that the committee has a 62 percent success rate in selecting state champions 14 months in advance.
The atmosphere of the tournament itself should have been enough to draw the best of the best—a combination of entertainment at halftime, good basketball and tasty food.
In the heart of real Amish Country, Berlin is one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions. Fans and teams got a taste of that just by visiting the concession stand. Everything edible in the Hiland gymnasium was homemade, real Amish-style food.
(The food prepared for the media, by the way, was awesome — fried chicken so tender you could cut it from the bone with a plastic fork, mashed potatoes, stuffing and even the corn was good.)
Even just the way the tournament officials and volunteers treated the media was a journalist’s dream. A media coordinator made sure everyone had a seat, he brought up coaches and players following games for interviews and meals or snacks and drinks were available throughout the day
Not a bad way to spend a weekend. Maybe someday a team in the T-G area will make the tournament — it might be even more prestigious than making the Wendy’s Spring Classic softball tournament.