By Jeffery Williams
The Budget Sports Correspondent
The Classic in the Country has only been in existence for six years but in terms of tradition, the foundation is set in granite. It’s set in the hundreds of volunteers that keep the weekend moving smoothly. It’s set in the way Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report’s Tom Jenkins sets up the lineups and the games.
It’s set in the hundreds of college coaches that return to Berlin every Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
It’s set in the small-town hospitality of Berlin and the surrounding communities.
It’s set in the tremendous facilities at the Perry Reese Junior Community Center at Hiland High.
It’s what keeps ’em coming back for more!
“The atmosphere is top-notch and it’s like going to a mini state tournament,” said Dayton Chaminade Julienne coach Duane Williams. “It’s a privilege to be on the list of teams that get to come to the event year-after-year.”
Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame coach Dante Harlan said the event is more than just basketball.
“It’s something that I look forward to as a coach, and I know that from our parents to our kids, it’s something that they look forward to and circle on the schedule every year,” said Harlan. “It’s not just playing in the event. It’s the whole thing, from the hospitality that the coaches and teams are shown to the collection of talent that comes in. The city makes you feel like home and really takes care of you.
“And it’s for a great cause. The Classic in the Country is truly about Perry Reese and what he meant to the community and to the
basketball community. This isn’t just an Ohio girls’ basketball event. It’s a life event.”
The late Perry Reese was an integral part of the Hiland community. As an African-American in an Amish community, he was accepted by that same community despite being from outside the area. It’s part of what makes the Berlin community welcome to so many teams from so many different areas each year. “The event is run exceptionally well and in terms of hospitality, it’s second to none,” said Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown coach Paul Barlow.
Barlow’s Blazers have been at the event five of the six years and are 1-4, beating Brookhaven last year while dropping games to Jonathan Alder, Cincinnati Princeton, West Holmes and the host Hiland Hawks.
He said he looks at the weekend as a measuring stick for his program as they prepare to face Mt. Notre Dame and Lakota West at Hiland this year.
“Strength of schedule is of the utmost importance to us,” said Barlow.
“I am a believer that we need to play the best competition we can, and the Classic in the Country and (Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report’s) Tom Jenkins always puts us in position to play someone solid.”
Harlan, whose team is 10-2 over all six years of the event’s history, will play Hathaway Brown and Toledo Start, the team it beat in winning the Division I state championship last year.
“I tell Tom, ‘I just want two good games, get me two good games’,” said Harlan. “No matter what happens there, we know we’re going to walk away with a better understanding of our team and what we need to work on as we try to put ourselves in a position to compete for a state championship from year to year.”
Williams’s Eagles have participated all six years of the event and are 3-3, toppling Mentor, Bishop McGuinness (North Carolina) and
Boardman while falling to Wadsworth, North Canton Hoover and Notre Dame Academy of Massachusetts. This year, his team will face off against University (New Jersey) with 10 Division I prospects, and Twinsburg, a Northeast Ohio D-1 power.
“You know the teams from your area, but this is a measuring stick statewide that you can use to see where you sit with teams from out of your area,” said Williams. “You’re getting a chance in a tournament-type atmosphere, and you’re playing quality opponents. This experience goes a long way when March comes.”
Another team with a rich history at the Classic is North Canton Hoover, who is 7-4 in six years. They will face West Holmes this year. West Chester Lakota West is 8-4 in five years at the Classic and faces off with Twinsburg and Hathaway Brown this year.
Then there’s a pair of “W”schools who have a great tradition at the event in Northeast Ohio’s Wadsworth and Cincinnati’s Winton Woods. Wadsworth is 6-1 at the event, playing every year and losing only to Winton Woods while the Cincinnati school is 5-3, having lost to solid clubs in Columbus Mifflin, Regina and Hoover.
State champion (Division III) South Euclid Regina, in its last year of basketball as its school will close next year, is 8-2 in six years and will face University (New Jersey) and Mason (out of the Cincinnati area).
“It is the best run event in the country with the most talent competing every year,” said Regina coach Pat Diulus in a statement for the Classic in the Country. “The Classic is the best event I have ever been a part of in 25 years of coaching … period.
The Classic is a ‘happening.’” Williams added that the volunteers make the event.
“I come from the AAU circuit where I’ve run events in the Dayton area and had huge amounts of teams come in and I can tell you, it’s a difficult thing to assemble,” Williams said. “I know the number of people you need to run a great event. For every hour that people work in the gym during the games, there are many more behind the scenes keeping things running around the games being played. There’s such great support at the Classic.
”Harlan said he loves the Reese Center, in particular. “You have a very prideful community and all you have to do to know that is look at the gym and the support at the Classic,” said Harlan. “There’s such a great tradition there for basketball and for the community, and coach Schlabach has built so much pride in his girls’ basketball program. He’s not just one of the best coaches in the state, he’s one of the best coaches in the nation, and he comes from a small community that embraces and appreciates that.”