When Tom Jenkins and Dave Schlabach transformed Berlin into a winter wonderland of girls basketball over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, they knew that if they did it the right way, they could have a major impact both on the landscape of girls basketball and on the economy of Berlin during a time when tourism is usually struggling.
Over the past eight winters, Classic in the Country has achieved national recognition as one of the best high school basketball events in the nation, and it has injected millions of dollars into the local economy.
However, the two men realize that in those eight years, they have gone about as far as they can with the generous support of the local community. “The people and businesses of Holmes County have been amazing through their support and volunteering to help us make Classic in the Country a success,” said Schlabach. “We will be forever grateful to everyone who has helped us make our dream a reality.”
Minster 51, Minerva 47
BERLIN — Delanie Wolf scored 18 points and Kayla Wuebker added 12 as Minster defeated Minerva to kick off the Classic in the Country at the Perry Reese Center. Minster, who sank 19 of 35 shots for 54 percent, led 30-20 at the half and took a 42-34 lead into the final frame. Two other Minster players, Tara Clune and Kayla Albers, each added eight. Chelsie Butler paced Minerva with 18 points and Taylor Maurer added 13.
Canton McKinley 52, Brookhaven 24
BERLIN — Marquia Tuner scored 11 points and Ameryst Alston and Gabby Kendall each added 10 as Canton McKinley rolled past Columbus Brookhaven. Essence Bates-Hatch, Jasmine Johnson and Travecia Franklin had six points each for Brookhaven.
It seemed appropriate to honor Reggie Lee during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Lee, the girls head basketball coach of the Brookhaven Bearcats for the past 30 years, steps down this year as one of the most successful coaches in the state of Ohio. Lee was honored in front of a packed house at the Perry Reese Community Center on Saturday, Jan. 15, and the honor was as much for what Lee has done off the court as what he has done on it, where he has fashioned a state power.
“I am truly humbled by this,” said Lee, having no idea it was coming. “For 30 years, this has always been about these girls. I feel like I am one of the most blessed men on the earth to coach girls basketball.”
In his tribute to Coach Lee, Tom Jenkins, executive director of Ohio Girls Basketball Report and one of the coordinators for Classic in the Country Challenge, one of the nation’s premier high school girls basketball events, praised Lee for his unyielding commitment to his players over the years. The Classic, which also makes a dedicated effort to honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Perry Reese and other African Americans whom have made great social impacts on the world. Jenkins spoke about the impact Lee has had in dissolving racial barriers through his time spent on and off the court. Jenkins said that Lee was instrumental in bringing many of Ohio’s top black basketball programs into the Classic.
BERLIN — All the games on the final day of Classic in the Country VIII turned out to be one-sided affairs determined by double digits, even the lone overtime game of the 20 played at this year’s event.
BERLIN — The second day of action at the Classic in the Country started off with a barn burner that came right down the end. Mount Notre Dame bounced back from a tough three-point loss on Saturday to eke out a 50-46 triumph over Toledo Central Catholic.
Kathryn Reynolds capped off a fantastic weekend of action with 23 points to lead the Cougars to victory. The future Iowa Hawkeye was 6-for-8 from 3-point range. She had an assist and five steals. Gabby West chipped in 13 for the winners. In her two games at Classic in the Country, Reynolds scored 50 points on 11-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc.
BERLIN — The following are some random thoughts and observations from the Classic in the Country Challenge VIII.
After all these years of watching games and seeing hundreds of college coaches at the Classic in the Country, I just discovered on Saturday that the coaches have no contact with the players while visiting Berlin. They are here to observe, mostly and chart development and potential of players performing on a fairly large stage.
* Out-of state teams traditionally have not faired well at the Classic in the Country. Including the first day at this year’s event. The out-of-staters are 8-12 since the Classic began in 2004.
BERLIN — There were a trio of down-to-the-wire games, one 10-point affair and one blowout in the five games not featuring area ties on Day 1 of the Classic in the Country. Myrtle Beach, coached by Triway alumni Brian Kiper and the hosting Hiland Hawks, were also in action.
Game 10 JAN 16 SUN 3:30 pm Wadsworth Grizzlies vs. Lakota West Firebirds
One point for a free throw; two points for a lay-up; three points for a long-range bomb. Indeed, basketball is a game of numbers. But the biggest numbers in this contest will be ﬁve and 10.
Five is for Wadsworth’s starting combo, a talented and athletic group that plays with great intelligence, while 10 stands for Lakota West’s depth, where Andy Fishman runs players in and out, wearing down opponents.
Game 11 JAN 16 SUN 5:15 pm Hathaway Brown Blazers vs. Lakota East Thunderhawks
While it is usually the players on the ﬂoor who make the highlight reels, Lakota East’s coaching staff certainly could apply when you’re looking for star quality. Head coach Nikki Kremer-Drew left Xavier University after her senior year as an All-American who became the school’s all-time leading scorer. She also played professionally in France before settling into the coaching ranks. She is joined by assistant coach Brooke Wyckoff, an All-American at Florida State University, and a former WNBA all-star.
However, Kremer-Drew’s talented team will have its work cut out, trying to tame Paul Barlow’s Blazers. All Barlow’s teams have accomplished over the past four years is four straight Final Four appearances, including back-to-back championships.
Game 17 JAN 17 MON 3:15 pm Cincinnati Sycamore Aviators vs. Wadsworth Grizzlies
Chalk this one up as the grizzled veterans who seem to take everything in stride against an upstart team that grew through addition.
The Cincinnati Sycamore Aviators finished last year 13-11, but it was a very good learning year for head coach Paula Hayden’s crew, plus they played in the meat grinder Greater Miami Conference, which boasts about as many State-hopefuls as any in the state. Sycamore returns a load of talent, and in addition was the recipient of some of the fallout at Mount Notre Dame.
Guard Courtney Tucker and point guard Kelly McDonald transferred in after playing for the Cougars, and will join 6 foot-1-inch junior post player Keri Kleist, who transferred in from Mason. That trio will cohort with returning senior wing player Ashley Schaefer, junior wing Alexis Newbolt, and 5-foot-10-inch sophomore Hannah Locke. They will all play supporting roles to Chloe Pavlech, a junior wing bound for the University of Maryland.
BERLIN — Former Triway player and assistant coach Brian Kiper is coming home for a brief visit. He will be bringing with him a team of top-notch females hoopsters, the reigning 3A champions in the state of South Carolina.
The girls from Myrtle Beach High School will be playing two games in the eighth Classic in the Country Challenge this weekend at the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center.
“I talked with some people I coached with and some former players I used to coach who are now coaching or still around the game of basketball that want to come,” Kiper said. “Triway girls coach B.J. Sanderson, who actually brought his team down here this summer to do some scrimmaging, has mentioned he wanted to come see us play, and the Clear Fork boys coach has talked about coming to watch as well.
“It will be a fun experience for me, but it will be a great experience for these girls,” he added. “For several of them, aside from a couple AAU tournaments, they don’t get out of South Carolina very often, especially to the cold of Ohio in the middle of January. It will be an interesting experience for them.”
Game 9 JAN 16 SUN 1:45 pm Warren Howland Tigers vs. Harvest Prep Warriors
This game pits a Division IV State champion with a full house returning from last year against one of the best post players in the state. Harvest Prep returns all ﬁve starters from last year’s championship team, and eight of its top nine players. It is no wonder that OGBR’s Tom Jenkins predicted that the Warriors will repeat.
“They’ve got to be the biggest favorite to win their division this season,” said Jenkins of the Warriors, who reeled off 20 in a row to win the Div. IV title with a sparkling 27-1 mark.
Game 14 JAN 17 MON 10:00 am Fort Loramie Redskins vs. Orrville Red Riders
This game pits one of the premier Div. IV programs in the state in Fort Loramie against a great Div. III program in Orrville.
If one-on-one guard match-ups entice you, this is a game you won’t want to miss. And not only are these two battling guards nimble with the ball, both can also act as bruisers when necessary.
The Redskins, who had another solid year at 19-5 last season, will trot 5-foot-10-inch senior Janel Olberding on to the court. The big-time track star is long and lean, possessing cat-like quickness and tremendous skills.
Game 15 JAN 17 MON 11:45 am Newark Wildcats vs. Kenton Ridge Cougars
This game should turn into a real catfight — literally and in terms of nicknames, when the Newark Wildcats try to tame the Kenton Ridge Cougars.
Kenton Ridge, which chalked up a solid 18-6 mark last year, will be making its third appearance at the Classic in the Country, while Newark, which ended the year at 9-13 last year, will be arriving in Amish Country for the first time ever.
The Wildcats are a real wild card in this basketball showcase. Young and inexperienced last year, they are not without the attributes to jump up and beat anybody on any given day, as Tom Jenkins said. “Just to show you how good they can be, last year they managed a season split with Div. I Final Four Reynoldsburg, who was one of the best teams in the state,”
Game 18 JAN 17 MON 5:00 pm Princeton Vikings vs. Midpark Meteors
Talk about lucking your way into a crowning achievement.
That is how Tom Jenkins feels about this match-up of a pair of teams that were at one point a mid-level contest, but following a rash of transfers, became one of the marquee contests in the Classic.
“This game was actually sort of a last-minute fill-in game, that has become one of the best games on the schedule, thanks to a lot of transfers for both clubs,” said Jenkins. “With all the movement, we’ve got about as much talent between these two teams as in any this weekend.”
Game 16 JAN 17 MON 1:30 pm Indian Hill Braves vs. West Holmes Lady Knights
That rumbling sound you hear may well be coming from the approaching clash of the Braves and Lady Knights, who will present a top-notch Div. II contest. These two teams have been building momentum over the past couple of seasons, and both have high hopes of making some noise all the way to the State tournament this year.
The Scott Rogers-coached Braves will bring Dr. Rogers’ intensity and discipline to the Reese Center. Led by dynamic point guard Nicole Bell, whom Tom Jenkins called, “Pound for pound the toughest player in the state,” Indian Hill has its sights set on extending its tournament run beyond last year’s loss in the Regional semifinal to Kettering Alter, which eventually made its way to State.
Game 20 JAN 17 MON 8:30 pm Walsh Jesuit Warriors vs. Hiland Lady Hawks
Walsh Jesuit graduated a lot of talent from last year’s Div. II Final Four team, which finished the season 23-3. But what hurt the Warriors more than that was the loss of a junior superstar, who transferred out and made Walsh Jesuit’s chances of a repeat trip to Columbus all the tougher.
Highly regarded point guard Rachel Theriot, who is as talented of a junior guard that there is in the state, left Walsh to go to Midpark, leaving the Warriors in need of a point guard.
Theriot’s leaving meant that Walsh Jesuit will now move from a get-up-and-down-the-floor team that ran the ball in a fast-paced offense, to more of a half-court set offense that will run through a pair of big post players. Liz Reeves, a 6-foot-0-inch big body underneath, will command a great deal of attention this season from opponents’ defenses.
Game 12 JAN 16 SUN 7:00 pm Toledo Start Spartans vs duPont Manual (KY) Lady Crimsons
When duPont head coach Stacy Pendleton heard about Classic in the Country from Martin Clapp, one of the Purdue University coaches who was scouting the Lady Crimsons, he knew he had to check it out. “He told me that I needed to do whatever I had to do to get into this thing,” said Pendleton.
He did, and Classic co-director Tom Jenkins is always thrilled to bring in out-of-state teams that are the premier programs in their state.
duPont Manual, out of Kentucky, will bring with it an incredibly gifted group of talent, since Pendleton has all but one of his kids back from a 24-6 season last year. Older and wiser, this team is athletic, plays fast, pressures the ball end-line to end-line and is nine deep. The only pressure facing Pendleton to begin the season is who he will run out there as his starting ﬁve.
Game 19 JAN 17 MON 6:45 pm Fairborn Skyhawks vs. Hathaway Brown Blazers
What at first glance might seem like a bit of an edge for Hathaway Brown becomes intriguing because this will be Hathaway Brown’s second game in the Classic in 24 hours. The big question is, can the Blazers recover in time to face an up-and-coming team in Fairborn, which finished 18-4 last season and a bonafide star and talented depth?
Fairborn head coach Steve Hannaford has turned around a struggling program in his three years there, going 10-11 and 14-8 before watching his youthful Skyhawks explode onto the scene last season.
Jaymee Veney, a force to be reckoned with inside, averaged almost 12 points and 12 rebounds per contest last season and has averaged 10 rebounds per year since her freshman season. Veney, who is headed for St. Francis University in New York next season, made life miserable for more than a few guards who tried their luck at driving the lane. She is far from the only player on this Fairborn team. She is joined by highly touted sophomore Alexis Gassion, and Brooklyn Pumroy, both of whom can fill it up on any given night. Gassion is an athletic wing player, while Pumroy is a versatile junior point guard who OGBR director Tom Jenkins lists in the top five point guards in the junior class in Ohio.
Game 13 JAN 16 SUN 8:45 pm Twinsburg Tigers vs. Myrtle Beach (SC) Seahawks
Twinsburg is coming off of a dream 23-2 that was derailed in Regional ﬁnals versus eventual Div. I champion Canton McKinley. Now, head coach Julie Solis wants to test her talented team against the best, and they got it in the Classic, having drawn two of the very best from Kentucky and South Carolina.
“We want to be tournament tested before we get to tournaments,” said Solis. “We’ve got some huge expectations.”
The spark igniting this talented squad is Malina Howard, the 6-4 junior who was a U.S. 18-U Olympian this past summer.
Game 5 JAN 15 SAT 5:00 pm Myrtle Beach, SC Seahawks vs. Toledo Start Spartans
What makes this contest an alluring one, aside from the fact that it pits one of the state’s top teams in Toledo Start against the South Carolina State champions, is that Myrtle Beach coach Brian Kiper is a former Triway Titans star. Kiper is looking forward to returning to his home area, and with him comes a team that returns four of its ﬁve starters from its championship team that went 29-1 last season. In all, he returns seven of his top eight players, and feels pretty good about his team as it prepares for an upgraded schedule this season, which he hopes will challenge his team even more.
Game 2 JAN 15 SAT 11:45 am Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame Cougars vs. North Canton Hoover Vikings
One of the state’s most illustrious girls basketball programs has fallen on tough times recently, resulting in coaching change and the exodus of several key players from the program. Gone from Mount Notre Dame is coach Dante Harlan, who was a major contributor for years under former coach Dr. Scott Rogers as an assistant before taking over as head coach the past four seasons. Following Harlan’s dismissal, no less than eight Notre Dame players ﬂew the coop, among them a number of prized talents.
Game 1 JAN 15 SAT 10:00 am Minerva Lions vs. Minster Wildcats
Why beat around the bush when it comes to pitting two great teams against each other in an event like the Classic? Tom Jenkins, Classic organizer and creator of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report, said succinctly, “This is as good of an opening game as we have had in our eight years at the Classic.”
Game 8 JAN 16 SUN 12:00 pm Toledo Central Catholic Fighting Irish vs. Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame Cougars
While the mass exodus from Notre Dame following the exit of head coach Dante Harlan may have depleted some of the talent from the Cougars’ program, it hasn’t done anything to squelch the competitive ﬁres which have built the school’s program into a juggernaut. New head coach Kelly Main has vowed to continue to strive for excellence, and will not use the personnel changes as an excuse.
“The transition has gone fairly smoothly,” said Main of the big changing of the guards. “We have taken the approach that we are going to focus on the things that we have control over and to not make excuses or dwell on the negatives that occurred throughout the offseason. We strive to have a purpose every day of improving ourselves in the classroom, on the ﬂoor, and outside of school as well. This is a great group of young ladies with tremendous overall character. We are taking the approach that we will simply out-work our opponents and try to get better in some aspect of the game each day.”
Game 3 JAN 15 SAT 1:30 pm Lakota West Firebirds vs. Northland Vikings
Andy Fishman’s Firebirds crew has plenty of experience in the Classic in the Country, having racked up an impressive 8-5 record over the ﬁ rst seven years of the showcase. Meanwhile, Dean Washington’s Columbus Northland crew will be making their ﬁrst appearance under the bright lights of one of the nation’s premier girls basketball events.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Firebirds will be a heavy favorite.
“Northland is quickly emerging as one of the premier challengers in Div. I to Brookhaven in the Columbus area,” said Tom Jenkins. “They’ve got three legitimate top prospects and the best player on the ﬂoor in sophomore Alexis Peterson.”
Game 7 JAN 15 SAT 8:30 pm Columbus Africentric Nubians vs. Hiland Lady Hawks
Simply put, this contest is one in which both coaches and teams look forward to. After Africentric came along, it quickly became one of the Ohio small school program’s greatest rivalries, as the two teams kept a vigilant lookout on the other as each season progressed, knowing that they would more than likely have to get through the other to win a State title.
That has changed this season with Africentric, who ended last year at 18-6, sliding up a notch to Div. III, but thanks to the Classic, the rivalry continues. The contest will match wits between two of the state’s top coaches, Will McKinney and Dave Schlabach, who have both gained a mutual respect for each other’s coaching abilities and their respective programs.
According to both Tom Jenkins, director of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report, and Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, the signiﬁcance of the Classic weekend was something that they could have never foreseen when they got together seven years ago to build the model for what would become the Classic in the Country. They had no idea they were putting together a weekend extravaganza that would
become second to none in the nation, which would not only showcase Ohio’s girls basketball talent, but also honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as perpetuate the legacy of Hiland legendary boys basketball Coach Perry Reese Jr.
Game 6 JAN 15 SAT 6:45 pm duPont Manual (KY) Lady Crimsons vs. Twinsburg Tigers
For years, what has been driving Dave Schlabach’s Hiland program is his ability to introduce the game to kids at a young age. duPont Manual head coach Stacy Pendleton uses that same approach, promoting the importance of getting the fundamentals down at an early age through his team’s summer clinic.
Coach Pendleton is entering his seventh year as head coach of the Lady Crimsons, having built one of the premier girls programs in the state of Kentucky. Pendleton’s team is coming off of a ﬁne 24-6 effort last year. Throughout the past ﬁve seasons, Pendleton and his Lady Crimsons have fashioned a most-impressive 128-33 mark, and his career coaching record now stands at 240-98.
Game 4 JAN 15 SAT 3:15 pm Canton McKinley Bulldogs vs. Brookhaven Bearcats
What’s not to like about this contest? Pam and Willie Davis, coaches of the Bulldogs, bring back a Div. I State championship team that returns nearly the entire core of its team from a year ago. All they have to do to get a victory in the Classic is knock off head coach Reggie Lee, who has simply fashioned one of the great girls programs in Ohio girls basketball over the past 30 years at the helm.
According to Tom Jenkins, if you’re going to see one game at the Classic this year, this is the one to grab a ticket for — if you can ﬁnd one.
BERLIN — If you are into high-caliber high school girls basketball, the Perry Reese Center is where you should be this weekend.
Twenty games over a span of three days are on tap as the eighth annual Classic in the Country Challenge will take place in the rolling hills of Holmes County.
BERLIN — The eighth Classic in the Country Challenge promises to be as exciting as the seven previous events featuring a bevy of the best girls basketball Ohio has to offer as 31 teams square off in 20 games over a three-day period, beginning Saturday, Jan. 15 through Monday, Jan. 17
Three of the four reigning state champions, (D-I Canton McKinley, D-II Hathaway Brown and D-IV Harvest Prep) are among the teams playing at this year’s event, along with several of the top-rated teams and projected powerhouses from this year. All four D-IV final 4 teams from last year will be competing at this year’s classic (Harvest Prep, Hiland, Minster and Fort Loramie). Other state powers include Twinsburg, Cincinnati Princeton, Toledo Start, Africentric, as well as local favorites West Holmes and Orrville.
Three of the four reigning state champions will be on-hand at the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend for the eighth installment of the Classic in the Country. Over the past seven years, CitC has grown into the top in-season girls’ basketball in the nation. And each season, it continues to better itself.
“[Event director] Tom Jenkins continues to bring in the best talent and best teams in the state,” Hiland coach and event coordinator Dave Schlabach said. “We’re excited about another really good year.”
Is Classic in the Country ready to take on a large national corporate sponsor? If Tom Jenkins, Dave Schlabach and the Classic staff have anything to say about it, they are more than ready. For several years, Schlabach has talked about bringing in a major sponsor to the ever-growing Classic, which is widely recognized as one of the premier girls high school basketball showcases in the nation.
The question is, can they entice a major sports-related company to join ranks with them?
If everything goes the way they hope, that will be the case for next year’s Classic in the Country IX, and the corporation joining them could well be Under Armour.