By Kevin Lynch / Staff Writer
BERLIN — Classic in the Country turns 15 this year. And instead of losing its luster, the annual event that brings many of Ohio’s best basketball players to town for a weekend of cultural history just continues to get better.
Since the inception of this celebration of basketball, history and cultural diversity in 2004, the Classic in the Country has drawn thousands of college coaches from all over the country to the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center to watch a gathering of some of the best girls basketball the state of Ohio has to offer in one place over three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Jan. 13, 14 and 15.
This year, fans will get a chance to see the young lady from Colorado who dunked in a game last year, 6-1 junior Francesca Belibi, star of the Regis Jesuit Raiders, from Colorado. The Raiders play Hiland Saturday night, Jan. 13.
Belibi is one of several nationally ranked players who will be showcasing their skills at Classic in the Country. She was a teammate of Toldeo Rogers star junior Zia Cooke last summer on Team USA. Cooke is the No. 1 rated point guard in the country, and the Rogers will be playing at the Classic.
A pair of the best centers in the country are Valencia Myers of Solon, who will be playing for Florida State next year, and Naz Hillman of Gilmour Academy, who is a Michigan recruit. Lakota West guard Abby Prohaska will be playing for Notre Dame next season. They will all be playing in Berlin this weekend.
A trio of the Div. I final four teams from last year, including reigning champion Mount Notre Dame Cougars, (also final four teams Toledo Notre Dame and Newark) along with D-III champion Gilmour Academy and D-IV champ Hiland, will also be displaying their skills.
Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, former event coordinator Tom Jenkins and former Hoover/current GlenOak coach Paul Wackerly dreamed up the event that brings teams from the inner city to experience a weekend of country comfort, celebrating the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former Hiland boys basketball coach Perry Reese Jr.
“The Classic in the Country continues to amaze us all at the longevity of the event,” Schlabach said. “The best teams in the country will once again be here. Two hundred-plus college coaches will show up to watch, and our community continues to offer the greatest hospitality.
“The economic benefit in the middle of January also creates an added benefit for our community as we host the best girls basketball event in the country,” he added.
Holmes County Commissioner Joe Miller said Holmes County is very fortunate to be able to host an event like the Classic in the Country because it is not only a boon for girls basketball, it is a gold mine for the local economy, bringing in tons of tourists and generating dollars during the down time of the year.
“Not only does it provide great basketball, but it brings a lot of people here during a traditionally slow time of the year,” Miller said. “Many of these people will come back to Holmes County during the (tourist) season. We are looking for events like this for our county.”
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shasta Mast echoed Miller’s sentiments.
“Classic in the Country is a fantastic event for our area,” Mast said. “It brings in thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be here in the dead of winter, and it gives us an opportunity to showcase everything we have to offer to them and hopefully entice them to come back later with their friends and family.”
Jenkins is easing into retirement mode, after selling his Ohio Girls Basketball Report to Hiland graduate Bryce McKey.
“I think what Classic in the Country does, over and beyond the economic impact, is present an opportunity for the community to become unified behind a common cause, to perpetuate the legacy of their adopted son, Coach Reese,” Jenkins said. “But, also, it’s an opportunity for the community to display its core values, and those values are contagious over the weekend. Classic in the Country has become a magical weekend.”
Tickets are available at the door. A single day admission ticket is $10, or a three-day pass is $25.