By KEVIN LYNCH Staff Writer
When talking about the elite programs of high school girls basketball, Holmes County quickly comes to mind, with four state championships won by the girls at each end of the county.
So, where else would you expect to find one of the most unique, high quality displays of girls basketball than in Berlin, Ohio, at the 12th annual Kaufman Realty & Auctions Classic in the Country, powered by Under Armour, over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Jan. 1719).
The event is a smorgasbord of girls basketball, with 28 teams playing 20 games over three days, featuring not only some of the top players in the state of Ohio, but in the country.
Since the inception of this celebration of basketball, history and cultural diversity in 2004, the Classic in the Country has drawn college coaches from all over the country to watch a gathering of some of the best girls basketball the state of Ohio has to offer.
Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, event coordinator Tom Jenkins and former Hoover coach Paul Wacklerly
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.
“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.”
The Classic in the Country annually showcases the reigning state champions from a variety of divisions, as the teams utilize the great weekend of basketball as a primer for the OHSAA tournament that begins next month. It has grown in popularity from the beginning because of the great competition and outstanding hospitality afforded the teams, college coaches and media the event attracts.
“Classic in the Country is one of the best and most inspirational tournaments that we have ever been involved in during my tenure as head coach at Hathaway Brown,” recordsetting coach Paul Barlow said.
“It has been an honor and privilege to be part of the combination of great girls basketball coupled with the remembrance of Dr. King.
“The Classic is run in a firstclass manner, right down to the last detail,” Barlow added. “Tom Jenkins,
Dave Schlabach, the CITC staff and the entire Berlin community should be congratulated for their
efforts. We are humbled and grateful to be part of such a wonderful event.”
Barlow coached the Hathaway Brown Blazers to an unprecedented five consecutive Div. II state championships, twice besting the Lady Knights of West Holmes in the state finals. Malone College women’s basketball coach and Hiland grad Jason Mishler says Classic in the Country is an opportunity for coaches to view a lot of talent in one place.
“It’s not just the talent on the floor, but all those kids are so well coached,” Mishler said. “When we’re recruiting, we know that if a team is playing at the Classic, they are extremely well coached. A lot of times those second, third and fourthbest players on the team can turn out to be major contributors for a lot of different programs.”
Holmes County Commissioner Joe Miller says Holmes County is very fortunate to be able to host an event like 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 echoes 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.”