By DAVID HARPSTER
BERLIN — When the village decides to throw a party, almost everyone has a hand in the festivities.
That was the case this weekend when Hiland High School played host to the inaugural Classic in the Country Challenge. The guests of honor were 33 girls basketball teams from around the state, fans, college coaches and anyone else who wanted to get a glimpse of some quality basketball while also enjoying some Holmes County hospitality.
The end result was more than 5,000 people descending on eastern Holmes County for the Martin Luther King weekend.
“It’s really what I thought would truly happen when we started this,” said Hiland girls basketball coach Dave Schlabach, who was one of the Classic’s organizers. “When we get a project around here a lot of people seem to want to get involved. That’s what happened for this.
“It’s been fantastic. Everyone has gone above and beyond, from businesses to the 150 volunteer workers that we have. It’s gone beyond our wildest expectations. … there really haven’t been a whole lot of glitches.
With seven games played Saturday, six Sunday and seven more Monday, most of the action has been centered around the Perry Reese Community Center. But that hasn’t prevented businesses in town from reaping some of the rewards from the influx of visitors.
“It’s been a very busy and successful weekend for us,” said Marlene Raber, group coordinator at the Amish Country Inn. “It’s nice to be busy in January.”
Susie Stutzman, owner of Sol’s Exchange in Berlin, said Saturday’s bad weather may have helped keep the crowds down at her gift shops, but still feels the Classic will pay dividends.
“We were busy up until the ice storm,” Stutzman said. “We were open (Sunday) for the first time ever and had a decent crowd. Hopefully some of the people who browsed this week will remember us and come back at a later date.”
If the visitors were treated half as well as the fans and teams that played at the Classic, then that will probably be the case.
Tom Jenkins, managing partner of Ohio Girls Basketball Magazine and one of the Classic’s directors, recalled a story about the team from Dayton Dunbar that arrived in Berlin on Friday as one example of the type of hospitality the guests have been treated to this weekend.
“Dunbar played in Dayton on Thursday and didn’t have time to wash their uniforms,” Jenkins said. “They checked into their hotel rooms and their coach asks the clerk where the Laundromat is because they needed to wash their uniforms. They said don’t worry just give them to us and we’ll do them. They went to eat and when they got back not only are their uniforms washed, but they’re dried, ironed and hung on racks in their rooms.
“Their coach said his players didn’t know what to think because their uniforms had never been ironed before.”
With 150 volunteers in action, the organizers of the Classic tried to make sure they had all their bases covered when it came to service for their guests. That includes providing meals for all the teams, taping each team’s games for them and treating college coaches and the media to meals catered by Der Dutchman Restaurant.
“The compliments we get have to do with the hospitality to the organization, and you just couldn’t do that without the amount of people that we have involved,” Schlabach said. “When you walk in the door you’ve got someone taking care of you, whether you’re a fan, a media member, a college coach or the team bus driver.”
With some of his former players returning to help out as volunteers, Schlabach described the classic as a “family affair in a lot of ways.”
That holds true for Shelly Miller, who works for Schlabach at his business in Walnut Creek. Miller was one of the volunteers this weekend, along with her 75-year-old father, Clyde Sundheimer.
“My dad is working at the pass gate. Our high school kids are selling programs and others are working in the parking lot,” Miller said. “Parents of players who played in the early ’80s are helping out, as are some of our former players. It’s nice to see the girls come back and help out.
“That’s what is really neat to see, the whole community just pitch in and help out,” Miller added. “There’s people at the high school cafeteria who are busy feeding all the teams after each game.
“It’s just been amazing to how everything has come together.”