By DAVE MAST
When Tom Jenkins created Classic in the Country, the girls basketball showcase that takes place over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend every year in Amish Country, he did so with the hope that in addition to presenting some top-notch girls basketball, he could also promote the celebration of sameness in people everywhere, as well as the idea that respecting and honoring others is the best way to help make the world a better place.
North Canton Hoover’s girls’ basketball program has taken that concept and done well to represent those very themes in a program head coach Abbey Allerding began several years ago. Allerding and her coaching staff have gone to great lengths to help their players understand that the lessons learned in becoming a team of high character goes well beyond the lines.
“I think it is one of the most important things that goes into coaching,” said Allerding about creating an atmosphere that is conducive to more than just coaching the X’s and O’s of basketball. “One of the biggest things that we talk about is that basketball is more than just what’s on the basketball floor. It is about life, how you live it, how you love your teammates and how you compete on the floor.”
Several years ago, Allerding and her team dove into a program based on the Robert E. Quinn book “Moments of Greatness.” Since that time, she has designed programs each year that challenge her players to live their lives with a greater purpose, displaying respect, genuine care and a willingness to accept others as part of the game plan to take coaching beyond the hardwood.
The idea behind her program is to have her players find opportunities to share within the confines of their communities in which they live and go to school.
This year’s theme is “rise above,” and Allerding said the key concept is to promote respect, integrity and selflessness. All three of those concepts were at the heart of what Dr. King was promoting as he tried to help the world understand the value of sameness, and Allerding said the message King built long ago still stands true today.
She said it is simply a matter of making a conscientious effort to reach out to others to find that harmony.
“I am so grateful to have a group of girls who exhibit selflessness,” Allerding said. “It has been a real blessing, and it is exciting to see.”
Over the past years, Allerding’s players have worn numbers on their arms, identifying how many times they have done something positive in their community that corresponds to the ideas promoted in the program.
The whole concept of the arm numbers is not to brag and boast but rather to create scenarios where other individuals are curious, and ask them about what the numbers represent. That allows the girls to talk about the lessons they have learned and pass them along to others. It also helps keep them accountable with their teammates.
It has had a very positive impact on the players, as well as the coaching staff.
“I’ve loved very second of it,” said Maddie Blyer, a junior point guard for the Lady Vikings. “I am so thankful for the coaching staff we have. “This is not just about basketball. Basketball is important, but there are other things in life. Everyone on the team loves it when we get these life lessons because we know we are going to get so much out of this.”
While Classic in the Country takes place over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the other person honored throughout the three-day event is Perry Reese Jr., former Hiland boys’ basketball coach, who helped bring down racial barriers in Holmes County through his willingness to understand the situation and help a white, Amish and Mennonite community understand that respect and building relationships can overcome skin color. Reese, who taught at Hiland Middle School, was constantly promoting the very idea that the game of basketball was much more than final scores, titles and wins and losses. He too promoted the game as a way to teach young people the game of life, much like Allerding and her staff does at North Canton.
That belief that basketball is not bigger than life has helped sew some wonderful seeds in the Lady Vikings players over the years. As the team continues to churn out college-caliber players, Allerding said it is more gratifying to see young women who are becoming tremendous citizens.
“My prayer is that things like that will happen, and it is always exciting to see the success of some of our kids at the college level but even more so to see them come back and hear about the success they have experienced off the court too,” Allerding said.
She said the community has recognized the value of the program, and they have been incredibly supportive of the efforts of the coaching staff and the girls.
The winning tradition on the floor for the Lady Vikings, coupled with the huge strides they are making in building young women of great character, has become a winning combination.
“We continually remind the girls, and remind ourselves, that we need to continue to put in the hard work and do all we can to prepare and then trust in the results,” Allerding said. “Sometimes what happens isn’t what we want, but we can be satisfied that we are putting in that hard work, and we are working together. Ultimately, we may not see the fruits of that until 20 years down the road. But the lessons we are learning and the relationships we are building will hopefully impact them forever.”
Blyer said adhering to the concepts that hard work and selflessness will eventually pay off, whether it is on the floor or down the road in life, make the program worthwhile.
The North Canton Hoover team is certainly one that exemplifies everything that Jenkins hopes to promote through the CitC weekend.