By DAVE MAST
For those who have been a part of Classic in the Country, the nationally renowned girls high school basketball showcase that takes place over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend every year for the past dozen years, these little gems are probably well-known.
For those who have not been to this amazing weekend of 20 basketball games featuring 30 of Ohio’s finest girls basketball teams, there are plenty of enticements other than the great hoops. So what can people expect when they visit the showcase Jan. 16-18?
The intense action of Ohio’s best
Yes, both Hiland and West Holmes, the area’s local teams, play two games apiece, which is more than enough to draw local fans to the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center at Hiland High School. The Lady Hawks go Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. against Dayton Carroll, while the Lady Knights play earlier that day at 3 p.m. versus Division I powerhouse Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame. On the final night Jan. 18, West Holmes faces Warren Howland at 6:20 and Hiland puts the wraps on the showcase with an 8 p.m. showdown with lengthy Div. I power Canton GlenOak.
But in addition to the locals, CitC offers a beautiful slice of Ohio basketball that rivals the state tournament in terms of talent. In fact, chances are extremely good that many of the teams seen at CitC will eventually play for keeps in Columbus.
Try the Amish Church noodles
It’s kind of an oddity that in a weekend jam-packed with basketball, that something like noodles can take center stage, but for many visitors, these homemade noodles, slathered in butter and creating a euphoria of both visually and aromatically, have become the talk of CitC.
Naomi Troyer and the noodle crew toil away in the south entrance to the Reese Center, and crank out what has to be close to a literal ton of noodles. Few things make the cold weather seem less biting than this Holmes County classic, and fans from outside the area have taken to bringing in containers to purchase this tasty treat to take home with them.
We’re all the same
Since its inception, CitC co-director Tom Jenkins has made a point of building an atmosphere of the celebration of sameness.
It is no coincidence that CitC falls over Martin Luther King. Jr. weekend. Jenkins has been a crusader for equality and unity since day one, and that passion goes well back into the days of his youth, when he was hit by the reality of race relations in North Carolina.
“This year if you look at things from a society standpoint, we live in very turbulent times, where it seems like the racial divide has gotten greater and greater,” Jenkins said. “It’s because there is so much focus on our differences. I am a firm believer that you have to recognize your sameness before you can recognize your differences. In our society, we have gotten to the point where there is no recognition of our sameness.”
Jenkins has always promoted the idea that the CitC is all about not just basketball but helping people understand that finding that sameness in people, regardless of color and stature, will eventually help people put aside prejudices and embrace people for who they are inside and not on the outside.
“We want to continue to reflect Dr. King’s vision as part of Classic in the Country,” said Jenkins. “I think our society right now, and the times we live in, do not reflect that vision at all.”
That passion to embody the spirit of unity is one of the most important pieces of this weekend.
Honoring the man called Coach
CitC not only honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements but also the accomplishments of former Hiland boys’ basketball coaching great Perry Reese Jr.
What King did globally, Reese did in the hearts of people throughout Holmes County. His incredible gift of building relationships while building a basketball program that is widely recognized as one of the best small schools in the state of Ohio helped many people overcome stereotypes.
“We want to continue to perpetuate the legacy of coach Reese,” Jenkins said. “We want to have people and teams here who represent the core values that coach Reese had. We want teams here that coach Reese would love to coach.”
Those who knew, loved and respected Reese personally talk at lengths about how they hope that today’s youth will find ways to keep the memory and legacy of Reese alive. CitC is one avenue of bringing all that Reese accomplished here in Holmes County alive.
The game of wits has begun
“The game of wits has begun” is a classic line from the villainous but hilarious Vizzini in the movie “The Princess Bride.”
At CitC, it is worth the price of admission to simply come and watch some of the top coaching minds in the Buckeye State try to outwit, out-guess and out-coach each other. While the talent on the floor is incredible and will most likely determine a victor, those who love the game of basketball will want to focus on the intensity, passion and coaching smarts on the benches for the 20-game slate. Gifted coaches like Wadsworth’s Andy Booth, North Canton Hoover’s Abbey Allerding, Africentric’s Will McKinney, Chippewa’s Denny Schrock, Lakota West’s Andy Fishman and of course Holmes County’s own Lisa Patterson and Dave Schlabach highlight a knowledgeable cast of coaches who help bring the games to life.
Esther Mast is infectious
Since day one of CitC, homegrown Esther Mast has been the driving force behind the entertainment slate for the weekend.
Somehow, Mast and her crew of mischievous mayhem-makers crank up the fun-o-meter to 11 and let the good times roll. The crew is exhausted by the time the weekend is finally over, but their amazing dedication to providing plenty of fun throughout the games is quite infectious. Whether they are dancing to Cotton Eye Joe, milking a cow or getting audience participation for countless unique games, Mast and company maintain a constant cheery attitude, with plenty of smiles for young and old, and has made CitC entertainment a successful addition to the 20-game show on the hardwood.
Overcoming Old Man Winter
It’s no secret that Holmes County’s economy shrivels up a good deal during the winter months when tourists tend to stay away. CitC has helped put some spice back into the economy by generating what is estimated at more than $1 million annually.
Local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and the many craft stores and furniture stores all benefit from the mass of people that visit Holmes County for this special weekend.
Local support of CitC helps perpetuate an event that has captured the attention of national media, and has drawn sponsorship from Under Armour, and helps fill the gymnasium to capacity, which in turn draws even more people to witness the event.
Piney’s pants are a show of support
Front and center on the south side of the Reese Center, Piney Hershberger is well-known throughout East Holmes for his colorful selection of pants. What color-scheme will Piney opt for over the three-day extravaganza? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: Hershberger is one incredibly loyal Hiland supporter, and the kids absolutely love the man. Supporting the local youth who dedicate themselves to the sport as much as the girls from Hiland and West Holmes do is more than enough reason to pay a visit to CitC. That, along with the pants, make Piney Hershberger such a great part of what high school sports should be about. He represents the loyalty and dedication true fans should have; always grateful and supporting, never chastising and above all, a deep-seeded care about the young people who exert a great deal of energy to provide a great form of entertainment in the community.