Every year over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, great girls high school basketball abounds at the Perry Reese Community Center in Berlin. For three days, the middle of winter in this quaint Amish community springs to life, and thousands of people flock to Hiland High School to witness the best Ohio girls basketball has to offer.

In the words of Anthony Brown, athletic director at Columbus Eastmoor Academy, “The Classic in the Country provides the most warm and congenial atmosphere that you could have at a multi-cultural event. It is the welcome center for parents, student athletes, administrators, fans and college coaches. You come away with a great feeling about our society. You come away with a feeling of oneness as a people. It is truly what scholastic athletics should be, and what scholastic athletics should represent.”

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According to both Tom Jenkins, director of the Ohio Girls Basketball Report, and Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, the significance of the Classic weekend was something that they could have never foreseen when they got together seven years ago to build the model for what would become Classic in the Country Challenge. They had no idea they were putting together a weekend extravaganza that would become second to none in the nation, which would not only showcase Ohio’s girls’ basketball talent, but also honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as perpetuate the legacy of Hiland legendary boys basketball Coach Perry Reese Jr.

“Nowhere in our wildest dreams did we think it would become the national phenomena that is has become,” said Schlabach. “We didn’t ever think we would have a waiting list two years out to compete in this event. We never dreamed we would have 170-plus college coaches ascending upon Holmes County in the dead of winter; we didn’t think we’d have more than 40 members of the media cover this event; and never in our wildest imagination did we think we would have 20,000 basketball fans ascend to the Reese Center battling for a seat.”

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. always preached unity and oneness amongst all races and all people.

The Classic in the Country – a high school girls’ basketball event centered around the Dr. King holiday weekend – preaches those same values.

“I saw nothing but love, hospitality, interaction, good sportsmanship, and a lot of good humanitarianism,” said Marvin Blanks, a Martin Luther King Jr. reenactor hired to perform the famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the seventh installment of Classic in
the Country Challenge, held last weekend at the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center at Berlin.

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Area teams: Hiland, Smithville, West Holmes Other teams: Canton McKinley, Cincinnati Indian Hill, Cincinnati Mt. Notre Dame, Columbus Africentric, Columbus Brookhaven, Dayton Chaminade Julienne, Dresden Tri-Valley, Marion Harding, Mason, Minster, Mogadore, North Canton Hoover, Potter’s House Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.), Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown, South Euclid Regina, Springboro, Springfield Kenton Ridge, Toledo Start, Twinsburg, University (Newark, N.J.), Wadsworth, Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, Waterford, West Chester Lakota West, Westlake, Youngstown Boardman…

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Welcome to Classic in the Country Challenge VII, going on this weekend, Jan 16-18 at Hiland High School in Berlin. This year, there are 29 teams competing in the three-day basketball smorgasbord that begins Saturday morning at 10 a.m., and runs through Monday evening. All four reigning State champions from Ohio will be here, as well as four other teams that were competing in the Final Four last season…

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This Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, all four reigning state girls’ basketball champions – Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame (Div. I), Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown (Div. II), South Euclid Regina (Div. III), Columbus Africentric (Div. IV) – will be on hand at the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center for the seventh installment of Classic in the Country Challenge.

And, really, why wouldn’t they be? Over the past six years, the CitC has grown into the top in-season girls’ basketball event in the nation and has become a beacon for great talent, great coaching, great games, great… well, everything.

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The place to be this weekend is Berlin. No, we’re not talking the Berlin on the other side of the pond. And you also wouldn’t expect the best girls’ basketball event in the country this weekend to be in Amish country, but that’s exactly where Berlin, Ohio, happens to be — and so is the three-day Classic in the Country…

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The Classic in the Country has only been in existence for six years but in terms of tradition, the foundation is set in granite. It’s set in the hundreds of volunteers that keep the weekend moving smoothly. It’s set in the way Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report’s Tom Jenkins sets up the lineups and the games.

It’s set in the hundreds of college coaches that return to Berlin every Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

It’s set in the small-town hospitality of Berlin and the surrounding communities.

It’s set in the tremendous facilities at the Perry Reese Junior Community Center at Hiland High.

It’s what keeps ’em coming back for more!

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The phrase “Where champions compete” is often used by Classic in the Country organizers to describe the one-of-a-kind girls basketball tournament held at Hiland’s Perry Reese Jr. Community Center every January. With a 29-team field, including 22 seniors who’ve committed to Div. I schools, ready to set foot on the court in this year’s classic, those three words couldn’t be more true…

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