Ten great reasons to visit the Classic in the Country

As Classic in the Country IX pulls into the Perry Reese Memorial Center for another weekend of incredible high school girls basketball Jan.14-16, many locals who haven’t been here may be wondering what is in it for them.

Whether you are a high school hoops fan or not, whether you want to watch one or two of the games, all 20 or in between, and regardless of what local team you might support, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in Berlin.

“It’s such a locomotive at this point,” said Dave Schlabach. “You start it up and it just goes now. There are literally hundreds of people doing their jobs that make our job so much easier. It has turned into a well-oiled machine because it has been embraced by the community, and we have such wonderful volunteers doing so much.”

So why should you enjoy the atmosphere surrounding Classic in the Country?

Here are 10 reasons to check out the number one girls high school basketball venue in the nation:

1. The basketball

All right, this one is a given, but just how good is the talent on the floor at this event?

With more than 75 seriously motivated Div. I college prospects playing each year, you are seeing the very best high school girls basketball talent the Buckeye State has to offer. Is there any doubt as to why more than 150 college coaches flock to the Reese Center over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to witness the action?

A whopping 60 percent of Ohio players who sign Div. I basketball scholarships have played at the CitC. As for the games themselves, the level of competition and the ability of Tom Jenkins, owner and publisher of Ohio Girls Basketball Review, to put together great match-ups has produced a lot of games that come right down to the wire.

“What we are seeing year in and year out are simply a lot of great athletes and high-quality programs putting on a fantastic show,” said Jenkins. “You’re not going to find this caliber of talent, in this kind of a basketball atmosphere, anywhere else.”

2. In honor and remembrance

There is a reason the CitC takes place over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Jenkins was adamant that the memory of Dr. King and former Hiland boys basketball coach Perry Reese Jr. remain a central focus of the three-day event. Honoring their efforts to promote harmony and knock down racial barriers is reason enough to attend.

“I’ve had people ask me about changing the way we play clips from Dr. King before each game instead of playing the National Anthem, but I am never going to alter that,” said Jenkins. “One of the reasons I left the basketball showcase I was involved with before is because they let that ideal slip away. Promoting racial harmony and celebrating the things that both Dr. King and Coach Reese achieved are a big part of why we put this event on.”

3. Fellowship of the Hoops Ring

OK, it may be a stretch, but you could consider the hoop a ring.

As for the fellowship that takes place at the CitC, there is no questioning that it is the place to be over MLK weekend, and a place where old friends renew their relationships, and good friends enjoy a weekend of fine hoops.

Whether it is Jenkins bopping around the gymnasium like Regis Philbin on a dozen cups of coffee before 9 a.m., local fanatics like Piney Hershberger chatting it up with any number of Holmes County locals, or out-of-towners from Cincinnati or Cleveland, who have made Berlin their home in mid-January, it’s an exciting weekend.

“We have a lot of people who have come to a certain Classic because their team played here one year, and now they keep coming back just because they kind of fell in love with it,” said Schlabach. “I think one of the neatest things here is that people can just sit back, relax and be around each other.”

4. Treated like royalty

On a recent trip to Cincinnati to scout CitC foe Cincinnati Withrow, Schlabach and assistant coach David Borter went to a big holiday tournament, which was heavily promoted as a top-notch showcase featuring many great programs. Schlabach said that there were no programs, four college representatives, 50 people in the stands and the players got nothing for their visit.

Compare that to the CitC, where teams are greeted from the moment they step off the bus, there are wonderful color programs with entertaining features, the stands are nearly packed for all 20 games, officials, players, coaches and scouts are treated to not a little food but buffet-style dinners throughout the day, every player receives a gift and everyone is treated like a VIP, and it is easy to get a sense as to why this hoops showcase has developed such a quality reputation.

“People are just blown away when they come here for the first time,” said Schlabach. “It’s just so big, and the volunteers have done such an impressive job of making sure that every single person who comes in that front door feels important and taken care of.”

5. There is free stuff!

From Under Armour gear and Crocs shoes and Frosty Twins popsicles, to a chance to win a free car by sinking a half-court shot courtesy of Amish Pie Company, the number of free gifts at the CitC is awe-inspiring.

“It is going to be a challenge for us to physically give away everything that we have on tap to give away,” said Schlabach. “People love free and we went all out to make sure that we had plenty of free to give away. It’s going to be a neat part of the weekend, and when we created the Classic, that is the kind of thing we envisioned.”

6. The entertainment

Esther Mast was in high school when she first began heading up the CitC entertainment venue. Nine years later, here is Mast, still finding time to make sure that there are no slow spots between games, at halftime or in the stands during games.

She and her happy-go-lucky crew, including a blow-up referee and basketball, which can be found roaming around the Reese Center floor performing daring tricks, have devoted themselves to coming up with new and innovative ways to entertain, whether it is races or challenges of the fan-participation variety, or simply firing T-shirts and candy into the crowd.

“They have done an amazing job of adding something special to the CitC,” said Schlabach.

7. What’s for eats?

All of the staples of a regular concession stand are available, such as popcorn, hot dogs and pop. But this concession stand looks like an Amish Country restaurant. Chicken and noodles, Trail & Swiss sandwiches, pulled barbecue pork, pizza, ice cream and fry pies? That’s not a concession stand, it is a smorgasbord.

As for taking care of the teams, media, visiting coaches and college scouts and other dignitaries, the upstairs floor at the Reese Center turns into a makeshift restaurant thanks to Der Dutchman Restaurant. In addition, team players are invited to the Hiland cafeteria, where they have their choice of several food options, so nobody should ever say that they went hungry at the Classic.

Thanks to volunteers like Naomi Troyer, who runs the concession stand, the masses are well-fed from morning to closing time each night, the 6,000 servings of chicken and noodles going out through the concession stand a testament to that fact.

8. Support your local teams

Each year over the past eight seasons, Hiland has played two games at each event, while West Holmes has played one per year, bumping that number to two this year. In addition, other local teams in Holmes County’s neck of the woods have competed at the CitC, including Wooster, Waynedale, Smithville, River View, Northwestern, New Philadelphia, Garaway, Fairless and Dover.

Throwing your support behind the kids who have spent a lot of time and energy dedicating themselves to getting better makes sense, and based on the numbers at each year’s local games, the public has done a bang-up job at showing their support for these young women.

9. Growth in the local economy

According to Jenkins, last season saw the Classic soar to upward of the $10 million mark in terms of revenue brought into the county.

That is a huge chunk of change no matter how you slice it, and considering that it is in the dead of winter, a time when tourism in Holmes County is lagging, means a huge infusion for the county and its various businesses, whether tourism-related or not.

“It’s not just the money we see during the Classic either,” said Schlabach. “We know a lot of the people who are being introduced to Holmes County for the first time through the Classic are coming back for weekend trips and vacations throughout the year, and they are oftentimes bringing other people with them or passing along word of mouth that Holmes County is a great place to visit.”

10. It is something of which to be proud

Classic in the Country has evolved into a gigantic phenomena nationwide. This year, the weekend has lured into its midst a national sponsor in Under Armour, one of the world’s biggest names in athletic apparel. Scouts from every major college pencil this event into their busy calendars because it is an important tool in them bringing in upper-crust talent.

But the CitC speaks volumes because it has been a first-class event from day one. It oozes distinction and elegance, and because of the commitment of the staff, their group of volunteer chairs and the hundreds of volunteers and sponsors at the local level, the Classic in the Country showcases one character trait with which Holmes County is well recognized, whether it is in its fine furniture, dining establishments or agricultural facilities: Quality.

Jenkins attributes that to one Dave Schlabach, the man whom he said enticed him to Amish Country to begin this venture.

“I saw a man who was willing to work hard and make things happen the right way,” said Jenkins of Schlabach. “His relentless work ethic is what drew me to want to partner with him for the Classic, and that kind of professionalism and hard work has translated right into the Classic.”

If nothing else, this weekend is one in which Homes County can take great pride in that they have shown the people outside of the community what hard work and dedication, combined with a willingness to volunteer, can create.

Schlabach has said that the CitC is the closest thing you can get to the State tournament. Other coaches and scouts have disagreed, noting that it is a step above that.

“It’s the atmosphere that is created by the entire thing,” said Schlabach.

The Classic in the Country has become a goal for great teams. When they get an invitation to play in Berlin over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, they have made it to the top.

“It’s created an environment that people want to be around,” said Schlabach. “I am really proud of the way that this community has taken hold and made this their own. They have taken the idea we had years ago and made it a reality.”