By DAVE MAST

While basketball will be the main focus of the upcoming Classic in the Country VII, when 29 teams from throughout Ohio and top girls’ programs from New Jersey and Florida square off at the Reese Center at Hiland High School over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend Jan. 16-18, it won’t be the only thing making headlines.

No venue as big as the Classic is worth its salt unless it has plenty of great grub to go with it, and thanks to a dedicated committee of volunteers at the helm of the food stand, there will be plenty of quality cuisine to satisfy basketball fans throughout the weekend.  And this isn’t just your garden variety concession stand foods like popcorn, candy and nachos — which will be available as well.  As with everything involved with the Classic, the food goes above and beyond what patrons would expect.  Chicken and noodles, pizza, homemade fry pies, ice cream and, of course, the classic Holmes County favorite Trail and Swiss sandwiches are only part of the concession stand menu, which provides ample variety for the hungry folks who won’t have to stray far from their seats — if at all — to satisfy their hunger.

“We’re ready, and we’re excited about the challenge that we face every year,” said Naomi Troyer, who heads up the concession stand food committee.  “The menu will be almost identical to what it was last year.  It’s not broken, and we aren’t going to mess with trying to improve on something that has been very successful.”

Last year, Troyer, and the dozens who volunteer to make the concession stand go, dished out more than 2,700 servings of chicken and noodles, 400 pulled pork sandwiches, 1,100 Trail and Swiss sandwiches, 800 hot dogs, 700 fry pies, 500 giant cookies and countless boxes of popcorn, in addition to more than 1,200 servings of ice cream.

The preparation time for getting the food ready, as well as the actual process of running the concession stand, is incredibly taxing, but Troyer said that because of the many faithful volunteers who have chosen to join in on this event, things run smoothly.

“We have had an amazing number of people throughout the community ask us what we need, and have donated food and money to the cause,” said Troyer.  “It’s been a joy to work with everyone who takes time to volunteer, and we all have a great time doing it, even though it can get hectic at times.”

New to the event this year will be the ability to sell bottles of soda and Powerade, something they could not do before.  Troyer said that another great addition to the concession stand is the youth who volunteer to act as vendors in the gym.  By offering food and water, and even in taking orders from people who would prefer not to leave their seats, the youngsters, usually from grades six through eight, make purchasing food a snap.

“The kids will actually take food orders from people so they don’t have to leave their seats and miss any of the action,” said Troyer.

She also welcomes the help of the Hiland LD class, which prepares all of the carrots and grapes for the event by cleaning and stemming the grapes and then packaging the grapes and carrots into individual baggies.

Another huge plus for the concession stand, which has evolved over the years, has been the inclusion of area businesses, which have volunteered to work the concessions stand for three-hour time slots.  Businesses like First Federal, CSB, KSB and Hummel Insurance, or organizations such as the Berlin Lions, volunteer seven people to help take orders and serve food.

“Having those businesses volunteer has been a huge plus for us,” said Troyer, who hands over the task of filling the time slots to Beth Beechy.

With so many people making such fantastic food for the event, it takes the burden of overseeing that portion of the weekend out of the hands of Classic founders and organizers Dave Schlabach and Tom Jenkins, who can then turn their attention toward other pressing issues during the weekend, including Schlabach preparing for not one but two basketball games for his Lady Hawks.

Having the concession stand in the capable hands of a committee that is committed to making it run as smoothly as the games themselves is a blessing for the two men.

“We could never thank Naomi and her committee and the rest of the volunteers enough for doing the job they do,” said Jenkins.  “They’ve done an incredible job of making sure they are ready each year, and that things are in order.  It’s a lot to do, but because they volunteer to head that portion of the weekend up, we can do so many other things that need our attention.”