By ZACH BOLINGER
Daily Record Sports Writer

BERLIN — The Classic in the Country promotes itself as a place “Where Champions Compete.”

The proof is in the pudding … or rather, the production.

“We’ve had 75 percent of the state champs here in the three years that we’ve been doing this,” said Ohio Girls Basketball Report founder/director Tom Jenkins, who doubles as the CitC director as well. “So, it’s pretty clear that this is a preparation tool for the teams involved.”

Half of the Ohio state championship teams from 2003-04 played in the CitC. That number grew to three-out-of-four in ’04-05, and then four-for-four a season ago. Host Hiland has had a big hand in those statistics. It’s won back-to-back state titles and has made three consecutive trips to the Final Four.

Hiland coach Dave Schlabach credits the CitC for part of his team’s success.

“It’s a huge advantage for us to see this type of competition,” Schlabach said. “We play to win and I’m not a very good loser and our kids aren’t either, but we can lose two games here and get out of this exactly what we want.

“Our goal is to find the best competition we can find, because if we happen to get to a regional final we’re going to see a team with a lot of the same traits as the teams we play here.”

ENTERTAINMENT — Hiland graduate Esther Mast, in her first year at Wittenberg University, returned to the CitC this weekend as the emcee. Mast, 19, handled the halftime entertainment for all of the games — recreation that included fans being pulled from the stands for all sorts of activities.

“It was great to be back,” said Mast, a political science major. “I think it’s a love-hate relationship for me. I love it, and I don’t want it to end, but by the end of the weekend I’m tired and want it to be over.”

Hiland senior Ashton Guggisberg and juniors Clint Miller, Brandon Wengerd, Eric Miller and Krista Schlabach were on Mast’s entertainment team. The boys, and Guggisberg, handled duties inside the inflatable suits known as “Bubba the Ball and Randy the Referee.” Schlabach was in charge of prize organization and distribution.

ENTERTAINMENT II — Larry Goldasich is a retired multimillionaire who picked up his first social security check last week. The 62-year-old is also not afraid to be the center of attention.

Goldasich, known by many in the Eastern Holmes community for his role as the “Pickerington Panther Man,” was a guest of the CitC this past weekend. The Hiland faithful and Goldasich became familiar with one another with Hiland playing its regional games at Pickerington North each of the last two years. Goldasich’s wife, Marilynn, is a secretary at Pickerington North.

A former national salesman for an orthopedics company, the Pickerington resident took center stage. He frolicked in the aisleways to “The Chicken Dance” song, participated in a few halftime shows — including the Amish version of “Blues Brothers” — and even wore an Elvis suit on Saturday and Monday nights.

“My life philosophy is to live by the three M’s,” Goldasich said. “I don’t want to miss out on any meals, microphones or mirrors. That’s what I live for, that’s my true ambition.

“I was invited, catered to and even praised for my work,” Goldasich joked. “I plan on moving to a lower tax-rate community sometime in the near future, but I plan to be back.”

“BABY” STEPS — Michelle Blizzard sported some unusual maternity clothes Monday at the CitC.

Blizzard, 36, is pregnant with her fifth child. Yet 23 weeks into the pregnancy, the Somerset woman continues to referee. Her crew of husband Wayne, 48, and Bruce Varner, 55 — a trio that handled the Div. I girls state championship game last March — did the Fort Recovery-Green game.

“For the first time, I’m not going to see the end of the season,” Blizzard said. “I’m glad I made it this far, because I really enjoy (the CitC). You just normally don’t see this many quality teams at one place, and you can’t forget about the Amish cooking. Wayne says it’s the only reason he comes.”

EMPLOYED — Triway graduate Jon Tucker, who played on four regional-qualifying teams, attended all three days of the CitC. Tucker was recently hired as a women’s basketball assistant coach at Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, W.Va., where he once played for the Div. II school.

“A guy I played, Josh Allen, actually got the head coaching job,” Tucker said. “I went down to help him, get my feet wet I guess. We’ve got our work cut out. We have one senior, one junior and 10 freshmen on the roster.”