In its fifth year, the Pizza Oven Classic at North Canton Hoover High School is one of three major basketball events set for this Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.
The brianchild of Hoover head coach Randy Montgomery, the Pizza Oven Classic has grown into one of Ohio's premier boys basketball events.
In its fifth year, the Pizza Oven Classic is the brainchild of North Canton Hoover head boys basketball coach Randy Montgomery, who started the event after taking over the Vikings six years ago with the MLK holiday weekend as a backdrop.
“It was something where we tried to put a showcase together where it would be a whole weekend deal with a three day event,” Montgomery said. “It commemorates Martin Luther King and honors his life and also gives teams an opportunity to get on a neutral floor and play a good team in a midseason setting but it is kind of a tournament atmosphere in a way.”
Montgomery, who is in sixth season as Hoover head coach and netted his 100th victory at the helm of the Vikings earlier this month, looked toward the prestigious Classic in the Country girls basketball event held in Berlin, Ohio over the same weekend as a model.
“The girls have done this kind of thing for years where they have done a weekend long showcase and we just thought there wasn't much of that at all in boys basketball,” he said. “So, I liked the idea and thought it was a good idea to try to explore and see how it would go. There are some one-day events (around Ohio) but this is truly a basketball fix for people who want to see some really good games in three days.”
Said Pizza Oven Classic Public Relations Coordinator Tom Delamater: “Initially, there was some contact (with the Classic in the Country) and I think that helped our event to get off the ground. In the last two or three years, though, there hasn’t been since we have been able to formulate our own process. That has allowed us to get to a point to run things pretty smoothly.”
A Communitywide Event
Over the past five years, the Pizza Oven Classic has evolved not only into a showcase of the top boys basketball teams in Ohio but a three day event involving the North Canton community as a whole.
“You combine that enthusiastic support with all the volunteers and it really makes it go,” Delamater said.
Local business support is strong as well with over 30 sponsors, including the local Pizza Oven chain as the naming sponsor. Pizza Oven has been the lead sponsor for the past three years.
“They were approached and there wasn’t any real hesitation,” Delamater said. “Each year they seem to up the ante a little bit, get more involved and their involvement really has been crucial to the ongoing success of the Classic.”
With the Hoover Company as the backbone of the North Canton community for over a century, it was only natural that the world famous vaccuum manufacturer sponsor the event initially. But changes in the comapny's structure soon left the Classic without a lead sponsor.
“After Hoover was sold to Maytag, then to Whirlpool (that sponsorship) ended up discontinuing it’s involvement with the Classic after a couple of years,” Delamater recounted.
The doors to the Hoover plant soon closed and jobs moved elsewhere and the Classic organizers were in search of a new, local sponsor closely involved in the community.
“The Pizza Oven chain coming in as the lead sponsor has really allowed (the Classic) to continue,” said Delamater. “And we have a lot of great sponsors and a lot of companies in the area have really stepped up.”
Taking the Floor
This year’s field is comprised mainly of northeast Ohio schools but there are several programs from around the state making the trip to North Canton, including Liberty Township Lakota East, Dublin Coffman, Protorville Fairland and Malvern.
Malvern is currently ranked No. 4 in the state Division IV according to the Associated Press while Canton Timken places No. 12 in Division I and Sugarcreek Garaway comes in at No. 5 in Division III.
Host school Hoover is slated to take on Detroit Country Day, which is the defending Class B Michigan state champion. Notable alumni from Detroit Country Day include NBA stars Chris Webber and Shane Battier.
Having only lost one game at home in Montgomery’s tenure, the home team Vikings will have their work cut out for them Sunday against the Michigan power.
“This will be a great challenge. This is one that could easily be the second,” Montgomery said in regard Hoover’s home record under his watch. “They have outstanding coach with great tradition and they’ll bring the kind of energy and size that will present a real problem for us. It will be a good test.”
Also crossing state lines to participate in the Classic is Farrell (Pa.), which will take on Massillon Washington.
Hoover assistant coach Troy Clark is in charge of scheduling the games.
“It is kind of hard (putting together the match ups) because you have to project out how teams are going to be. We made these match ups back in April,” Montgomery said. “It is Tony’s baby and he does a great job with it. Some of the match ups this year are some great ones.”
Saturday, Jan. 19
1:30 – Navarre Fairless vs. Youngstown Ursuline
3:00 – Massillon Washington vs. Farrell (Pa.)
6:15 – Sugarcreek Garaway vs. Canton Timken
8:00 – Massillon Perry vs. Liberty Township Lakota East
Sunday, Jan. 20
1:30 – Akron Hoban vs. Proctorville Fairland
3:15 – Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary vs. Dublin Coffman
6:15 – Malvern vs. Youngstown Campbell Memorial
8:00 – North Canton Hoover vs. Detroit Country Day
Monday, Jan. 21
3:30 – Akron East vs. Alliance Marlington
5:15 – Canal Fulton Northwest vs. Wooster
7:00 – Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Akron Firestone
With the Pizza Oven Classic in full stride after five years in operation, the future for the event is looking even brighter. According to Montgomery, 17 teams have already committed for next year’s Classic and five have pledged to participate in 2010.
“A lot of coaches have said they like to come here because it is a good atmosphere and it is a neutral atmosphere and they can play teams that they wouldn’t otherwise,” Delamater said. “Plus, they get to expose their kids and their teams and their schools to a first class event they think is positive for their kids.”
There in Spirit
The Hoover girls team will be participating in the Classic in the Country this weekend taking on Columbus Africentric Saturday and Lexington (Ky.) Catholic Sunday.
The Lady Vikings are ranked No. 10 in the Division I state poll and are led by Northwestern recruit Brittany Orban.
“She best player we have ever had here. She’s tremendous. I’d love to have her playing for me,” Montgomery joked.