By Mike Dyer
Berlin Hiland, Tom Jenkins host “first class” event; Said one coach “…it’s an honor to be invited here.”
That’s the only way Tom Jenkins describes the fervent interest in girls’ basketball during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in Berlin, Ohio.
But, that wizardry doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, there is much more to the success of 11 consecutive years of the Classic in the Country Challenge at Berlin Hiland High School.
Start by discussing more than 300 hundred volunteers and the entire Berlin Hiland High School community embracing the true mission of the event – promoting girls’ basketball, while remembering the ideals of racial harmony from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy of former Hiland coach Perry Reese Jr.
Jenkins, the director of the Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report and one of the organizers of the Classic, asked me what I thought of the event. Cincinnati area coaches did likewise.
My response was almost universal: The Classic in the Country exceeded my expectations.
Their response was emphatically the same too. Even after being an original team of the Classic in the Country 11 years ago, West Chester Lakota West coach Andy Fishman still marvels at the event.
“From the first year to (the) present it remains the premier high school girls basketball event in this region of the country considering college coach, media, and national scouting service attendance,” Fishman said.
“The atmosphere is even more electric than the state Final Four since every game is played in a packed house. The players are treated very well as the town of Berlin welcomes with amazing hospitality and friendliness.”
Just don’t take it from a media perspective. Reporters and photographers are a happy bunch when fed amply (plenty of calories from homestyle meals and desserts during the weekend), printed stats (thank you) and given wireless Internet access (makes bosses pleased for deadlines).
The event staff couldn’t be more courteous. Players and coaches were directly brought to the media area for interviews. They couldn’t be more cordial.
Mason coach Rob Matula said this past weekend doesn’t get much better. The environment for these games is simply the best for his AP Division I No. 1 ranked Comets (16-0).
“We knew coming here the competition you are going to get is what you are after,” Matula said. “Like I said before it’s an honor to be invited here.”
Even college coaches were accessible for interviews about the event. Everywhere you looked, a college coach could be seen on both ends of the floor.
Tennessee assistant Dean Lockwood says he’s never experienced an event quite like the Classic in the Country.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lockwood said Saturday. “This is incredible. It’s an incredible event. Driving up you are in the middle of the country. …This is beautiful countryside. All of a sudden you pull up and here is this gym. There are cars everywhere. You walk in, the gym is full and people greet you. This is a first class event.”
Tennessee was just one of several programs – too many to count – that were in prime seats on the floor.
Though it is difficult to estimate the exact number with several people attending multiple games, an estimated 20,000 people attend games at the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center over the weekend and it’s is certainly something the Berlin community takes pride in.
The caliber of talent and teams was definitely worth every minute of it. Whether it’s the No. 1 point guard in America in Kelsey Mitchell, the state’s No. 1 ranked Division I team in Mason, or the perennially strong Kettering Fairmont, Wadsworth, Hiland and Mount Notre Dame programs, the trip was a memorable one.
And it leaves me just yearning for a simple answer.
When do I sign up for next year’s event?