BASCOM — This year’s Hopewell-Loudon girls basketball team will go where no previous Chieftains squad has gone before.
Coach Bob Gase was more than happy to accept an invitation for his team to play in Berlin Hiland’s Classic in the Country Challenge.
H-L, a Division IV school, will take on Division I Millersville West Holmes, a neighboring school to Hiland, at 10 a.m. Jan. 21 — Martin Luther King Day — in the first game of the annual girls basketball extravaganza that has been played since 2004.
“It’s a great honor,” Gase said.
The Classic in the Country is played on MLK Day weekend each year not only to showcase girls basketball but to honor the memories of both King and Perry Reese Jr., an African-American who moved into Amish country, coached Hiland’s boys basketball team for 16 years and solidified race relations in the northeast Ohio community.
The event is played in the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center, with 20 games played Saturday through Monday.
Standout teams and players from Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania will compete in this year’s Classic, with Hopewell-Loudon being the only school from Ohio’s smallest enrollment division.
The Chieftains feature MaKayla Elmore, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who earned special mention Division IV all-Ohio recognition last season.
“I told my team and I told my graduates that because we made it to the regional last year, our name got out there,” Gase said. “And having a good player like MaKayla helped get us there. I think the summer coaches had some influence, saying, ‘Hey, you might want to take a look at Hopewell.’ Definitely, having MaKayla on the team was an influence.”
Elmore and classmate Olivia Zender are the only starters back from a H-L team that posted a 22-5 record and advanced to regional play last season.
Zender, the team’s point guard, said the young players among this year’s Chieftains should benefit from playing in the Classic in the Country.
“We got in because of our accomplishments last year, but with this team being so young it’ll be a good experience and it might open some of their eyes to how good the competition is and push them to want to be better so that we can go to state,” Zender said.
The single-day admission to the Classic in the Country is $10 per person, with three-day passes available for $25 each.
Non-participating teams may have up to 12 players and three coaches admitted for $75.