Pickerington Times-Sun

Girls Basketball

Holiday Classic ends run after 27 seasons

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In its heyday, the girls basketball tournament that became known as the Lady Panther Holiday Classic attracted nationally-ranked teams -- a group that sometimes included its host -- and such crowds that games were shown on closed-circuit television in the school commons for fans who couldn't get seats.

Those are among the memories Pickerington High School North coach Dave Butcher will take with him from a tournament that lasted 27 years but will not see a 28th.

Declining attendance and the lack of a title sponsor pushed Butcher, who founded the event in 1987 as coach at the original Pickerington High School, to pull the plug recently.

"I'm sad. I loved it," Butcher said. "It's very tough. The tournament was still very well done and supported very well by the community. But getting attendance when you're bringing in teams is tough. You're bringing in 50 parents and you're putting teams up in hotels for several days.

"It came down to not having a naming sponsor, too. Since we lost that naming sponsor, it became a tough way to go financially."

The Holiday Classic will be replaced by a We Are Pickerington tournament, scheduled for Dec. 22 and 23 at North.

The event was known as the Kroger Lady Tiger Holiday Classic for most of its first 21 years. It moved to North with Butcher when the school district split into two high schools in 2003, and the name stuck until 2008.

KeyBank sponsored the Holiday Classic in 2009 and 2010 but pulled out before the 2011 tournament, and the event went without a title sponsor in its final three years.

Early on, the Holiday Classic consisted of four teams. The event expanded to eight teams in 1991 and, for the next 12 years, the field usually was comprised of Pickerington and seven out-of-state teams.

That 13-year stretch coincided with the height of the Tigers' success, as they won Division I state championships in 1985, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1998 and 1999 and were USA Today national champions in 1999.

In 2004, the Holiday Classic featured four Ohio teams and four out-of-state teams. The event followed that format for the next seven years, but the past two years the field included only two teams from outside Ohio.

Last season, Centerville won its second consecutive Holiday Classic title, defeating Sylvania Northview 54-28 in the final. North went 1-2 in the event, which also included Baltimore Seton Keough, Louisville (Ky.) Mercy Academy, Gates Mills Gilmour Academy, Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown and Solon.

North won the Holiday Classic three times in the 11 years in which it was the host team, with its last title coming in 2011. During the first 16 years when the school district had only one high school, Pickerington won the event eight times.

"Our parents (group, the Rebounders Club) really ended up having to shoulder a lot of the load," Butcher said. "If we made money, good. If you lost money, you lost money and it came from the (Rebounders) Club. Financially, it was just tough."

In the coming season, North will participate in DeSales' inaugural Stallion Invitational during the holidays. The Panthers are scheduled to play Upper Arlington on Dec. 27 and Pittsburgh Bishop Canevin on Dec. 28 in the event.

"It'll be a weird change for us," senior guard Emily Thomas said. "(The Holiday Classic) kind of made us feel like we were in college. We'd practice in the morning and have a shootout, then have a team lunch, watch a game as a team, play at night and have dinner after the game. The setting was great. That's usually not how it is."

Butcher, North boys basketball coach Jason Bates and North assistant athletics supervisor Molly Feesler continue to brainstorm ideas for the We Are Pickerington tournament. The inaugural event will include the boys and girls teams from DeSales, Hilliard Bradley and Pickerington Central.

"We want to make it special and big," Feesler said. "We started (planning the tournament) late in the game for this coming season, so there's a lot of growing to do. It'll be nice for both of our teams to have more home games, and we want to do something that isn't the same as all the other tournaments out there."

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