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File photos courtesy of Shelly Miller

This weekend and the days leading up to it, all of Holmes County, Ohio, will be in Columbus at the Schottenstein Center.

Well, maybe not everyone, but it’s safe to say the crowd will be big. The county’s two high schools are sending both their girls basketball teams to the final four — and in Holmes County, basketball is huge.

The county is divided into East Holmes (Hiland) on the eastern half, and West Holmes on the western part. I graduated from West Holmes High School, and my editor, Susan Crowell, graduated from Hiland High School.

So, we’re both going to be glued to the action the next few days — whether over the radio — or from the stands.

Great fans

Every school has its fans, but if you spend much time around Holmes County, you’ll see the crowds are exceptionally large and there are many familiar faces. I attended my first girls basketball games with my grandparents in the mid 1980s when I was only three or four, and many of the same people still attend the games today — all season long.

I think the biggest reason is the success. In the mid 1980s, the West Holmes girls were unstoppable, winning three consecutive state titles and compiling an impressive 108 consecutive wins. Every year since, the people of the county have been hungry for a repeat title. And that hunger just keeps growing.

In Hiland, the girls have been to the final four an impressive seven of the last 10 years — winning state titles in 2000, 2005, 2006 and 2008!

Committed effort

While the records are impressive, more so is the commitment that these girls put in, as well as their coaches, their parents and the community. Both programs have deep traditions — and winning is a big part of that. But so is hard work and personal character.

A good many of these girls also came from farm families and rural places, and they know how to work and get things done. And those same farms are often the biggest fans.

I know of one dairy farm family, for example, in which the owners painted their barn in support of West Holmes. Another farm couple, just a few miles away, sponsors some of the regular season games.

I remember a few years ago when a Mansfield TV broadcaster filmed his first Holmes County basketball game. He was surprised to see how well Holmes County kept up with big-city Mansfield, and admitted on air, “yes, they can play ball where the corn grows.”

Indeed they can, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Community support

Businesses and residents across the county will be painting windows this week, hanging signs in their lawn and wishing the girls well. From the time they were in grade school, through countless practices and camps over the years, they’ve worked hard to get where they are, and they’ve represented their community well.

I might be a bit biased toward Holmes County — because both my boss and I are from that area — but there are some great high school teams across the state that will playing their hardest this weekend.

Another rural school to watch is Smithville in Wayne County. They’re a perfect 26-0, and they’re looking to add on a couple more wins this weekend.

If you want to see these and other great teams play, get yourself a ticket and head on down to the Schottenstein. You can even do like me — stop at the Beef Expo at the state fairgrounds — and head over for your favorite team in-between.

It’s the best of the best this weekend, and it’s good to see some familiar teams competing.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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