The inaugural United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley Holiday Basketball Classic pitting four Ohio schools against four from western Pennsylvania is set for Saturday at Poland High.
Warren Harding, Sharon, Poland and West Middlesex boys teams and Poland, Neshannock, Struthers and Sharon girls teams are the eight participants.
“We met and talked about playing host to an event before the holiday season,” Poland athletic director Brian Banfield said of conversations over the past year with United Way president Bob Hannon. “We were excited about teaming up with United Way to present a holiday event to help out the organization.”
The Holiday Classic is being sponsored by Youngstown State University.
“This is the first time we’ll be hosting an eight-team event,” Banfield said.
In the first game, Poland’s girls team, led by fourth-year coach Nick Blanch, will meet Neshannock at 3 p.m.
At 4:30, the Struthers and Sharon girls square off.
Harding’s boys and Sharon collide at 6, with the Poland boys playing West Middlesex at 7:30.
“West Middlesex is loaded,” said veteran Poland coach Ken Grisdale. “This may be one of their best teams and this will be a good, early test for our young basketball team. But playing this kind of competition in December should make us better as the season goes on.”
Two new coaches will be on display when Harding and Sharon meet with Harding’s first-year head coach Andy Vlajkovich and Sharon’s first-year coach Jason Rankin matching strategies.
“We like to play fast and push the ball upcourt,” Vlajkovich said. “From what I hear, so does Sharon, so it should make for an entertaining game for the fans.”
Rankin knows what to expect from the Raiders.
“They are always very athletic and, having a chance to compete against them is the kind of competition that will make us grow,” he said.
The game will be broadcast live by MY-YTV.
“Not only will it be a first time eight-team event at Poland, but it’ll also have live TV coverage,” Banfield said of the multiple-game classic, although the gym has had two varsity games in a holiday tournament in the past.
“We’ve never had four games in a row,” said Banfield, who noted that “money raised will help people in the community.”
All proceeds benefit the United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley.
A 50/50 raffle will be held as well as a special visit from Santa Claus.