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Players, fans thrilled to be in spotlight at Huntington Center

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A group of fans smiles from courtside seats in the downtown Toledo arena. The event was revived this year after not having been staged since 1997.

The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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Like many of his players, Central Catholic boys basketball coach Jim Welling stepped into the Huntington Center for the first time Monday.

Normally used for hockey games and concerts, the downtown arena was overrun by basketballs and squeaking shoes on the hardwood.

The Irish were one of 10 teams participating in The Blade High School Basketball Classic presented by Yark Automotive Group.

"This was spectacular," Mr. Welling said. "Being this close to home and we get to play in this kind of facility, it's a great privilege."

The all-day affair tipped off at noon with a girls basketball matchup between Central Catholic and Fremont Ross, and the boys teams from Whitmer and Bowling Green squared off in the nightcap at 8 p.m.

"This arena is a great atmosphere to play in," Fremont Ross Coach Juan Vela said. "Our girls looked forward to this. This is something they can look back at and cherish."

A crowd of about 3,000 made its way through the doors at the Huntington Center for the Blade Classic Monday, and seats steadily filled throughout the day.

The first Blade Classic occurred in 1988, but the event wasn't staged from 1997 until resuming Monday. Festivities surrounding the games throughout the day included a fan/student free-throw shootout, with the winner receiving a cash prize. Players and coaches were treated to soda and pizza after the games, and each winning team was presented with a trophy.

"Kurt Franck, our executive editor, and Frank Corsoe, our sports editor, came up with the idea of the tournament," said Joseph H. Zerbey IV Blade president and general manager said. "We decided that it would be a great way to celebrate The Blade's 175th anniversary. We hope to build off this year's tournament."

Teams participating in the Classic came from as far away as Cleveland, Fremont, Marion, and Bowling Green, joining Toledo schools Central Catholic, Maumee Valley Country Day, Start, and Whitmer.

Janie Goodwin of Maumee, an avid sports fan and follower of Maumee Valley, enjoyed watching the Hawks play in a larger venue.

"This classic has a chance to introduce other schools to a bigger arena," she said. "It's really nice to be here."

For the dozens of players who were part of the first prep basketball games played at the Huntington Center, it was a unique experience.

"It was pretty fun," Central Catholic sophomore guard Cliff Busseu said. "All the lights were on us and our team got to it."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.

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