Inaugural Buckeye 8 Challenge set for Dec. 27 at OUE

By SETH STASKEY

Times Leader Sports Editor

One-day basketball showcases around the Christmas holiday are becoming more and more popular.

The trend is stretching to the Ohio Valley, starting this December.

The inaugural Buckeye 8 Challenge, sponsored by Citizen’s Bank and Nationwide Insurance, will feature three games at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center on Saturday, Dec. 27.

The matchups are as follows: Harrison Central vs. Rosecrans at 2 p.m.; St. Clairsville vs. Fort Frye at 4 p.m. and Union Local vs. Columbus Africentric at 6 p.m.

“We’re excited to be able to promote basketball in the Ohio Valley,” said Harrison Central head coach and event co-director Justin Clifford. “Obviously, the CRC (Cancer Research Classic) brings in the best (basketball) talent in the nation, but we wanted to do something for the local teams.”

The idea came to be as Clifford and co-director Eric Gay sat at OUE last season watching tournament games. Originally, they had hoped to make it Buckeye 8 members against another league in the Eastern District, such as the ECOL or the IVC.

“There were some scheduling conflicts with the different leagues, but they did express an interest in doing it in the future,” Clifford said. “The plan is for this to become an annual thing.”

After working the phones for several days, Clifford and Gay got commitments from the Buckeye 8 members and then began working on opponents.

“We’re pleased with the matchups we have,” Gay said. “It’s going to be nice to have a tournament close to home that basketball junkies can come out and enjoy a whole day of good basketball.”

Gay, who organizes the St. Clairsville Recreation Department summer league and shootout, expects the event to continue to grow as it becomes more established.

“The first one you do is always the toughest,” Gay said. “With our sponsors and how we plan to treat the teams, coaches, officials, etc., people are going to realize how nice of an event this is and want to come to it.”

The nightcap could feature two teams ranked highly in their respective divisions in Ohio next season. Union Local ascended to the top spot in the Division III Associated Press Poll before falling to Steubenville in the OVAC 4A final and Africentric is expected to be one of the top teams in Division IV.

“We definitely looked at matchups because we didn’t want to overmatch anyone in this thing,” Clifford said. “When we talked to Coach (Ben) Porter (at Union Local), he was on board immediately and was willing to play basically anybody.”

St. Clairsville returns a solid nucleus from a team that qualified for the OVAC Tournament and reached the sectional co-final. Fort Frye was a Division III district entrant and played for the OVAC 3A title.

Rosecrans, meanwhile, suffered through an uncharacteristic ‘down’ season, but the Bishops played many young players and return the bulk of their roster. Harrison Central, meanwhile, experienced some growing pains in its own right and return several a handful of key pieces.

“On paper, is the Buckeye 8 the favorite? Probably not, but it is what it is,” Clifford said. “These are good matchups for teams to see where they’re at and what they’re made of.”

Along with the games, Clifford and Gay have also set up different things for officials. For instance, some of the games will feature family affairs on two of the three whistles. Commitments from Donnie and D.J. Hynes along with Mike and Todd Coyne have already been received. They’ll work together on crews.

“It’s not just about the games,” Clifford said. “We want to do different aspects and make it an event.”

Utilizing OUE’s facility was a no-brain decision. On top of its seating capacity, the gymnasium plays host to the OVAC Tournament finals and the Division II and III tournaments.

One ticket will be good for the entire day.