The familiar roar of the crowd and sound of sneakers will be present at the 2021 Mercy Health Tip Off Classic and there will also be some familiar faces in new roles at the event that features Elida, Lima Central Catholic, Shawnee and Bath in the annual hoop event at Elida that opens the season.
Matt Tabler, formerly at Perry, takes over at Elida and will open against Lima Central Catholic, where he went to school and played basketball and is quite familiar with the two-day tournament and Sean Powell, who guided Botkins to a state title last year, will face his alma mater, Shawnee, after taking over the head coaching chores at Bath.
The showcase opens with Shawnee against Bath at 6 p.m. followed by LCC battling Elida at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The championship game will be played Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Frank Kill has become the elder statesmen of sorts as he begins 12th season at LCC and Mark Triplett is in his sixth season at Shawnee and brings the Indians back to defend their Tip Off crown. Shawnee has won the last three events.
Overall, LCC and Elida have each won the Classic 11 times. Shawnee has captured the crown nine times and Bath has been victorious twice.
Unlike in previous years, there is no clear cut favorite, and each team has questions to answer entering the season.
Lima Central Catholic
If there is one coach who really does not have a clear idea of his team’s makeup is Kill. Due to the Thunderbirds’ success on the gridiron, Kill said the team has had two practices compared to the other three schools that have had 20-plus practices.
“Coming into this Tip Off it is always exciting,” Kill said Tuesday. “I am always looking forward to it. It is bittersweet because our football team lost but the reality is we have had two practices and will have two more to get ready for Friday night and teams have had multiple, probably 20-plus. I am really glad for our kids and our student body of getting back to the Tip Off Classic after the COVID issues and being able to have our student section there and our fans it should be fun. That is what it is all about bringing these four communities together and having a great time.”
Kill added that playing against his best friend, Tabler, is an added bonus to the game and looks forward to a long-term rivalry between the two schools.
Tabler is looking to rebuild an Elida program that suffered through an 8-16 season.
Tabler, who played in the Tip Off Classic in 1994 and 1995, said this is an awesome opportunity to be the Elida head coach and be a coach in this yearly affair.
“We have a great facility at Elida High School and when that gym is filled … it is just a great atmosphere. We were talking about it the other day and you go to these big cities and you don’t see something like this where all four communities are coming together and big rivalries.”
Tabler will be facing Kill, who he said is his best friend and added that he has nothing but respect for him. When he was coaching Perry, he and Kill set up an annual battle between the two schools and now he has the opportunity to do that with Elida.
“We meet every Thursday and talk about a lot of things,” Tabler said. “We decided about four years ago to start a rivalry between Perry and LCC, and we had that going and now I stumble across town and we are still getting to play each other. We can compete and we are going to compete but when it’s done we are friends.”
Tabler said his team comes in “super” young.
“From the get we have talked about setting the standard,” Tabler said. “Are we getting better each day. We are trying to win the day. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores mixed with only four juniors and seniors. It is going to be a great learning experience, and we are just hoping to defend and rebound. We are going to have trouble scoring but that is OK because hopefully our defense will keep us in most games.”
Triplett’s teams have won the last three Tip Off Classics and the Indians are coming off a final four appearance at state but as the Indian head coach points out this is a new year without some of those standout seniors.
“We obviously hope we go out and have success on both nights,” Triplett said. “I think it is really a wide open tournament. I think there is a lot of talent and there was a lot of talent that was lost from all the teams as well. LCC is getting off to a late start but I think they will be good once they get their basketball legs underneath them. You got a state winning coach with Sean over at Bath and they have all their players coming back so I think it is going to be a difficult weekend and it can really go a lot of different ways.
Powell has fond memories of playing in the classic as a player and being an assistant coach and said the excitement is what he remembers the most.
“We have a tournament with four teams that are close in proximity and the student body comes out. The parents come out and it is over Thanksgiving break so there is lots of excitement,” Powell said. “Our kids have worked their butts off. I have a lot of seniors and we are going in there and give it our all.”
Powell said the team is going in with the mindset that they are going to win it.
“Reality will hit and it is a new start with a new coach and new players for me and as long as we go out there and play our best and see what we can do,” Powell said. “