Hiland bids farewell to Tom Jenkins in a celebration of his life


BERLIN — A celebration of the life of Tom Jenkins, one of the men behind the development of Classic in the Country, was held in a fitting place on Friday — the Perry Reese Jr. Community Center at Hiland High School.

Suggested attire at the event was shorts, flip flops and your best island or Ohio Girls Basketball Report shirt — the regular outfit of Jenkins no matter the time of year — and most attendees obliged.

Jenkins died on June 18, after a battle with cancer, one month shy of his 69th birthday.

Family members, friends, coaches and other associates shared fond memories and tales of the man who helped get thousands of Ohio high school girls basketball players the exposure needed to earn college scholarships through his Ohio Girls Basketball Report (OGBR).

Jenkins also was one of the founding fathers of the hugely successful Classic in the Country, teaming up with coaches Dave Schlabach and Paul Wackerly to create the event that has blossomed into the premier showcase of high school girls basketball in the country.

Jenkins' sister Lynda and her husband Tony Shipley were among the many people who shared stories about Jenkins, from his days as a youth, to his time as a coach and the beginning of OGBR.

Other speakers included former Hiland coach Dave Schlabach, David 'Cousy' Borter, Mount Notre Dame coach Scott Rogers, lifelong friend Jerry 'Hess' Hester and friend and coach Karen Hewitt, as well as Bryce McKey and Tenishia Benson, who took over OGBR from Jenkins after his retirement.

"His dedication to girls basketball led to the creation of Ohio Girls Basketball Report, Classic in the Country, Sports City U AAU program, and has impacted the lives of thousands of players, coaches and parents nationwide," said Borter, whose thoughts were echoed by many. "We all have Tom to thank for his early vision, drive, and relentless commitment to showcase girls basketball and create opportunities for young women.

"His work and legacy is still thriving today as Ohio is one of the most recruited states and unlike any place in America," he added. "Ohio will forever have a basketball community that unites us all."

Benson has been involved with Jenkins and OGBR for most of her life, beginning as a player in middle school, then as an employee and then as the operator.

"I have been fired, I've been promoted, I've been kicked off projects and been replaced. I've experienced all this, and if you know Tom, you have too," she said. "I remember at Sports City U when he took the girls uniforms. I don't know what you guys did, but all I know is they were out there in blank shirts.

"You always had to find the standard, and the standard was constantly moving higher and higher," Benson continued. "When he passed, I suffered a severe lack of motivation, because he created so much motivation in me. And to lose that, that was tough. But sitting here today with you guys, I was inspired. We have so many young women that will never have opportunity if not for us. We have to go to the next level like Tom did."

She talked of how much she hurt when she learned of Tom's loss as well.

"But I am excited about working with all you young ladies," Benson said. "I'm excited to work with you guys to continue OGBR, to continue Sports City, and making sure these girls get the opportunity to go to the next level.

"I love Tom so much. On behalf of the entire OGBR family and community, we are here and not going to let you down. We are going to keep it rolling for you. We love you so much."

Lynda Shipley, Jenkins' sister shared several anecdotes about her baby brother, and concluded with one thing:

"Tom made everything fun and enjoyed life," Shipley said. "He was a kind soul with a strong will."

Chrissy Donovan Waleskowski, a longtime employee of OGBR, who handled all the technology behind the scenes while Jenkins did the talking, noted how impressed she was by his knowledge and detail that went into his scouting reports.

Her favorite part of the scouting service was the Ohio Legends exhibition games against some of his subscribers.

"The player with the least amount of points had to sit behind Tom on the way home," Waleskowski said. "He sat with the windows open in November and smoked the whole time."

She recalled how Jenkins loved beating Michigan teams in their annual border battle.

"One year he even made t-shirts for the participants that said, 'Only on the map is Michigan on top of Ohio.' Some say cocky, I say confident," Waleskowski said. "Another thing Tom loved was seeing our Ohio girls excel at the college level. He always said, all our OGBR events were a one-stop shop for college coaches to recruit."

Mount Notre Dame coach Scott Rogers said that Jenkins lived what he preached and coached: quality, not prejudice; things are earned, not entitled, like playing time. Perseverance, not self.

"Tom to me was a mentor and a great friend," Rogers said. "He was my basketball confidante. We had countless discussions before and after just about every big game I can think of. You never really knew how many times you screwed up until you talked to Tom after one of those games. I will miss the hours of discussion we had over the philosophy of coaching."

Schlabach shared that it was very fitting that the memorial for Jenkins was held in the Reese Center because the community came to love Coach Reese before his death because of what he stood for.

"Both Tom and Coach came to our town as outsiders and left with hundreds of friends and respect from the community," Schlabach said. "They helped this to be a place where basketball, hospitality and race relations flourished. Most people here I know from Classic in the Country.

"He was passionate about Martin Luther King Jr. and Coach Perry Reese," Schlabach continued. "That's another reason our community bought into the Classic. It was another way for us to keep Coach Reese's legacy going."

Schlabach pointed out that he and Jenkins often joked about how different they were in so many ways.

"We became such good friends because of our shared desire to do something extraordinary with the Classic," he said. "Tom always said we had a great partnership because we didn't play in each other's sandbox. He trusted that I would do my job and I trusted that he would do his. Through all these years, he never let me down. I'm sure most of you here could say the same thing. What a great legacy to be remembered for."