Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:17PM - 1251 Views
Cris Ritchie

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HAZARD – The WYMT Whayne Supply Mountain Classic is underway again, and more than 100 area students will be the benefactors from this year’s event.

Organizers on Monday handed out $1,000 scholarships to 102 students from around the region, and on Saturday the first ever Wayne Martin Leadership Scholarship will be awarded, named for the former station manager at WYMT who retired at sister station WKYT in Lexington in 2012.

This year marks the Mountain Classic’s 26th anniversary, and in total the scholarships given away in that time represent more than $2.5 million in educational assistance when the school matches are figured in as well.

The Mountain Classic’s impact on education has grown since that first year, when organizers presented just a handful of scholarships, noted WYMT Station Manager Neil Middleton. But through community support and donations from area businesses, the Mountain Classic now represents much more than a basketball tournament to many students in Eastern Kentucky.

“You’ve got local businesses, business leaders who are all giving out a scholarship every year,” Middleton said. “Some businesses give five, some have given 10. Last year we had a business that gave out 25. This isn’t just something WYMT does, this is a complete community event.”

Though WYMT doesn’t produce the event by themselves, obviously the station, located in Hazard, plays an integral part. Every WYMT employee plays a role, from planning the event itself to working on the scholarships and the ads, and Middleton described it as a “total team effort.” But the main thrust behind the tournament is that it’s giving back to the community.

“When Ralph Gabbard (WYMT’s founder) came up with this idea 27 years ago, he wanted to marry high school basketball in the mountains, which was huge, and use that as a way to promote education in the mountains,” Middleton explained. “We’ve taken that mission and that vision forward for the past 26 years. That’s why we’re here.”

Middleton said he’s looking forward to another 26 years, and he hopes the Mountain Classic will continue to expand beginning next year. It was in 2012, for the tournament’s 25th anniversary, that the first girls’ game was played. A game featuring area girls’ teams will be played again this year, and plans are in the works to possibly expand the girls’ role in the tournament by 2014.

“It is my hope that next year we will expand that to have four girls’ teams play, and then on Saturday night we’ll have a championship of the boys and girls,” Middleton said.

But for now, there remains four days of good high school basketball in the 2013 WYMT Mountain Classic, and Middleton took a moment to thank this year’s scholarship donors and the fans for their support. He noted that everything from the donations to the gate receipts go back into making sure the Mountain Classic is a success.

“We just hope this week that people will come out, enjoy some good basketball, and help these kids get scholarships,” he said.

The tournament’s opening round kicked off Tuesday night at the John C. Combs Arena at Perry Central, with Breathitt County defeating North Laurel buy a final score of 43-40. In the nightcap, the Knott Central Patriots had little trouble defeating Betsy Layne 55-44.

Two high school teams from Perry County will be playing Wednesday night. The Hazard Bulldogs will open the second night against Harlan County at 6:30 p.m. Perry Central will take on Clay County at 8:30 p.m.

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