Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I have been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. University of Dayton Flyers basketball was one of my big obsessions growing up, due in no small part to the fact that our family had season tickets. UD has a rich basketball history, and Dayton is a college basketball town. The Flyer faithful regularly pack the UD Arena so that the school ranks among the top in the nation for home game attendance.

I loved going to the games with my dad. We listened to the pre-game and post-game reports on the AM radio station. Depending on how long it took to get out of the parking lot, we might hear some music--yes, on AM--before getting home. For some reason it seemed liked Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" and Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" always popped up then. (Dayton assembled winning teams most of those years, so the latter wasn't being played as a musical response to a loss.)

Sports have always been something my dad and I can talk about. There were many nights spent playing ping pong in the garage while 700 WLW's Sports Talk, hosted by Bob Trumpy (and Cris Collinsworth later on), was on in the background. Of course I am a Reds and Bengals fan like him, but UD games were special because we went to the home games regularly and occasionally made the trip to Oxford when they played at Miami University.

I have no doubt that all of the great games and visiting teams and players I saw spoiled me as far as what I consider the proper basketball environment. UD was one of the few remaining independents when I first started attending games, so they played an impressive schedule to prove their post-season worth. (I'm fairly certain I saw Len Bias play for Maryland, if that means anything to you.)

The music was important too. "Gonna Fly Now", "25 or 6 to 4", and "Fame" were among the songs the pep band blasted their way through. Until a desperate search tonight to name the tune, I never knew the title of "Hot Lunch Jam", one of my favorites the band played then and still performs. Apparently I never heard the Fame soundtrack.

I kept score, at first in game programs and later in a notebook I brought with me. I don't remember if I bought a Marchele soft pretzel every time, but I loved them and probably got one more often than not.

UD Arena was a place where I felt at home, a spot that had a kind of magic about it. For a school assignment--fifth or sixth grade, perhaps--I wrote a short story about being locked in the arena overnight. The details of it are gone, but it was like having a gigantic playground to myself. Of course, I got to go on the floor, that hallowed area of Tartan, at one time, and then hardwood.

I made it onto the floor a couple times. I went to basketball camp, which was held at the fieldhouse, but I'm fairly certain we went to the arena once. In high school I interviewed the team's play-by-play announcer and one of the local newspaper columnists, which got me down there. My neighbor ran the scoreboard or the clock, but I don't recall that earning me a courtside view at any point. Oh yeah, I graduated from high school at UD Arena and was seated on the court.

If that isn't enough, my parents knew I needed glasses when I had trouble reading portions of the scoreboard.

I've tried to get to one game a year since I've been away, although that doesn't always happen. I went tonight, and I'm happy to say the place felt as comfortable as ever. The game was sold out, the Flyers stomped the St. Louis Billikens, and I got to eat one of those terrific pretzels. During the hour-plus drive home I called my dad and talked to him about the game. Since my parents no longer live near where I grew up, he had to listen to the radio broadcast over the internet. Both of us weren't able to be at the game physically, but whether he knew it or not, he was there too.

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At 1:10 PM, Blogger Donna B. said...

What an evocative trip into your sports background. I want to write a similar piece someday about my experiences in the Roundhouse, the arena for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball Moccasins.


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