Kyle once said, "Dayton is a program that never asked for anyone's sympathy," a fact that shows exactly how the Dayton Flyers reflect the attitude of the city that has adopted them, blue-collar, hardworking and a "won't quit" attitude that always leads to great things.
Our Game, college basketball, is the purest form of sport that Americans are exposed to, in my mind at least. There is nothing greater than basketball season. And I've always loved basketball, beginning with the day I learned to play in second grade, when I was selected for the jump ball. Since we were 8 and had no clue what to do, the gym teacher tossed the ball in the air, we jumped, no one connected...and the ball landed square on the top of my head.
And to be honest, basketball is a bigger part of my decision to attend UD than I let on to most people. I consider myself a purist when it comes to Our Game. I've always loved the underdog stories, and the example the teams below the Red Line set for everyone who comes into contact with them. Hard work, determination, strength in the face of adversity... no wonder the news outlets can't wait for March.
My history with Dayton is rather short, and pretty free of dramatics. I was watching the NCAA Tournament with my dad in 2004, like I do every year, and I witnessed a first round game between Dayton and DePaul. These were two teams I had never heard of. Back then (and to this day), my dad would impart some of his mid-major wisdom to me. Being a Niagara grad, he knew the love that small Catholic schools have for mid-major basketball. I had never heard of a team being called the "Flyers" -- how weird. What is a Flyer? How could that be an intimidating mascot?
"The Wright brothers were born in Dayton," he told me. "And Dayton's a good Catholic school."
My dad loved to point out Catholic schools to me. Probably in hopes that his public school raised daughter would go off to one, and then marry a good Catholic boy.
After that, I'll admit, the Flyers fell off my radar. They lost to DePaul that day, and didn't reappear the following March. So as with most sports fans, they faded into my memory.
Until I started looking at colleges. For a girl from Texas, for the University of Dayton to pop out and stick with me, that took a bit. (I guess I was sort of already obsessed with college basketball at that age). Through all my research, Dayton kept popping up, and I loved the stuff I read about the basketball team. Small conference, small program, huge fan base and the look at the fans! They were crazy! The "Red Scare" intimidated opponents, and made them fear the Flyers.
I wanted to be part of that. It was part of the underdog story I love so much. To celebrate an upset win over an over-hyped, over-exposed program, then storm the court with my fellow students, and celebrate what could only be described as an epic win? That became my dream.
So I ended up at Dayton. I was there when we missed the post-season in 2007, when we almost beat Ohio State in the NIT in 2008, and during the ass-kicking of West Virginia during the 2009 NCAA Tournament (and subsequent loss to Kansas). My love for my Flyers and Our Game only grew, until it became a part of who I am. Win or lose, the Dayton Flyers became my team.
So why do I love Dayton so much? I get that question all the time. It's That Teenage Feeling. By going to a small school, I am permanently connected to the guys that play on the court. I've had classes (and small study groups) with Chris Wright, Rob Lowery and Charles Little.
I am not an exceptional fan. For a Dayton fan to hold onto hope, and love their team even through losing seasons, is nothing extraordinary or uncommon. The Flyer Faithful show up, every year, no matter the record, even through those awful years with Jim O'Brien!
Dayton has a strong tradition of excellent basketball, and has always flown under the radar (pardon the pun). They say that Dayton's glory days were in the 60's, when Dayton went all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament and were beaten by UCLA. Some will also say none of that matters now, and sometimes they are right. But the fan base believes in its team. They really are the Flyer Faithful; it's what makes Dayton the one of the greatest college basketball cities in the country.
After that miracle run, the Flyers plugged along, showing up in the Big Dance about once every half decade or so, usually losing in the first round, and fading into the darkness of mid-major obscurity.
Kyle told us to write about what makes our program special. UD Arena doesn't allow signs inside the arena larger than 8.5" x 11," body painting, noise makers, flags, or anything that normal student sections find normal and necessary. Despite all these things, there is no where I would rather be than UD Arena on game day.
Part of it is the community found everywhere at Dayton -- a tight-knit group that prides itself on just that, being a community. It's always present at UD Arena, where students and alumni gather to cheer on something that will always bind generations together: basketball. Sounds cheesy, right? It is. But it's the one thing that makes a girl from Texas feel at home at small college in Ohio.
Being a student at UD is just a continuation of that community feel. Stuck in the snow? There are 3 strangers ready to push you out. Having a bad day? Just walk through the student neighborhood (a neighborhood of houses, owned by UD, occupied by students) and wait for someone to walk by and give you a high-five. The metaphorical sun always shines at UD, and that might be why we were ranked last year as the No. 7 happiest student body in the country.
I really wish I had the gift to describe how it feels in UD Arena, not just during conference games... every game. There is a certain electricity in the air. The student section harangues everyone, from the opposing team, coach, the officials, and sometimes even other fans (if they aren't being loud enough). We treat every game as if it is worth the championship.
Go Flyers, always.