From the moment they enter the arena, the Texas Southern University Tigers cheer squad is all business.
They mingle with one another in front of the stands, wearing matching gray and purple warm-ups and pristine white gym shoes.
“We usually try to be among the first people on the scene, and we are always professional. Coach tells us there’s eyes on us at all times, even when we don’t know it,” Jamia Smith, a sophomore on the squad, said.
The women regard the opportunity to represent their school as an honor, one that they wouldn’t trade in for anything else.
“You would think a bunch of 20-somethings would want to be on spring break trips instead of here – but we really do want to be here. We like being around each other,” Kennedy Torres, a freshman participating in her first NCAA tournament, said.
Traveling with the team means spending lots of time away from their families back home. Luckily, the women have found a second family in the student body at TSU.
“We don’t get overlooked. The team looks out for us and we look out for them, so anytime that we have the opportunity to be here for our team, we will,” Smith said.
And the support extends beyond the walls of the UD Arena. Not all TSU fans could fly out to Dayton to show their support, so a viewing party is being held back on campus. Smith describes how the student center is decked out in blown-up headshots of the players.
With the support comes a humble confidence. The cheerleaders boast of the players’ talent and look forward to the upcoming days of travel.
“But no matter what happens … we have each other’s back. We always bleed maroon and gray,” Smith said, lining up with her TSU family for tipoff.
The Tigers outscored opponent North Carolina Central University 64-46 to advance in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
James Stitt ‘73 and his wife, Carol, heard at 6 p.m. Sunday that their hometown team, St. Bonaventure, was coming to the UD Arena for the NCAA tournament’s #FirstFour.
The couple was defrosting in South Carolina from the New York cold and was preparing to fly home to Olean, New York.
But as self-proclaimed “basketball geeks” and lovers of the Flyers and Bonnies, their travel plans quickly changed and they were re-routed to Dayton for the Monday night game.
“We were coming to Dayton in a month anyway, so we just came early,” James Stitt said while sitting in UD Arena and taking in the second night of tournament play.
James Stitt is a trustee of St. Bonaventure and was planning on meeting with UD’s Flyer Enterprises to discuss student-run businesses, but in the name of basketball the meeting was moved up to coincide with Stitt’s new travel plans and the St. Bonaventure vs. UCLA game.
As the Bonnies are A-10 opponents of the Flyers, it is not often the New York State team receives cheers from the UD Arena stands. But on Tuesday, March 13, the atmosphere was different.
“Last night was a home court for us; it felt just like the Reilly Center,” Carol Stitt said.
St. Bonaventure won its first NCAA tournament game in 48 years last night, and the Stitts believe they owe part of the victory to UD.
“Thank you, UD students and fans, for the tournament support,” James Stitt said. Carol Stitt agreed: “UD gave us a home team advantage.”
Beaming with Bruin pride and matching sweatshirts, Lucy and Jesse Perez made their way to UD Arena to watch their alma mater UCLA play St. Bonaventure in the second #FirstFour game Tuesday. Next week marks the couple’s 53rd wedding anniversary.
The couple met as students at UCLA while living in the newly established coed dorm on campus in the early 1960s. After graduation, they stayed in Los Angeles along the beach, until they moved to Dayton 40 years ago.
“Once our friends heard we left the beach to live in Dayton, they sent us sympathy cards in the mail,” laughed Lucy. “We absolutely love Dayton, we refuse to leave.”
After they settled in Dayton and Jesse began his job with National Cash Register, the duo made it a priority to see their basketball team live in action as much as possible. The last time the Perezes saw UCLA live in the NCAA tournament live was when they played Missouri in 1995 in Boise, Idaho. UCLA went on to win the national title that year.
This year marks the first time UCLA has played in Dayton, so it was almost meant to be, despite the final score. St. Bonaventure beat UCLA in a 65-58 win.
Sports management students from the University of Dayton spent their Tuesday afternoon taking part in a #FirstFour media tour at UD Arena. As credentialed participants, the students attended Syracuse’s press conference, which featured players Tyus Battle and Frank Howard and head coach Jim Boeheim.
Shannon Miller, associate director of news and internal communications at UD, encouraged the students to ask questions. They might be students, but that day, they were members of the media, she reminded them. Miller initiated the student site visit opportunity during the 2016 #FirstFour.
The press conference kicked off with the first round of questions for the players. Seasoned journalists hit the ground running by asking questions about the team’s strategy for the upcoming game.
Then it was Boeheim’s turn to take the stage for the head coach’s press conference. The students took advantage of their opportunity and asked the Hall of Fame coach some questions.
Their curiosities included challenges the team would face when playing Arizona State on Wednesday and Boeheim’s opinion on playing a team coached by a player he tried to recruit to Syracuse — Bobby Hurley, who went on to become a star at Duke and win two NCAA titles. The students also asked Boeheim how this team’s dynamic differed from past teams and the status of injured players before the big game.
In years past, Miller didn’t remember any students asking questions.
Marcos Ledesma, a sophomore sports management major from Puerto Rico, was the first of four students in the group to ask Boeheim a question. Initially, he was hesitant and almost backed out.
“I was super nervous to ask Coach Boeheim a question, but then one of my classmates sitting next to me bumped me and told me to do it,” said Ledesma. “It was awesome to interview him, he’s such a legend in basketball. I came here last year to watch the games but to be on the other side this year is an amazing experience.”
Beyond offering its arena, the University of Dayton extends all that it can to make visiting basketball teams in the #FirstFour feel at home. That includes contributing UD’s Flyer Pep Band, which filled in for LIU Brooklyn’s band as the team played against Radford tonight, March 13, in the opening game of the NCAA tournament.
Though the Flyer Pep Band — the self-described “best pep band in the land” — was just hired yesterday to play for LIU Brooklyn, its members came to the court dressed in LIU Brooklyn black ready to give it their all.
“There’s a certain amount of respect that you give to the other team,” said Seth Adams, first-year mellophone player, in a Blackbird Nation shirt. “You give it 100 percent. We’re doing stuff that we would usually do for Dayton.”
That includes playing a familiar roster of pop tunes to keep the crowd engaged during game breaks.
While the Flyer Pep Band does what it can to support a team whose band is unable to travel, the rules are slightly different than if it was playing for a UD home game. Musicians aren’t allowed, for example, to stand up during play. UD’s pep band is also used to being the only band on its home court. During the tournament, however, bands from the rival teams must trade off having the spotlight.
For senior Abby Lisjak, piccolo player, the opportunity to do something different is an interesting change of pace.
“It’s fun to follow our team, but these are teams we don’t get to see very often, so it’s exciting to see them,” Lisjak said.
Adams’ pride is set in Dayton, but he said it’s still a great opportunity to play for an expanded audience. And in the end, for him, it’s all about basketball.
“I love coming to the games and watching these guys play,” Adams said.
For the University of Dayton, too, these March Madness games are all about basketball.
Camaraderie. Resilience. Teamwork.
Radford Highlanders head coach Mike Jones attributes his team’s success to these qualities.
The 16th-seeded Highlanders found out Sunday night they would be playing in the #FirstFour of the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Jones described the past 24 hours as a whirlwind of packing, preparation and a particularly raucous bus ride from Virginia to Dayton.
“I know a lot of coaches say this, but we have a terrific group of young men who I have loved coaching this year. It hasn’t always been peaches and cream, but I’ll tell you what, they got closer and more connected as the year went on,” Jones said, speaking of his team with dignity and pride.
The Highlanders, who went 12-6 in the Big South Conference this season, were ranked seventh in the preseason polls, and they viewed the low ranking as a challenge, rather than a defeat.
“Coach used to put ‘seventh place’ in the locker room, just put ‘seventh’ everywhere … every day that just motivated us to be better,” said guard Carlik Jones, a freshman from Cincinnati.
Coach Jones recognizes that part of what makes his team so special is its ability to be individuals and express themselves. The team has found an ideal balance between focus and fun, which has motivated the players to keep getting better.
“We went through a lot of adversity. I am just really happy that these guys became champions. It’s something that will link them for the rest of their lives,” Jones said.
I have never been able to appreciate the grandeur of sports and am ashamed to say that I have only been to one UD basketball game. But my respect and appreciation for sports changed when I covered the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Championship #FirstFour open team practice on Monday, March 12, at UD Arena.
Although the games had not yet begun, March Madness was drawing people from all over the Dayton area and country to watch the teams practicing during open gym sessions.
While the crowds were not nearly as impressive as those during games, there were enough fans to give the teams an audible audience.
Alumni, UD fans, out-of-state visitors and families could make a day out of the whole experience, whether rooting for their favorite team or simply because they love the game.
Talking to spectators, snapping photos, listening in on press conferences and simply getting to be in the same room as all the teams made me realize the importance of the First Four to the city of Dayton and made me feel lucky for getting to be a part of it.
Being on the inside of such a massive event gave me newfound respect for the sport and made me proud to be a living in Dayton, where the beginning to men’s championship basketball begins.
The University of Dayton has hosted the beginning of March Madness for 17 years, providing years of family-bonding experiences. Although tickets to the NCAA First Four games can be hard to snag, open practices at the University of Dayton Arena never cease to draw a crowd.
UD Arena makes open practices and parking free for attendees, plus passes out T-shirts and vendor coupons to help feed growing fans.
Gretchen Rohrer and her son, Ty, were at Monday’s open practice, which was the perfect opportunity for mother-son bonding.
“My husband and I came to the open practices when we first met,” Rohrer said. “And now I have my son with me.”
Rohrer drove from Troy, Ohio, with her son as a surprise. Ty was smiling ear-to-ear waiting to watch one of his favorite players practice — UCLA’s Aaron Holiday.
For others, open practice is a complete family affair.
Richie Peterson was recently stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio, and came to the game with his wife, Brinkley. They had wanted to see what “the hype” was about after hearing about the #FirstFour at UD Arena from locals. Their three basketball-playing kids, two wearing their new March Madness T-shirts, watched attentively from the UD-blue bleachers.
For these families, the First Four opening events were memorable and will continue to be for many other families during the next two days for the start of the championship basketball games.
The University was filled with student enthusiasm March 1-4 as more than 500 students from across the country were on campus to attend a national conference focused on community and civic engagement.
For the first time in the event’s history, UD hosted the IMPACT Conference, which brings together college students, nonprofit organizations and school administrators to share ideas, stories and experiences on creating social change.
The conference offered dozens of workshops and speeches on topics ranging from immigration to food scarcity, foster care to water purity, to name a few.
“This conference brings college students from around the country together and invites them to talk with each other and share stories of what others are doing on their campus,” said Hunter Phillips Goodman, executive director of the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community. “The power comes from bringing people together and learning and hearing what is going on in other parts of the nation. It’s powerful and motivating.”
The IMPACT Conference builds on the foundations of the Collegiate Outreach Opportunity League and Idealist on Campus, whose mission is to promote and support college student involvement in thoughtful community service and civic engagement.
UD student ambassador and fourth-year student Katherine Liming said she was in awe at the enthusiasm she saw from attendees.
“I was very impressed by the conference and the students in attendance. It is so invigorating and inspiring to see what kind of action is happening on other college campuses across the country,” she said. “These students were so passionate and caring and that is really comforting to know that there are young people like that all across the country.”
Phillips Goodman has been involved with the conference for more than two decades and believes that the power of bringing college students together helps them see that their work is not done in a bubble, but rather can influence national change.
“Conferences like these are so important because our students who are working in their cities locally, they are seeing that what they do has a global affect by talking to other students from other universities. It’s empowering for them,” she said.
University of Dayton fourth-year student Abigail Kowalczyk seemed to agree with that assessment.
“I love learning about what other people are passionate about. It inspires me to follow my passions, unapologetically,” she said. “You learn that you aren’t the only college student out there with a big dream on how to create a better future. You get to connect with people who have similar passions and can help support you along your journey. We support each other and lift each other up to make sure that we are accomplishing our goals and helping each other when we are stuck.”
To learn more, visit www.impactconference.org.
Students in the Intensive English Program (IEP) at UD are adjusting to all sorts of cultural differences, from food and social norms to currency and measuring systems. Add to the list: sports.
To help educate their new peers, students from sport management assistant professor Haozhou Pu’s Sports in the Global Community class visited the IEP students to teach them about some American sports and outdoor pastimes.
Pu’s goal was to get his students out of the classroom and share the knowledge they’ve gained during the semester about how sports translate globally.
“Sports can be a very important way to bridge different cultures,” Pu said. “And more so here at the University of Dayton to create a more inclusive and diverse environment.”
In a presentation on baseball and cornhole, students explained the rules of the game, showed videos of professional baseball players and participants in a national cornhole tournament and talked about the history of these American pastimes.
For third-level IEP student Yasmeen Behbehani, the presentation brought a lot of new information.
“This is the first time I’ve played cornhole and the first time I’ve held a baseball glove and a bat,” Behbehani said.
Behbehani had not previously heard of cornhole, but recalls learning about baseball through American television shows and playing it on the Nintendo Wii.
When Behbehani completes the IEP program, she will become a student at the University of Dayton and study electrical engineering. With Pu’s class presentations, she will enter the community even more immersed in American culture.