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Different backgrounds, but bonded in basketball

4:42 PM  Mar 16th, 2018
by Thomas M. Columbus; photos by Briana Snyder ’09

The shipyard, auto plant and steel mill are gone. But Lorain remains Ohio’s 10th-largest city.

In Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky, college basketball is king — and queen.

Coolville, Ohio, does not have a stop sign.

The hometowns of Alex Harris, JaVonna Layfield and Jenna Burdette are very different. But, according to head coach Shauna Green, the three seniors on the Flyers women’s basketball team have one thing in common: “You know what you are going to get out of them every single night.”

And what that is has been very, very good.

Though the backgrounds of the three have many differences, the common factor of basketball has drawn them together.
Harris has always loved basketball.

“Even before kindergarten, a basketball hoop was her favorite toy,” her mother, Sandra Wright, said.

Harris’ first day of kindergarten was the first day of high school for her sister, Shayla Wright. The two were very close, partially because their mother worked two jobs. Kindergarten for Harris marked not only the beginning of school but the beginning of intensely following her sister’s basketball career.

Harris rode the team bus to games. As her sister recalled, Harris “sat on the end of the bench. Our coach called her our ‘little mascot.’” Later playing for the same high school, Harris — who, unlike her sister, grew to be 6-foot-3 — would pull in more than 1,000 rebounds.

Seniors Alex Harris, Jenna Burdette and JaVonna Layfield (above, from left), bring strong family ties into their lives as Flyer teammates.

“She’s so intense on the court,” Linda Bradshaw, her partner and longtime friend, said, “but not off. She’s the nicest person I know.”

That opinion is apparently shared by her niece. “Alex is her favorite person in the world,” Shayla Wright said. “When Alex is around, no one else exists.”

Harris is shy, her sister said. And quiet, according to her mother, who said that Penn State, where Harris went to school for two years, “was too big, considering where she’s from. She doesn’t show much emotion, but she did get homesick.”

Transferring to Dayton brought her closer to home and, her sister said, “brought out her full potential.”

At Dayton she would join the outgoing Layfield and the taciturn Burdette, two players whose freshman homesickness was the subject of a Dayton Daily News article in 2015 by Tom Archdeacon ’72. He described the first time that the roommates Burdette and Layfield caught each other crying. They hugged each other.

Layfield was born in Louisville, Kentucky, with basketball in her blood. Athletes run on both sides of her family; one uncle played for Louisville.

High-spirited and energetic, Layfield was always doing some activity. Her mother, Shanneca O’Bannon, said, “We told her, ‘You have to do something, whether it’s sport or debate. You don’t come home and sit on the couch.’”

“We were trying to tire her out,” her grandmother, Gail O’Bannon, said.
Like Harris, Layfield “was a big kid,” her mother said. “Through grade school and middle school she played with her back to the basket.” Then she stopped growing, prompting her AAU coach to work with her on playing facing the basket.

She learned that well, her senior year being named by the Louisville Courier-Journal First Team All-State. But having lived her whole life in Louisville, “she wasn’t sure about leaving,” her mother said. She considered staying in town and attending Bellarmine University, an NCAA Division II school.

Freshman year at Dayton was a struggle for her, her mother said, adding, “I struggled, too, but I didn’t let her see it. When she became fine, I did, too.

“But someone here in Louisville still has to hear her voice every day.”

Often that someone is her grandmother who, when they talk, makes sure Layfield is going to church.

“My mom,” Layfield’s mother said, “would live in the dorm with JaVonna if she could.”

And grandmother did make a lot of trips to Dayton that freshman year.

As did members of the Burdette family.

Coolville may be a lot different from Louisville, but one thing they do have in common — four years ago each had a future Flyer star who was not eager to leave her hometown.

Coolville, according to Jonathan Burdette, Jenna’s older brother, “is in the middle of nowhere.” More precisely it is in southeast Ohio, 30 miles from Ohio University in Athens, where Jonathan attends school.

And it is, as Jill Burdette, Jenna’s mother, said, “half an hour from any store.”

Growing up, Jenna and Jonathan would show cattle from their grandfather’s farm. “Jenna would always take animals to the county fair,” Jonathan said.

And the two would play basketball.

For AAU ball, Jenna traveled 80 miles to Huntington, West Virginia, to play for the West Virginia Thunder; while she was playing for the team, it won its first national championship.

At Reedsville Eastern High School (enrollment about 200), Jenna’s coach was her dad, John. Jenna was four times first-team All-Ohio. In her senior year, she was Division IV Player of the Year, and Reedsville won the state championship.

When the time for college came, her mother said, Jenna made lists of what she wanted and did not want. She was looking for a relatively small Division I school. Dayton was within a three-hour drive; she liked the coaches; and the team needed a point guard.

She did for a while think, her mother said, that she’d be the only member of her class on the team. Then she had a roommate and teammate named Layfield — and two years later another teammate named Harris.

Their junior year, Harris’ first on the court, saw the Flyers, for the first time in program history, win both the A-10 regular season and championship titles. This year, as seniors, they went on a 16-game winning streak to again grab the A-10 regular season title, only to lose in the tournament semifinals to George Washington, 58-53. The seniors then turned their eyes toward a possible at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, in hopes of another day to play, together.

Editor’s note: The Flyers received an at-large bid to play in the 2018 NCAA tournament. The team lost in the first round to Marquette, 65-84.

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March Madness 101

9:49 PM  Mar 12th, 2018
by Shannon Shelton Miller

For a few days in March, UD Arena becomes more than just another venue hosting a major national sporting event. It turns into a 13,000-seat classroom.

During the First Four, the opening round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, UD students work behind the scenes with the Division of Athletics to assist with communications, facilities management, ticketing, athletic training and other functions necessary for successful event execution. Student journalists from University of Dayton Magazine also attend to cover the event for the alumni audience. (Follow their work on Twitter @daymag.)

And, during the last three years, the First Four has given one class an opportunity to integrate the NCAA tournament into its regular course work. Students from a sports media class spend an afternoon at the Arena attending press conferences, observing reporters at work and taking in the pregame buzz before that night’s First Four games.

The students, mostly juniors and seniors, are sport management majors in the Department of Health and Sport Science in the

School of Education and Health Sciences. Their class helps students understand the role of media and communications in the sports and recreation industry and prepares them for careers in the field.

“This is a great opportunity for students to take a look behind the scenes at a major sporting event,” said JoAn Scott, managing director of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. “The University of Dayton does a great job in organizing and hosting the First Four games, and these students get a first-hand look at what it takes to conduct such a huge event.”

Doug Hauschild, director of athletics communications, works with the NCAA to secure short-term passes for the 10 to 15 students who attend the media availability. They arrive shortly after noon on Tuesday and attend the press conferences for the teams scheduled to play on Wednesday. The passes give students access to the media workroom, the press conference area, locker rooms and courtside media seating, where they can observe open practices and talk to professional communicators at work.

In 2017, students chatted with CBS/Turner Sports broadcaster and former NBA/college basketball star Steve Smith, who shared stories about his broadcast career and his pregame prep routine.

Since 2001, UD Arena has hosted at least one game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, from the play-in game that ran 2001-10 to the First Four, which started in 2011 and is guaranteed to take place in Dayton until 2022. The facility has also hosted first- and second-round games in the men’s tournament and regional games in the women’s tournament. Because of the Arena’s prolific record as a tournament venue, UD students have been able to list NCAA tournament experience on their résumés in the relevant experience category, sometimes for four consecutive years.

“March Madness is a three-week run of tremendous college basketball, with many eyes of the nation and the world focused on the games,” Scott said. “We are happy to extend the students this opportunity, and who knows, one or more of them might be interested enough to someday work in event or media operations and maybe even on this tournament.”

Shannon Shelton Miller has served as the instructor for HSS 353: Sports Media and launched the student site visit during the 2016 First Four. She is a UD editor and a frequent contributor to University of Dayton Magazine. Her story appeared in the spring 2018 issue.

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Like me, please

10:37 AM  Feb 1st, 2018
by Doug Harris

Shauna Green, the second-year Dayton women’s basketball coach, likes to keep her family time separate from her job, but carving out windows for her husband and 3-year-old son isn’t easy with recruiting having intensified the last several years.

Home was once somewhat of a sanctuary for coaches; but they know there’s now a risk of falling behind in recruiting if they allow themselves to ever truly clock out.

“It never stops. It’s always been that way in this profession, but it’s definitely more so now,” Green said. “It used to be if you talked to people who had been in this a long time, they’d go to the office to work. But if I’m out to dinner with my family and a recruit calls, I take it. My family knows that’s just part of it.

“The other night, I had a million recruiting calls to make, and I’m out in my front yard, and my 3-year-old son wants to kick the soccer ball around. I’m running around and kicking the ball and talking to recruits with my phone in my hand. You look like a crazy person, but you learn how to multitask.”

The spike in social media has been going strong for a decade or more and shows no signs of ebbing, and the NCAA recently changed its rules to reflect advances in technology.

Women’s basketball coaches can contact a recruit through calls, text messages, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook beginning Sept. 1 of the recruit’s junior year — multiple times a day if they like. The only restriction is they can’t go on Twitter and send a tweet to a recruit, although direct messages, retweeting or “liking” something is fine.

“Having done this for 15 years, I can see the difference in the last few years — just with the whole text-messaging thing. That’s really changed the game,” said Green, who led the Flyers to their first sweep of the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament titles last year.

“It’s nice for us as coaches because you don’t actually have to call them to get to know them, and they feel more comfortable texting than they do talking. That’s definitely a generational thing.

“I’ve had instances where you’d call a kid, and they don’t answer. But you text them, and they’ll text you right back. You go, OK, you have your phone right there because you just texted me. It makes you mad in a way, but you have to say, ‘That’s how these kids are. The way they communicate is so different.’”

Another motivation for the NCAA to ease its restrictions was to allow coaches and high school players to become more familiar with each other. And given the mounds of electronic exchanges, that’s undoubtedly happening.

If UD is interested in a prospect, the staff will follow the athlete on Twitter. If the recruit reciprocates, the Flyers know they’re in good shape.

Men’s basketball can contact players beginning June 15 after their sophomore years. And while the options seem almost endless, the UD coaches are trying to figure out what works best for them.

“What our staff still needs to get our head around is, do we want to retweet, do we want to ‘like’ this? The simple answer is ‘yes’ because we’re going to be engaged with that recruit. But at the same time, it’s a slippery slope,” said Andy Farrell, the director of scouting and program development for the Flyers.

“If you do it for one recruit, do you have to do it for all 100? ‘Dayton is retweeting so and so, why aren’t they retweeting me?’ We’ve got to be a lot more strategic with it.  You see a lot of programs across the country retweeting and ‘liking’ everything, and it almost loses that touch if it’s mass-produced.”

Farrell has been on both sides of the recruiting onslaught. One of his stops before UD was at Southwest Mississippi Community College, and he learned much by seeing how his players were pursued.

“I could look at a recruit’s phone, and there would be four notifications. One’s an email, one’s a phone call, one’s a text message and one’s a social media alert. They’re looking at the social media alert first 90 percent of the time,” he said. “They’ll look at the text message next, then the missed call last.

“I’m just speaking from experience at the junior-college level. I’d say, ‘Hey, let me look at your phone real quick.’ He’d hand me his phone, and there’d be 14 unread text messages. You see the icon for 14. You go over to his social media, and there’s no red No. 1’s or red No. 4’s on those. Those were checked.

“You’ve got to utilize the different ways of communication — not saying you have to do one over the other, but I think the social-media messaging is going to be checked more frequently.”

Social media has allowed teams to get the message out about their programs quickly and effectively. UD women’s soccer assistant coach Dean Ward has found short videos — usually of Flyers scoring goals — get favorable responses.

“Nowadays, with this generation, video clips of five to 30 seconds catch their attention before they move on to the next thing,” he said. “The days are gone where you sit down and watch a video for 20 or 30 minutes. It’s all short and instant gratification and instant images.

“That’s why Instagram and Snapchat are probably the most prominent platforms right now in social media — for the kids of the age we’re trying to recruit. Things like Facebook have become an older generation type of thing.”

Asked if most high school athletes have Instagram accounts, Ward replied, “I have not met many who don’t.”

Posting game footage doesn’t seem like a chore to Ward, who was an assistant at the University of Tennessee the previous five years, because he said he’d be on his smartphone anyway.

“When I’m at home on the sofa for five or 10 minutes, I’ll kind of flip through and go to Instagram and Twitter and ‘like’ certain things from kids we’re recruiting,” he said. “After seeing kids play, I’ll try to find them on social media and follow them.

“It’s one of the things you tick off on the list — not sit down and spend two or three hours a week on social media stuff. It just kind of happens a minute here and a minute there.”

For some UD coaches, the best method for reaching recruits is still the old-fashioned way.

“For me, I don’t think it’s changed a lot,” said first-year baseball coach Jayson King, who was the recruiting coordinator at the U.S. Military Academy last year and a successful Division-II coach for 20 years before that. “I think it’s something that can help you. It’s more of a branding type of thing where people can see what you have going on and can get a glimpse inside of what you’re doing.

“But in general, it’s your standard, ‘See players, call them, get them on campus and show them what’s there and describe what the opportunity is.’”

First-year men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant, like King, doesn’t have a personal Twitter account. Predecessor Archie Miller also was resistant to becoming part of that realm.

But the team has one (@DaytonMBB), and Grant sees some value in that.

“It gives your fans and the public in general a view into your program and the things you do on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. It gets your story out there,” he said.

One of the concerns about loosening the rules on electronic communication was that kids would be inundated with contact from coaches. But at least one UD athlete didn’t find it to be taxing.

Kendall Pollard, a senior basketball star for the Flyers last season, played for Chicago Simeon High School when texting restrictions were lifted and was encouraged by the attention he received. 

“As a player, you’d like to know who’s interested in you directly. Right before that, they would send letters to the school or call my high school coach, and he would never tell me,” Pollard said.

“When coaches were allowed to [text], I was like, OK, I’m getting interest from this school and this school. When I started receiving messages on Facebook and stuff, that gave me an extra boost. I was able to see who was interested in me, and it made me go out there and play even harder.”

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Steve McElvene: A teammate’s reflection on a year after his friend’s death

3:55 PM  Sep 15th, 2017
by Jeremiah Bonsu ’17

Have you ever had one of those days when you woke up in a bad mood and you knew you were not going to be fun to be around? Steve McElvene never did. In fact, Big Steve was the guy who changed your mood on those days. Big Steve was always laughing and making others laugh.

Of course, it was fun to watch his growth as a basketball player; there was no doubt he was going to be a special player. But the best thing about Big Steve was that he was a special person.

All throughout campus, people knew Big Steve. He was hard to miss at 6-foot-11; but had he been 6-foot, people would still know him. He never met a person he wasn’t willing to talk to. Talking to Steve for even 10 seconds meant you were either going to laugh or he was going to flash you his big smile. You’d think there would be some students who wouldn’t picture themselves hanging out in the dorms with a 7-foot basketball player. But there was Big Steve hanging out with anyone and everyone who wanted to be around him.

He was famous for screaming during his NBA 2K video game matches in Marycrest residence hall. Steve was never very good at video games, but he’d never turn down a game. Then there was the time Steve and two of his friends held up traffic in front of Caldwell apartments because they had to finish their dance routine. Steve loved dancing and, as with everything else, did not care if others thought he was good or not.

Steve was just about spreading joy. The basketball team believed Big Steve was at his best when he was around us, but Steve’s love and memory can be shared with everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.

Some of the best Big Steve stories do come from him on the basketball court. After sitting out his first year, Steve was enormously excited to play in his first game; his entire family came to Dayton to watch him. Steve had transformed his body to the point where he was an entirely new player. Early in the game, Steve scored his first career basket and proceeded up the court while looking and shouting toward his family. While he was doing that, the player he was guarding ran down the court and scored. Steve was just so excited to be playing basketball.

Once, at an open gym, Steve was talking about how he was going to dunk on guys and called out people who got dunked on. Kendall Pollard then dunked all over Steve. That did nothing to stop Steve from talking trash though.

Flyer Fans may want to forget the Advocare Invitational against Xavier, but Steve made it memorable for the team. Coach Miller emphasized to us that Xavier would run a certain play to get a dunk to start the game. In typical Steve fashion, he let the team know that no one was going to be dunking on him. The first possession for Xavier ended with Steve being dunked on.

That game did not go well for any Flyer. There were many long faces afterward; Steve was one of them. The team didn’t talk about that game until a few days later in the locker room when Steve made a joke about Kendall getting dunked on. In an instant the room was filled with loud voices and laughter pointing out to Steve that it was him who got dunked on.

I think Steve knew it was him from the beginning; but, knowing our team needed something to get our spirits up, he was perfectly fine being the butt of the joke. Steve just wanted to play basketball with his brothers and make people happy.

The way someone lives a life can teach others important lessons; Steve’s was no different. He taught us how to be truly selfless and that the only way to be truly fulfilled in life is to have an impact on the other people around you. We should all ask ourselves if we are making an impact on our community. It doesn’t have to be by being the personality Steve was; an impact can be made in a multitude of ways.

Scholarships are one such way. Ann Kremer had never met Big Steve but, as an avid Dayton Flyers fan, was inspired by what he stood for, both on and off the court. After his death, she wanted to keep his spirit alive. Through the Naum Family Foundation, Ann established a scholarship at UD, what she calls “the first big step” in creating a legacy for Steve’s name.

She said she hopes her gift “will inspire others touched like I was by this remarkable young man to think about how we too can make a positive impact on our UD community.”

For me and my teammates, Steve’s passing from a heart condition was sad, but it inspired us at the same time.

We, his teammates, can remember Steve by living life to the fullest and chasing our dreams. Steve had big dreams of playing in the NBA. As his teammates we must pursue our dreams with the same work ethic and drive that Steve used to become a college basketball player.

More importantly, we must pursue our dreams with Steve in our mind and hearts. Because he can’t, we must. We are our brother’s keeper.

***

Big Steve inspired others

Steve McElvene holds the Dayton Flyers men’s basketball program’s record for blocked shots in a season. But he also, even after his death following that impressive freshman season, has a hold on the memories and dreams of those who knew him. Teammate and friend Jeremiah Bonsu ’17 was one of those touched by Big Steve… and he continues to be.

McElvene’s example also impressed Ann Kremer. She wanted to ensure that it would be an inspiration for future students. So she established a scholarship in his memory. And with the help of others also touched by McElvene’s vibrancy and generosity, Kremer hopes to see Big Steve’s spirit continue to enrich Dayton Flyers for a long time to come. The Steve McElvene Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to a Flyer student-athlete, manager or trainer who has financial need and exhibits the characteristics that Big Steve did — working hard in sports and in academics, acting as a good teammate and embracing life with enthusiasm.

To donate to the scholarship fund, go to gift.udayton.edu. To find out more on supporting this effort, contact Josh Postorino, jpostorino1@udayton.edu.

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Just being Chris

9:21 AM  Jul 25th, 2017
by Gita Balakrishnan

Sitting on a train, traveling across the country, Chris Rolfe felt the physical and emotional symptoms of more than half a year slowly dim. His stress took a small reprieve and hid away in some corner of himself. He recalls looking out the window and simply enjoying his surroundings and the company of strangers around him. In that moment, he relished the chance of just being Chris.

Just being Chris was unfamiliar territory for the Flyer soccer star turned pro. Since April 2016, Rolfe has struggled to come to terms with a debilitating concussion that effectively changed the course of his soccer career.

His journey has taken him through frustration, denial and anger, and now acceptance has slowly found its way to him.

“There was this voice inside of me — probably the same one that turned me into the soccer player that I am — that said, ‘Get over it. Let’s go. What’s happened has happened and you can’t control any of that now, so let’s move forward, let’s make it better, and let’s do the best that we can do and make the most of what you’re given in the future,’” Rolfe said.

Although that future is uncertain, Rolfe’s determination is not.

Since he was 7, soccer has been Rolfe’s world. A Kettering, Ohio, native, he went to Kettering Fairmont High School where, in only three years, he set the goal-scoring record.

He played at the University of Dayton from 2001 to 2004, where he set the school record for career assists (25) and was named an NSCAA All-American. In 2010 he was inducted into the Ohio Soccer Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in college.

Rolfe was drafted his senior year in the third round of the 2005 MLS SuperDraft by Chicago Fire and scored 30 goals in his first four seasons with the club. He was the team’s leading scorer in 2005, 2008 and 2012 and was the league’s runner-up rookie of the year in 2005.

In 2014 he was traded to D.C. United, where he thrived and was the team’s leading scorer and MVP in 2015.

As many of his friends say, in 2016 Rolfe was probably in the best physical shape that he’d ever been in as a professional athlete.

The team’s general manager Dave Kasper released a statement in September 2015 saying, “His ability to create and score goals has been vital to the team, and he is among a group of important veteran leaders in the locker room.”

But during a rainy, wet Chicago day, his training, physicality and leadership skills would all be tested for the unforeseeable future.

During the 32nd minute of an April 2016 match against Chicago Fire, Rolfe was putting pressure on Fire player Rodrigo Ramos near midfield.

D.C. had been favored early in the game, but the opponent seemed amped up.

As Rolfe intensified his defensive pressure, Ramos inadvertently elbowed him in the nose. It was a rough hit, Rolfe admitted, but he remained in the game, the competitor that he is, never imagining the injury could be serious.

Then, during halftime, Rolfe started noticing differences in the light patterns on the field. And even though the ground started to feel like it was moving underneath him, he stayed on the field until he was subbed out in the 72nd minute due to obvious symptoms noticed by the D.C. staff.

When he got to the locker room, he knew something was wrong.

He wasn’t able to focus — as if in a fuzzy dream world.

Looking at the light was excruciating. 

His head hurt.

After speaking with medical staff, Rolfe was diagnosed with a concussion and was out for the rest of the season.

In the months since, his symptoms have been constant companions: Headaches. Extreme light sensitivity. Unsteadiness. 

He describes the effects in his left eye as “bolts of pain going through the back of my eye into my head and back into my temples.”

Days and months drag on.

“I noticed problems with everything I did,” Rolfe said, noting he had difficulty concentrating and found it hard to filter out external and peripheral stimuli and noise.

Rolfe said he initially didn’t realize the severity of his injury, having recovered from concussions in the past.

“I’m used to playing with pain,” Rolfe said. “We joke that the only day you feel great is the first day of preseason, and after that you’re hurt. So I’m used to dealing with that stuff.”

In 2006 he had two concussions five days apart, and in 2014 suffered a devastating arm injury. But this injury has been more long-lasting.

Rolfe said the symptoms were at their worst one week after the hit, after gradually increasing in severity over the first seven days. But it wasn’t until the initial symptoms began to subside in mid- to late summer 2016 that he realized he was in bad shape.

“I didn’t even realize how severe my symptoms were. There was a moment in June or July that it started to become a reality. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t leave the house. I would have to get a taxi, then keep my eyes closed in the backseat so I didn’t get sick when I got to where I was going,” he said.

In an emotional Washington Post article, he detailed going to the grocery store to buy an item but feeling overwhelmed by stimuli and struggling to find his product despite trips up and down the same aisle for several minutes.

As a professional athlete, Rolfe is a self-admitted overachiever and, although he was benched for the remainder of the 2016 season, he continued to work on the sidelines, going to practices, trying to work out and train. But in late September, Rolfe said he “hit a wall.” 

Unlike past injuries, where training would help him get better, working out this time seemed only to exacerbate the symptoms. 

“Whenever I tried to exercise, the symptoms would compound and become worse day by day,” Rolfe recalled. “If you try and strengthen your legs, you go to the gym, hit it hard and sure, your legs hurt, but you recover and get stronger. But it’s been the complete opposite with the brain and so it’s been counterintuitive to all of the rehab I’ve done for my career in the past.”

In November 2016, when D.C. United was knocked out of the playoffs, Rolfe decided he needed to get away.

He was tired of feeling bad. Tired of hurting. And tired of being stressed about recovery on an unknown timeline.

He made the decision to reset and booked himself a 22-day cross-country train trip — Chicago to San Francisco down to Los Angeles and back to Chicago.

There were stops in Denver; Aspen, Colorado; and Flagstaff, Arizona.

And in the last week of his trip, Rolfe began to feel normal — he didn’t think about the symptoms or the concussion and he was enjoying himself for the first time in eight months.

There were 10- to 12-mile hikes. For once, he said, he relented control of his surroundings and his symptoms seemed not to affect him as much.

“I had a train schedule, and I stuck to it. I let go of trying to have control of things for the most part and I just tried to enjoy being in that moment. I tried to enjoy the scenery and I enjoyed my meals with these random people who were sitting at the table with me in the dining car.

“I was not thinking about my head. Not worrying about what career was next. Not worrying if I was not going to play soccer ever again. Not worrying about what the fans thought about it or what my teammates thought.

“I was really able to get to the bare bottom of controlling my own life and letting go,” he said.

When the trip ended, the symptoms did return, but it didn’t matter as much because Rolfe had changed. And in that change, there has been personal growth and inspiration. His plans are simple: He says he wants to get his life back.

“It’s hard for me because I’m a goal setter and I like to know how to get from point A to point B. There have been plans, but I need to allow myself to be more fluid with what I do while I’m in rehab,” he said. “For me, it’s getting my life back, healing my head, returning to fitness and figuring out my soccer career.”

He notes that it’s also time for him to decide what comes next, since any athletic career has an expiration date. At 34, Rolfe acknowledges that even with a full recovery, he may only have a handful of years left in pro sports.

Although Rolfe kids when he says he doesn’t “have a lot of skills that translate to another occupation,” he has the traits that can make anyone successful.

“That’s the best thing about the competitive nature of what I’ve done and the team sport aspect of it,” he said. “I have a lot of great takeaways from what I’ve been doing.”

His determination is unquestionable. Always trying to improve, Rolfe has created what he calls “brain games.” Each morning, he recaps the day before: every detail, times he went places, people he was with, what they talked about, what he ate.

And why?

“I’m not sure what the science would say about that, but I believe it’s been beneficial,” he said. He also practices yoga and meditation along with physical therapy sessions.

While he wishes the injury never occurred, he finds goodness in everything that happens to him by acknowledging that the event has forced him to think about himself outside the soccer field. For now, he is officially on the 2017 D.C. United roster but cannot yet practice with the team.

His new journey may lead him to non-soccer options in the near future that would likely include work in financial planning and wealth management thanks to his new UD finance degree, which he received this May after putting his studies on hold in 2005.

“It’s forced me to take a look at who I am and what my identity is because, for 27 years now, I’ve been ‘Chris the soccer player,’ and if you want to go broader, ‘Chris the athlete,’” he said.

But ever the optimist, Rolfe is excited about his future, whatever that may be.

“It’s been great in that regard because I’ve now been forced to think deeper about who I am and the kind of person I want to be and what I now want to have define me,” he said.

And with a cautious but motivated smile, he added, “Now I have a chance to kind of dictate the next moniker to go along with who I am and what I’ll be known for going forward.”

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A very, very fine house it will be

4:24 PM  Jun 15th, 2017
by Thomas M. Columbus

Amenities. Accessibility. Air conditioning. And a very cool look.

As well as a lot of infrastructure that fans won’t see.

Over the next three years, a $72 million project will transform one of the nation’s most iconic sports venues, the University of Dayton Arena.

The 2017 phase of the project will include a new four-sided, center-hung video board, LED ribbon boards on the fascia of the Spectrum Flight Deck and suites, new 100- and 200-level seats, and updated and additional American with Disabilities Act seating. Upgrades to the audio system and broadcasting infrastructure, initial work on platforms for four new terrace suites, and upgrades to the dewatering pumps are also planned.

A new concourse and new 300- and 400-level seats will come in 2018 as well as several upgrades to the infrastructure, including new court lighting and improved Wi-Fi. The corner video boards will be moved and turned toward the 300/400 level. Restrooms, concession stands and merchandise locations will be added and upgraded.

The concourse and 300- and 400-level seats, restrooms and concession stands will be completed in 2019. New club seats will appear between the 200 and 300 levels; terrace seats, in the four corners. The exterior will see a new design with upgraded lighting; the interior will be climate-controlled.

Funding will come from philanthropy (spurred by several multimillion-dollar lead gifts), corporate sponsorships, external private and business partnerships, ticket revenue and general University support.

In a message to the University community, Eric Spina, president, and Neil Sullivan, vice president and director of athletics, wrote, “We do not plan to seek any governmental funding for the project. We expect the fundraising will have little, if any, impact on our high-priority academic

goals because of the difference in individual donor interests. No donors will be steered away from other funding priorities to support the Arena project.”

Game schedules will be maintained throughout the three-year renovation, during which time the 10 millionth fan to watch a Flyers men’s basketball game at the Arena will walk through the doors.

And as the renovation comes to a conclusion, it will be time for the venue that has hosted more NCAA men’s basketball tournament games (117) than any other to celebrate its 50th birthday.

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Returning to ‘a special place’

4:17 PM  
by Thomas M. Columbus

Talking to a group of current students about UD, a 1987 grad said, “This is a special place.” Back on campus for the first time in quite a while, he easily recalled the address of his old house — 1302 Brown St.

The grad was Anthony Grant, speaking at an April 1 news conference at the University of Dayton Arena. Two days earlier he had been announced as head coach of the University of Dayton, only the seventh in the last 70 years.

The students to whom he was talking were his team.

“This is a labor of love,” he told them. “This program is about this community, about the city of Dayton, about you guys.”

The basketball program, he said, “is a successful one, but the potential is here for so much more.”

Christina Grant, his wife, told Campus Report editor Shannon Miller, “Two weeks ago we were talking about settling down and making Oklahoma our home for a while, so our high schoolers could graduate.”

The Grants had been there for two years; he was on the coaching staff of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. Then, UD’s coach at the time, Archie Miller, resigned to go to Indiana. Dayton called Grant, who as a senior at UD was co-captain and MVP.

Don Donoher, Grant’s UD coach, said, “He was into the NBA with a great franchise and everything, and all of a sudden I got a call from him. And he said, ‘What do you think?’

“And I said, ‘Come on!’” “When he got the call from Dayton,” Christina Grant said, “it was like a whole different world. He has a special place in his heart for Dayton, so I figured if he spoke with the administration, it was likely going to happen.”

For the Saturday news conference, the Grants didn’t fly in until that morning. Tom Archdeacon ’72 reported in the Dayton Daily News, “Friday was prom night for the Grants’ son, Preston. ‘It’s a big deal. His mom wanted to be here when he came home,’ [Anthony] Grant said.”

The lack of selfishness that characterized Grant as a player has stayed with him.

“I told Neil [Sullivan, UD athletics director] that I wanted what was best for Dayton,” Grant said. “Selfishly, I want it to be me, but as an alum, I want what’s best for this University. And if they, the members of the administration, thought that this hiring was the best thing, then I’m doing backflips down Brown Street.”

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Flyers in the finals

4:38 PM  Mar 15th, 2017
by Michael Williams ’82

Fifty years ago, the Dayton Flyers, coached by Don Donoher ’54, played in the final game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship for the only time in school history. The 1966-67 Flyer season is chronicled in “Flyers in the Finals: The 1967 NCAA Tournament,” by Michael Williams ’82, the cover story of the January-March 2017 issue of Timeline, a publication of the Ohio History Connection. The following is an abridgement of part of that article, beginning with the first-round game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

Few among the Flyer Faithful expected a big run in the tournament. … Sixth-ranked Western

Kentucky was far tougher than the Flyers’ first-round opponents had been the previous two years.

Nearly equidistant from the two campuses, the Lexington coliseum was filled with partisan spectators. Hilltopper fans yelled, waved red handkerchiefs and hoisted half a dozen rebel flags overhead, although their stars, Clem Haskins and the Smith brothers Dwight and Greg, were African-Americans who had broken the color line at Western. Dayton fans stood and waved white handkerchiefs and roared just as loudly.

Hilltopper partisans had more to cheer in the first half as their team took a 10-point lead. Don May’s steady scoring and rebounding kept Dayton in the contest. Down by 12 in the second half, Rudy Waterman sparked a Dayton surge and tied the game with a free throw. Soon, his layup gave the Flyers their first lead, 52-50. … Dwight Smith tied it at 62, sending the game into overtime.

Dayton scored first, but Waterman fouled out on a driving layup. … Haskins had broken his wrist in February; hampered by his injury and Dan Sadlier’s aggressive defense, Haskins had managed only two field goals all night but broke free for a layup that tied the game at 67. After bringing the ball across midcourt, Bobby Joe Hooper called time-out. With 14 seconds remaining, the crowd stood and roared.

“Give me the ball, coach,” Hooper said in the huddle, “I’ll put it in the hole.”

Thinking Western would crowd the middle and look for May, Donoher agreed. Hooper in-bounded the pass to Gene Klaus, who passed it back to him. Looking inside, Hooper dribbled to the right of the lane and launched an 18-foot jumper that swished. It was perhaps the biggest shot in Dayton history, securing a 69-67 overtime victory and making possible all that came after.

Dayton was again the underdog as it headed to Evanston, Illinois, to face Tennessee in the regional semifinal. The Volunteers finished the year ranked seventh nationally. Coach Ray Mears employed an unorthodox 1-3-1 zone defense anchored by his 7-foot center, Tom Boerwinkle, while All-American forward Ron Widby did much of the scoring.

Mears insisted, “Being unusual means other teams have to make unusual preparations.”

Donoher was not awed.

“We prefer that the first game would match us against the team that is the toughest to prepare for.”

And Donoher had six days to get ready for Tennessee. It was dangerous to play a Donoher-coached team with time to prepare.

Donoher loved watching films to dissect what made a team tick, and his players reaped the rewards.

“He broke things down for us,” Klaus later said.

Donoher pointed out that Tennessee hoped to make opponents impatient and shoot themselves out of the game.

During the game, Klaus and Hooper effectively put on a clinic. Predictably, the Tennessee zone collapsed on May, who scored just nine points, mostly from the foul line. Dayton’s guards were a model of patience and precision as they drove the seams of the zone, passing to their partners until an opening occurred. Klaus and Hooper combined to shoot 11 for 14 on the night. Sadlier, too, picked his shots carefully and went 4 for 4. The Flyers led 36-25 at the half.

Mears used halftime to “chew a few rear ends,” and his team responded. Still playing a deliberate pace, the Volunteers chipped away at Dayton’s lead. Even before midpoint of the second half, both teams went into a stall — Dayton to preserve a two-point lead, Tennessee to prevent Boerwinkle from fouling out. After five minutes that nearly lulled the crowd to sleep, Tennessee hit a jumper to tie at 50. Dayton again held the ball. Hooper got fouled with 24 seconds left and made his single free throw. A Tennessee shot bounced off the rim and was corralled by Sadlier, who was fouled over the back. Sadlier’s free throw made it 52- 50, Dayton. With seven seconds left, Tennessee’s court-length pass went wild, giving Dayton the ball under its own basket. Hooper inbounded to a driving Glinder Torain, who was fouled to prevent a shot. His free throw clinched the game. The Flyers watched Tennessee drive for a meaningless bucket that made the final score 53-52. Dayton fans hoisted Torain on their shoulders as they celebrated the school’s first berth in an NCAA regional championship.

In the locker room, athletics director Tom Frericks said, “Boys, you just built us an arena.”

Virginia Tech upset Indiana 79-70 to become Dayton’s regional final opponent. Defense dominated the first half in Northwestern’s McGaw Hall. Klaus turned his ankle on a jump shot and was replaced by Waterman. Midway through the second half, Virginia Tech’s Glen Combs got hot and poured in five straight jumpers that hit nothing but net. With the Flyers trailing by 10, Donoher called timeout.

“If we’re going down,” he told his team, “we’re going down with what brought us. Get it inside to May.”

May scored seven of Dayton’s next 11 points as the Flyers cut the Tech lead to one. In rebounding a Tech miss, Torain was fouled, and his free throw tied the game at 64. … Tech had the ball as the clock wound down. While they dribbled, Sadlier closed in and got a five-second call with 20 seconds left. He won the tip, but Hooper’s shot bounced off the rim. Tech’s last-second heave missed as well.

In overtime, Waterman connected on two foul shots. On Dayton’s next possession, Waterman found May open on the baseline; he dunked the ball for a 67-64 lead. After a Tech basket, Waterman lost possession but redeemed himself by deflecting the inbounds pass off a Tech player. Free throws by Torain and Hooper sealed the 71-66 victory.

As the horn sounded, Flyer fans surged onto the court and began hoisting players onto their shoulders. In the midst of the celebration, staff at McGaw Hall began retracting the Flyers’ basket toward the rafters while a Dayton student, junior Jack Hoeft still clung to the net. After much shouting and waving, the backboard was briefly lowered to allow the fan to jump down safely. Apparently, McGaw’s nets were too valuable to cut.

Next stop was Freedom Hall in Louisville to play in what has become the Final Four. Dayton’s first opponent was fourth-ranked North Carolina, coached by Dean Smith. His aggressive, stunting defense — known as the jump and run — was designed to disrupt an offense and cause turnovers. To exploit turnovers, Smith had a pair of rangy, high- scoring All-Americans, 6-4 junior Larry Miller and 6-3 sophomore Bobby Lewis.

As with Tennessee, Donoher had six days to prepare, but, after viewing North Carolina’s films, admitted to “thinking in terms of how not to get embarrassed.”

Smith feared his players were looking beyond the Dayton game to a championship showdown with UCLA.

“Our team wasn’t worried, but the coaching staff was,” he recalled.

Despite Smith’s repeated warnings that “Dayton is dangerous,” his Tar Heels knew the Flyers had only squeaked past Virginia Tech, a team they had thrashed less than a month earlier. The semifinals were on Good Friday, and the Flyers left nothing to chance. The team attended a noontime rosary service, and Don May inserted an Immaculate Conception medal into the waistband of his shorts.

After the game’s opening minutes suggested the expected Carolina route, May hit a 10-foot jumper and from that point on could not miss. He made 13 straight field goal attempts, an NCAA tournament record that has yet to be equaled. By half-time, the Flyers were up 29-13.

Dayton stretched its lead into the second half. Midway through the half, Carolina cut the margin to nine, but then Dayton scored the next four points. As the clock wound down, Flyer fans began to chant, “We’re No. 1!” A group held a banner reading: “Who needs ’Cindor? We’ve got Glinder!” Torain had played a brilliant game, fouling out before the 2-minute mark with 14 points, 11 rebounds and assists on three of May’s baskets. Sadlier provided a punctuation mark with a dunk that made the final score Dayton 76, North Carolina 62.

For the third game in a row, Donoher agreed with those insisting it had been UD’s biggest win ever.

The final was only 24 hours away, insufficient time to prepare for one of the greatest teams in basketball history, especially when much of Donoher’s Saturday was consumed by a coach’s luncheon and taping a sports talk show. Assistant coach Chuck Grigsby supervised Dayton’s brief practice. Later, on reflection, Donoher recognized his mistake of running their regular offense against the Bruins. The only teams that had beaten Dayton that year had featured an athletic big man, none of whom had the size, speed or agility of Lew Alcindor.

“If I could do it over, I’d take our guys to a ballroom to do a walk-through and restructure our offense,” Donoher said. “I don’t think we could’ve beaten UCLA, but we could have made a better showing.”

Seconds after Dan Obrovac stunned the Freedom Hall capacity crowd of nearly 19,000 by winning the opening tip, the ball came back to him at the high post. Adrenalin pumping, he turned and launched a foul-line jumper, something he had never done before at this point in a game. It missed. Bringing the ball up against the Bruin press, the Flyers turned it over. UCLA corralled the rebound and scored at the other end. The rout was on.

The Flyers learned to manage the press, but their first-half shooting was atrocious. Almost six minutes in, Torain finally scored for Dayton. By the midpoint of the first half, UCLA led 20 to 4. Alcindor blocked four shots and altered many more. May missed his first eight attempts. Meanwhile, when Alcindor got the ball down low, he usually dunked it. Double- or triple-teamed, he passed to guards Mike Warren or Lucius Allen, who combined for 36 points, or to forward Lynn Shackelford, who added another 10. Donoher switched to a zone, but it made little difference as the half ended with UCLA up 38-20.

May got on track in the second half and finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds. Waterman was the only other Flyer in double figures with 10. The Bruins at one point pushed their lead to 29. Coach John Wooden began benching his starters at the five- minute mark. Alcindor finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds. In the final minute, Donoher also cleared his bench so everyone could get court time in the finals. Senior reserve John Samanich made a basket before the game ended, UCLA 76, Dayton 62.

To reporters, the heavily favored Bruins seemed more relieved than elated at winning the national championship. In contrast, the Cinderella Flyers felt neither shame nor sadness in finishing second. For the third year in a row, Dayton had lost to the nation’s top-ranked team. Of them, Donoher conceded that UCLA topped them all and that “Alcindor makes them the best.”

Shortly after, the NCAA rules committee outlawed the dunk, citing concerns over injuries and damage to rims and backboards that delayed or canceled games. Most considered it an attempt to curb Alcindor’s dominance, yet UCLA repeated as national champions his junior and senior years. The seven straight NCAA titles captured by Wooden’s Bruins is a record that will likely never be broken.

Dayton Daily News Sports editor Si Burick observed that basketball had almost become a religion in the city. As predicted, the new UD Arena opened in 1969. To date, it has hosted more NCAA tournament games than any other venue. Dayton’s crowds consistently rank among the top 30 college programs, despite the presence of many larger arenas.

Expectations for the Flyers in 1967-68 were sky-high, and preseason polls ranked Dayton in the top 10. However, nagging injuries, narrow defeats and unexpected racial turmoil off the court produced a dismal 7-9 start. Then Donoher found a lineup that clicked, and the Flyers won their last nine games to make the NIT. Four victories later, they claimed the championship, with May taking honors as the tournament’s most valuable player and surpassing Hank Finkel as Dayton’s career scoring leader.

One factor in Dayton’s 1968 run was Dan Obrovac’s development into a fine center, especially on defense. He graduated in 1969 and briefly played pro ball before returning to Dayton for a computer science career. Alcindor also graduated in 1969 and was drafted by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. In 1971, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. During Abdul-Jabbar’s 20-year NBA career, he won six championships and six MVP awards and is still the league’s all-time leading scorer.

Years after their encounter on the court, Obrovac and Abdul-Jabbar ran into each other at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and shared a few laughs over Obrovac’s brief moment of fame. In 2008, both men were diagnosed with cancer. Abdul-Jabbar’s was a form of leukemia that has been held at bay. Obrovac had esophageal cancer that spread, forcing him into two years of grueling chemotherapy. Hearing of the struggle, Abdul-Jabbar reached out to him with two personal notes. The kindness touched Obrovac deeply.

From his home, Obrovac cheered as his beloved Flyers won their third NIT championship April 2, 2010. The next morning, he developed flu-like symptoms and was taken to the hospital, where he died April 21.

Michael Williams, a Vandalia, Ohio, resident, teaches social studies and history at the Miami Valley Career Technology Center. For information on purchasing single copies or subscriptions to Timeline, call the Ohio History Connection at 614-297-2315.

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Records smashed

10:11 AM  Dec 15th, 2016
by Thomas M. Columbus

Women’s soccer wins A-10 championship, beating No. 1 seed 7-10

The women soccer Flyers beat No. 1 seed Saint Joseph’s 7-0 in the Nov. 6 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title game. UD has won a league-record 10 A-10 championships (1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016).

The first title, in 1996, and this year’s were won in Rhode Island. Mike Tucker, who retired at the end of this season, was head coach for all 10 titles.

The seven Flyer goals set the A-10 tournament record for goals in a single match.

“Soccer is an imperfect game,” Tucker said. “This one was as close to perfect as any Flyer game I’ve seen.”

The Flyers were not scored on in the tournament, defeating Saint Louis 2-0 in the quarterfinals and George Washington 3-0 in the semifinals. Goalkeeper Kaelyn Johns broke the A-10 tournament record for individual shutouts.

Junior Alexis Kiehl broke the tournament record for points (12) and goals scored (5). Senior Libby Leedom tied the A-10 championship single game record for points (7).

Kiehl and Leedom each had a goal and an assist in the Flyers’ NCAA tournament game in Columbus against Ohio State, but the Flyers lost 3-2, ending their season at 9-10-3 overall.

“I could see the team getting better,” said Tucker of the games leading up to the tournament, “but then something just clicked for them. The tournament was as good a three-game stretch as we’ve ever had.”

The end of any season, Tucker said, brings with it a total shift. “You’ve been going 200 miles per hour,” he said. “You’re on the field every day.”

This year, with retirement, the shift is permanent. He said he won’t miss the sleepless nights, an occupational hazard of coaching.

“I will miss,” he said, “the players, the coaches, the interactions.”

He talked of the players as a father might talk of his children.

“It’s hard,” he said. “But you just have to let them grow up. Let them make mistakes. But you give them the information hoping they don’t. The best days for me are when alums come through the door. Makes you feel you’ve been doing something pretty good.”

He also observed that coaches tend to dwell more on the agony of defeat than the joy of victory. But that 7-0 championship win will bring him joy for many years.

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Alone in the Rec

10:04 AM  
by Jeremiah Bonsu ’17

In 2013, my freshman year at Dayton, I went to our gym, the RecPlex, every day. I’m talking every single day.

Classes were done? Off to the Rec.

Friday night? Rec.

Saturday morning? Rec.

I probably spent more time hooping than I spent in my dorm room. I think other kids noticed. But not like, “Oh, that kid’s really good at basketball.” Nah, it was more like, “Oh, that Jeremiah kid down the hall? He’s a weirdo. He never goes out.”

I remember spending my first Halloween on campus alone in the Rec, where the only sounds in the whole place were my bouncing basketball and my sneakers screeching on the waxed hardwood floor.

All the hours I spent there — I kept telling myself they’d be worth it. If there was one thing I had learned, it was that I should never give up. And after freshman year was over, I went back home and continued to work hard in the gym.

I was determined to get a chance to play on a D-I squad, and I was going to do anything to make that a possibility.  At the beginning of my sophomore year, a few days after dropping off my résumé and cover letter at Dayton’s athletic department, I received an email from a graduate assistant that said I would get a 10-minute tryout. It didn’t sound like much, but I was intent on making the most of it.

At the tryout, I ran around some cones, put up a few shots and showed the graduate assistant my handle. When my 10 minutes were up he blew his whistle and called me to the sideline. I could tell by the tone of his voice that I hadn’t made it.

“I love your heart, Jeremiah,” he said, “but all the spots on the team are filled. We do have one opening on the bench for a team manager. Is there any chance you would want to fill that role?”

I was sad, but getting a spot at the end of the bench sounded like the next best thing to actually making the team.

“Yeah, I’ll gladly do that.”

Before I left he gave me one piece of advice.

“Always bring your basketball shoes to practice,” he said. “You’ll want to be ready to impress someone.”

He was right. At practices, the coaches would play me in scrimmages. I’d get right up into a starter’s face, call out picks and do all sorts of little things to show my attention to detail. After practice ended, I’d stick around to clean up and then shoot around for an hour or more.

Early on in the 2014–15 season, something crazy happened. Three players suffered season-ending injuries, and two more were dismissed from the team due to an off-court incident. That left us with only seven scholarship players.

I was sitting on the bench with a ball in my lap after practice one day when Bill Comar, Dayton’s director of basketball operations, sat down next to me.

“Hey, Bonsu, I’ve got a question for you.”

My heart skipped a beat, but I didn’t say anything.

“You know the situation we’re in with losing all these bodies. How would you like to be …”

“Yes!”

We both laughed.

“You didn’t let me finish!”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

I was going to be a walk-on for the Dayton Flyers.

I haven’t played a single second yet. But I know my time will come. It always has. It’s just a matter of how much effort I put into the game.

I want to be a coach. And not just any coach — I want to lead a top-tier D-I program. Trust me, I’m going to be putting in the work to achieve this dream. I don’t know any other way.

See The Players’ Tribune at bit.ly/UDM_Bonsu for the original, longer version of Bonsu’s essay.

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