Thursday April 20, 2017

The Road Starts Here Again

By Eric F. Spina

I felt nervous anticipation among community leaders who gathered around a large screen in the University of Dayton Arena to await the NCAA's announcement of its host sites for tournaments, year by year, through 2022.

Suddenly, a loud cheer went up. Broad smiles. High fives all around. The University of Dayton and the community of Dayton — already the hosts for the First Four in 2018 — would get the nod for 2019, too.

More cheers filled the room for 2020 and 2021. Finally, a huge, joyful whoop for 2022.

"It felt like Selection Sunday for us today," Eric Farrell, a member of the First Four Local Organizing Committee, told the Dayton Daily News.

I am very grateful to a coalition of community, business, Air Force and higher education leaders — a literal army of passionate volunteers — who have worked tirelessly to brand Dayton as the place where March Madness begins. A point of pride: our Arena has hosted every opening round game since 2001 before becoming home to the First Four in 2011. Every year, the games pump money into the local economy and put the “University of Dayton” and “Dayton” in the spotlight for millions of people across the country.

During my first year as president, I've learned Dayton basketball fans bleed red and blue, but they'll also buy tickets and root loudly for First Four teams. I particularly love all the small touches designed to make these two days such a memorable experience for the teams, basketball fans, veterans and active-duty airmen and their families. Local ambassadors greet visiting teams with banners in their school colors and cookies decorated with their logos. The airport's tower beams out a school's colors when flights land at night. Our pep band, known for its rowdy routines at Dayton Flyer games, has even stepped in to perform for short-handed teams.

Perhaps this is why UD Arena has hosted more NCAA Division I basketball tournament games than any venue in the country — 117 games and counting. We provide a championship experience in a storied arena that promises exhilarating moments and deafening crowds, whether it's the tournament's tip-off game or a nailbiter in a later round.

UD Arena holds a special place in my heart for more than just great college basketball, though.

Earlier this month, I felt the hopes and dreams of our campus community soar during my presidential inauguration ceremony. In early May, thousands of students will receive their diplomas at spring commencement before joyful families and friends.

Indeed, the University of Dayton Arena is a place where we celebrate hopes and dreams, a special part of our home.

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