The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, March 16, 2020 1:00 am

Painful end to Dayton's best season

During a homily a priest once said we share joy to multiply it and we share grief to divide it.

So that's what I'm here to do – diminishing my sorrow while growing my happiness. Or at least that's what I'm going to try to do.

For those unaware or who don't follow me on Twitter, I am an unabashed Dayton Flyers die-hard. I have shared season tickets for multiple years, have traveled to see them play from Wyoming to Philadelphia and hang a flag in front of my house after every victory. I own multiple Dayton-themed Hawaiian style shirts.

This year was supposed to be a pretty good one for Dayton. It was the third year for coach Anthony Grant, an alumnus, and we had key players coming back plus an influx of new talent through transfers.

But that “pretty good” quickly morphed into what can only be called the best Dayton team I have ever seen. The Flyers were 29-2, ranked third in the country and were a projected No. 1 seed. Last year's star Obi Toppin made the transition into national phenomenon whose unbelievable dunks are regularly featured on “SportsCenter.”

“College GameDay” came to campus to highlight the Flyers meteoric rise. Toppin is being touted as a national player of the year candidate and Grant as a national coach of the year.

The season has given me so many moments of sheer joy, from buzzer-beater wins to taking my son on road trips to getting into Twitter feuds with fans of Duke and other national powers.

Dayton fans joked that something would come along to derail the party, such as the coronavirus canceling the tournament the one year the Flyers had a chance to win it. Suddenly those jokes are no longer funny.

On Wednesday the NCAA announced all tournament games would be played without fans. On Wednesday night, the NBA announced it was suspending its season. On Thursday multiple basketball conferences, including Dayton's Atlantic 10, canceled their tournaments, Major League Soccer suspended its season and the Ohio School Athletic Association suspended its winter tournaments. Then the hammer dropped, and the NCAA Tournament was canceled. On Sunday I was supposed to revel with friends by seeing Dayton announced as a 1 or 2 seed. Now, there is just a void. It's like a bad dream.

I've had a long understanding with my wife that should Dayton ever make the Final Four, I would be attending no matter what. Flights – refundable thankfully – had been booked for Atlanta and plans were made with friends and family for how to maximize this opportunity.

Unlike fans of Kansas or other traditional powers, the loss of the tournament this year is particularly gutting for Dayton fans. We can't assume we'll be back to this level in the near future. In fact, most rational fans understood this season's heights may never be reached again. And now I'll never get to see them play another game.

This isn't a criticism of the NCAA, it's more a rant at the circumstances. Multiple smart people have told me dramatic steps have to be taken to slow the spread of the virus. Gov. Mike DeWine said he doesn't want Ohio to become like Italy and for good reason. Two weeks ago, Italy had 322 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The next week it had 2,502 and recently it was up to 10,149, according to the Atlantic.

My friends did say it's perfectly OK for me to hate the situation. Couldn't this have happened in 2018 when Dayton was 14-17? Why this year? Why this month? Why?

As a fairly healthy middle-age man, would I trade getting the disease for a chance to watch Dayton play for the national championship? Absolutely. But, that's not the real question. Would I trade it for the chance of infecting my 97-year-old grandmother or my friend with a respiratory issue?

The rational me understands the need to slow the spread of the disease so it doesn't peak beyond what our health care system can handle. I trust that officials aren't making these tough decisions lightly. But I've also long had this understanding with my wife: The Dayton Flyers are the one thing in my life where I can be completely irrational.

So I tell myself this is the right decision for humanity, but that doesn't help a broken heart. Hopefully sharing my grief does.

Go Flyers.

Ben Lanka is editor of The (Newark, Ohio) Advocate and the Marion Star, where this first appeared. He is a former city government reporter for The Journal Gazette, and a proud University of Dayton alumnus. Email him at blanka@gannett.com.


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