VOICES: It’s time to bring back the Gem City Jam

When the clock hit zero and Wright State had secured its historic first ever NCAA Tournament win over Bryant, it was actually the Raiders’ second victory of that memorable week. The first had occurred the day before, when the Wright State players first set foot on Blackburn Court at UD Arena for a brief but equally historic practice before their First Four game the following night.

When I came to Dayton in 1995, the Gem City Jam was alive and well. Having moved here from another college basketball hotbed (Wichita, Kansas) I immediately felt at home here when I began attending games at UD Arena and the Nutter Center, quickly realizing I was again lucky to be in a city full of knowledgeable and passionate college basketball fans. And it remains so to this day, as evidenced by the great support local fans give our two Division 1 programs and the First Four as well.

But after UD’s victory over Wright State in 1997, the Gem City Jam went away and there has been no real movement to revive it. I, for one, think the city is lesser for its absence, and that perhaps the time has now come to consider bringing back what was one of the true annual highlights of the local sports calendar.

I posted something to this effect on Twitter the other day, and received this response from a UD alum in Chicago: “I get some Dayton locals wanting this. But from UD’s perspective there is no value, zero, to playing WSU anywhere. Nothing against WSU, but build your own program. UD has its own challenges.”

From a purely basketball perspective, perhaps my friend in Chicago has a point. The Flyers have always been the big dog in this town, with the history and the wins and the legendary names to back it up. For UD, the prospect of playing Wright State has recently become one of everything to lose and nothing to gain. But like my friend in Chicago, this is a purely basketball perspective. Perhaps it’s time to look beyond RPI and KenPom ratings and see something bigger.

We are so fortunate in Dayton to have two Division 1 basketball programs. One is the acknowledged, longtime cornerstone; the other, based on recent history, is the rising up-and-comer. The two universities have long competed against each other in virtually every other sport with no apparent issues. Perhaps the time has finally come for the two schools to again compete in men’s basketball as well.

Bring back the Gem City Jam. Make it a game that not only generates massive annual local interest but benefits a deserving local charity each year: URS, Ronald McDonald House, House of Bread, United Way, Artemis Center, Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, the list goes on.

The Wright State Raiders stepped on the court at UD Arena the other night and the earth did not spin off its axis. The cheers of “Let’s Go Raiders” resounded through the building and it is still standing. And according to legendary DDN sports columnist Tom Archdeacon, UD Athletic Director Neil Sullivan and Wright State Athletic Director Bob Grant, two men for whom I have the highest respect, were seen that night having an amiable pregame chat. Let’s hope they keep talking. Sometimes, just doing the right thing for the right reason is reason enough.

Mark Allan retired in September 2021 after anchoring the local news on WDTN-TV for 25 years. He remains an avid sports enthusiast.

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