Football player Ryan Culhane Student is a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee at the University of Dayton. Proceeds from UD’s Dayton Strong t-shirts — an idea generated by SAAC — will go to the Dayton Foundation for victims of the Oregon District shooting and the tornadoes that ravaged the area on Memorial Day. Tom Archdeacon/CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist
Photo: columnist

Archdeacon: UD athletes launch “Dayton Strong” shirts to aid city that supports them

A shoulder surgery 12 days ago has sidelined him for the upcoming football season, but that didn’t mean Ryan Culhane was a wallflower Saturday morning during the Dayton Flyers practice at Welcome Stadium.

Instead of a starting offensive guard, he now was a 6-foot-5, 301-pound male model.

Along with a blue sling for his right arm, he wore what athletes around UD now hope becomes one of the most sought after clothing items on campus, around the Dayton community and with alumni across the nation.

Culhane wore a gray t-shirt with the simple, but all-powerful message: “Dayton Strong.”

The stylized D is the new Dayton logo.

This was the first time one of the shirts – designed just a few days ago – was worn at any kind of UD sports function.

They will be officially unveiled today when the women’s soccer team wears them as warm-ups before its 7:30 pm exhibition game with the University of Cincinnati at Baujan Field.

The shirts – which will be sold at the game for $15 each — are a fundraising effort launched by UD’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a select group of student athletes who come from every sports program at the school and serve as a voice for all their peers when it comes to matters with the school administration, the NCAA and the community.

Culhane, who serves on the executive board of SAAC, said all proceeds from the shirt sales will go to the Dayton Foundation to benefit the families of victims killed and wounded in last weekend’s mass shooting in the Oregon District and to the people whose lives were blown asunder by the tornadoes that ravaged the Dayton area on Memorial Day.

“A lot of us have come here from somewhere else and Dayton has become our second home,” said Culhane, who is from Naperville, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. “This city has really taken us in.

“We just want to do something for a community who supports all of us so much. Whether you’re walking around in a football shirt and someone is saying, ‘Hey, how’s the season?’ or “Good luck this week!’ or if you’re with basketball and the attendance is amazing, people here embrace you.

“And now the people here are hurting. They’re struggling and we want to do whatever we can to pick them up. We just want to show that we at the University of Dayton support you.”

He said all UD athletes – and there are close to 400 – will be given “Dayton Strong” shirts with one proviso:

“We want them to be ambassadors of the shirt. If people see them wearing them, we hope they’ll ask how they can get them.

“The athletes can tell them they can be found through the University of Dayton SAAC (requests on Facebook, Instagram) and we’ll be selling them at sporting events. Soon we hope to have them in the bookstore and have an order form on line.”

He said the shirt idea just got approved by athletics director Neil Sullivan four days ago, so the campaign is still a work in progress. He said the first order was for 1,000 shirts and he hopes those sell out by the time students begin fall classes in 10 days.

“We’d love to sell a million shirts,” he gushed,

While that’s an exaggeration, the sentiment behind it is not.

Mallory Kimmell, a redshirt sophomore infielder on the softball team and the president of SAAC, talked about the feelings she experienced when she learned about the shooting that left nine dead just after 1 a.m. last Sunday

She was back home in Indianapolis when she got the news:

“I felt sadness, anger, just a lot of emotions. Mostly just sadness.

“I love the Oregon District. It’s my favorite place to go. There’s just so many cool places. I love taking my family down there for dinner. There’s so many restaurants and the place is very artsy. I never felt unsafe there. And that’s what made me so sick to my stomach.

“I’m sure all those people out that night felt the same way I always feel. The probably felt safe right up to the moment it happened.”

‘We have to do something’

The idea for Dayton athletes to reach out to the community began with Jules Curry, a junior catcher on the softball team who is also on the SAAC executive committee. She lives in Reno, Nevada – and won’t return to campus until Wednesday — but she has strong ties to Dayton.

“My mom grew up there until she was 13,” she said. “She went to St. Albert’s, then she moved to Nevada. I’ve got a lot of cousins who still live in Dayton – the Kendig family mostly – and I think my one cousin works at Ned Peppers.”

That’s the bar gunman Connor Betts tried to rush into. He was dressed in tactical gear and carrying a modified A-15 like weapon equipped with a pair of high-capacity magazines. He was killed by Dayton police at the door of the popular Fifth Street club, but by then he had shot and killed nine people on the street and sidewalk and his rampage left more than 30 others injured

When Curry found out about the attack from text messages early Sunday morning, she said she was in “panic mode.”

Two years ago she had friends at the Las Vegas concert that was attacked by a gunman who enacted massive carnage. While they escaped, many did not: 58 people were killed and 422 were wounded.

This time she said she worried about her cousins, other UD athletes and really all the people in the town she too calls “my second home.”

She sent a text to Culhane that basilly said: “We have to do something!”

Soon they were part of a group text that included Kimmell and UD associate athletics director Krystal Warren. They tossed around different ideas and then Warren and Culhane went to see Sullivan who had had similar thoughts and had just had a proposal come across his desk from someone who wanted to make shirts.

Everybody liked the idea and they charged ahead with it.

As Culhane put it: “I feel like we’ve done three weeks of planning in four days.”

Community involvement

The University of Dayton women’s soccer team wears Dayton Strong t-shirts with UD logos. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist

Kimmell said one of the big reasons she chose UD was because “community service has always been a big part of the college. When you come to Dayton, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with the community.”

Curry and Culhane are the co-chairs of the community service directive of SAAC and they spoke of trying to get all of the UD athletes involved in different causes in the community – everything from the annual breast cancer walk at Fifth Third Field to the long-running Christmas on Campus for kids in need.

One of Culhane’s favorite ventures is going to Horace Mann Elementary every year for its Halloween Celebration.

“Two years ago Kyle Davidson, she was a softball player who’s graduated now, and I went there and spoke for a little bit and it was really cool. Kids love candy, but they all like to see people come there, especially athletes.

“We wore our jerseys and there was one kid whose costume was his football uniform. The teacher introduced us and he’s been my special kid I’ve taken to Christmas on Campus the past two years.

“That what it’s about. Building a relationship with someone and making a friend.”

Culhane said his group is working on a system where people can buy two shirts and donate one back so it can be distributed in the community through various church and civic groups as a way to further connect and comfort people in a difficult time.

“We know people are hurting now and we want to do what we can for them,” he said. “They support us in so many ways and we want to return that support. We want to lift them up any way we can.”

And that’s what the shirts are all about:

“Dayton Strong.”

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