It was unintentional, but I hit a sore spot.
Before leaving for Morgantown to cover Friday night’s preseason charity basketball game between West Virginia University and Duquesne – an event where the proceeds will go to the Oregon District Tragedy Fund – I called University of Dayton athletics director Neil Sullivan.
I asked him the question some people in the community – including a few diehard Flyers fans – had asked me since it was announced that the Bob Huggins-led Mountaineers would host a game with its longtime rival, Duquesne, to aid those affected by the mass shooting in Dayton three months ago that killed 10 (including the shooter) and injured 27:
“Had UD thought about playing a charity game whose proceeds would go to the Oregon District victims or the people affected by the series of Memorial Day tornadoes that ravaged much of the Greater Dayton area?”
At least 11 charity games involving 22 NCAA Division I teams were slated for this preseason.
Texas El Paso (UTEP) topped Texas Tech a couple of weeks ago in a charity contest to aid the El Paso shooting victims. Georgia played at Charlotte last Friday night to benefit the two students killed and four injured in the April mass shooting on the UNC Charlotte campus this past April.
Southern Cal just beat Villanova in a charity match-up with the proceeds going to California wild fire victims. Mississippi State hosted South Alabama and the money collected was slated for the United Way of Central Mississippi and earmarked for those affected by the floods in the South Delta.
LSU traveled to Louisiana Tech for a charity game to benefit the La Tech campus which sustained heavy damage from an EF3 tornado on April 25. Other schools played games with proceeds going to those hit by Hurricane Dorian.
“Had UD thought of making tonight’s exhibition at UD Arena against Division II Cedarville a charity game or maybe tried to get the University of Cincinnati – which hosted the Flyers in a closed scrimmage Oct. 26 – to turn the matchup into a benefit?”
Or, as a couple of those callers wanted to know: “How about making it an entire hometown affair and revive the old Gem City Jam and meet Wright State in a charity exhibition?”
This preseason, WSU had two closed scimmages, one with Eastern Kentucky and one with Ball State.
After all, both UD and WSU were affected by the tornadoes and the shooting.
Students and faculty from both schools had homes damaged or destroyed.
And that deadly attack in the Oregon District claimed 22-year-old Wright State student Megan Betts, who was shot and killed by her 24-year-old brother who carried out the murderous assault in just 32 seconds with a modified AR 15 while wearing body armor.
Sullivan said some UD student athletes were in the Oregon District that night. And the Flyers senior leader, Trey Landers, had just left Ned Peppers, the crowded bar the killer had run to before he finally was stopped at the doorstep by police bullets.
And not long before his rampage in the Oregon District, the killer had sat with an acquaintance in Timothy’s, the longstanding Brown Street bar favored by UD students, and fantasized about all the people he could kill in there.
“UD and Wright State missed the boat on a charity game,” one longtime Flyer follower said in a series of text and phone messages to me.
Sullivan said he’s heard some of the same criticisms and that’s what got him worked up when we talked. He thought those queries were off the mark at best and, in some cases, disingenuous.
“I’ve got to choose my words carefully,” he said. “I’m not trying to be evasive, but there’s more to all this than just a game with Wright State or Ohio State or whomever.
“I’ve tried to avoid politicizing or turning a tragedy into anything other than what this really should be about,” he said.
“Some people want to take a tragedy and make it about Dayton and Wright State and turn it into something other than being deeply connected to this community. When it comes to this town, we are all in 365 days a year.”
He said the school and the athletes, coaches and support staff have been especially responsive when it came to the tornadoes and the Oregon District shooting.
Some of that will be on display Saturday night when the Flyers meet Cedarville, Sullivan said:
“Our student athletes have been selling ‘Dayton Strong’ T-shirts since the beginning of the school year and by now they’ve sold over 6,000 of them. They have done other fund-raisers, too, and all the profits are going to those affected by the tragedies.”
He said the athletes will present a sizeable check to the Dayton Foundation at Saturday’s game.
“We’re also going to honor the Dayton Police, some first responders and personnel from Miami Valley Hospital,” he said
Out of the spotlight, Sullivan said the Flyers student athletes and coaches spend “thousands and thousands of hours every year” volunteering in the community. And he talked about the good deeds basketball coach Anthony Grant and his wife, Chris, do privately for the area.
He noted how the school opened apartments for those students and faculty who lost housing in the tornadoes. He said UD provided thousands of meals to people after the tornadoes and said the facilities department provided tools, equipment and labor, working for several days in the Trotwood area.
“Our commitment is about more than just one charity game,” Sullivan said.
That said, plenty of good — from raising money for the victims, rallying the community or enlightening the athletes — does come from charity games, too.
The NCAA allows schools to do two preseason events, one of which may be charity game for a catastrophic event.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard — who led his team to its first-ever NCAA championship game last season and was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year — said his team got plenty from the matchup with UTEP, even though it was upset 80-70 by the transfer-bolstered Miners who won just eight games last season.
“The most important part of the game was to raise money for a great cause,” he told reporters afterward. “And I just want everybody here in El Paso to know that everybody in Lubbock, in our program, our university and in all our departments is praying for all the victims of the ridiculous crime.
“This game felt different. We took the responsibility to come here very seriously. This was about more than basketball.”
Russ Pennell, the coach at Central Arkansas whose team beat Oral Roberts, 92-84, last Sunday in a game that benefitted the flood relief in the Arkansas and Oklahoma, had thoughts similar to Beard’s:
“This was a great opportunity for our players to learn there are bigger, more important things in life than basketball.”
Sadly, for Texas Tech and UTEP, those were repeat lessons.
Last year the two teams also met in a charity event. That time the proceeds went to the Santa Fe Strong Fund, which helped people impacted by the May 2018 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School near Houston that killed eight students and two teachers and wounded 13.
Now the city of Dayton has joined that fatal fraternity.
And in response the UD athletes are continuing an ongoing effort to help those affected, Sullivan said:
“The Dayton Foundation fund is closing now so they can begin distributing the money to people, but we’re going to keep selling our “Dayton Strong” shirts throughout the year. Our students have already determined how they are going to distribute the funds throughout the season.”
Like he said, it’s not a one-game event, it’s a 365-day a year effort with the Flyers.
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