Archdeacon: For the Stall family, UD basketball is roundball religion

KETTERING – A year or so ago, when Paul Stall was well into his 90s and having some health challenges, he told his family about the medicine that worked best for him.

“He said, ‘As long as I can get out to see UD basketball, I’ll be alright,’” remembered Tim Stall, Paul’s 65-year-old son. “He’s a diehard Flyers’ fan. So is my mom. With them, it’s go to mass on Sunday at St. Mary Church and go to UD basketball games.”

One place is for praying.

But the other is a religion.

Paul Stall is now 96. His wife Eileen, who he calls Beet or Ene, is 92. They’ve been married 74 years.

By all accounts they are the Dayton Flyers’ oldest, continuously-attending season ticket holders.

Paul first started going to UD games – then played at the Fairgrounds Coliseum – in 1947 after he’d returned from serving in the South Pacific in World War II.

“The games were in the old roundhouse and Beet’s brother and I would go,” he said. “It cost 25 cents to get in.”

The Flyers moved to the 5,800-seat Fieldhouse on the UD campus in 1950 and the Stalls – along with Eileen’s oldest sister, Tillie, and her husband – got season tickets.

“We had good seats, second row, right across from the UD bench” Paul said.

As the Stalls had children – first Paul Jr., then Karen, Tim and Dain – the kids inherited their parents’ roundball religion.

“I remember (Paul’s) mom and dad used to watch our oldest son when we went to the games,” Eileen said the other afternoon as she sat at the kitchen table of her Kettering home with her husband and Tim and Karen. Five other family members congregated nearby.

“When we’d come home from the games – if UD lost – he’d be crying: ‘Ohhh Mom they lost!’ And I’d tell him not to worry: ‘They’ll play another game in a few days.’”

Tim said they all were passionate about UD hoops:

“When we were younger, Dad used to put up a little basketball hoop inside our garage. We’d do lay-up lines just like the Flyers did. And we’d do it to that same song they did.”

He began to hum the familiar UD fight song and that triggered more memories:

“As a child, when I was six, seven, eight years old, I got to go to one game a season. We all did. That was a big treat.”

Tim and Karen remember going to a few games at the Fieldhouse, which is now called The Frericks Center.

Back then NCR was in full swing just across Brown Street and families and workers lived on a lot of the surrounding streets where students now live. As the basketball crowd descended on the campus each game, people scrambled to find a place to park their cars.

“I remember mom’s sister and her husband knew somebody who lived near the Fieldhouse and he let us park behind his house,” Karen said.

Tim recalled how the Flyers players came out of the dressing room wearing capes.

Paul remembered their seats: “We sat on planks, on boards. There were no backs to those seats. And there were numbers on the boards. That was your seat.”

“And you better sit down fast or you wouldn’t get you seat,” Eileen laughed.

All it took was a couple of people in your row with big rear ends and suddenly your number disappeared beneath somebody else’s girth.

Just as there were memories that make them smile now, there are others that still sadden them.

Paul talked quietly about the good job coach Tom Blackburn did back then and how it all ended:

“Yeah, old Tommy Blackburn. He got real sick. Cancer. I can remember his coaches helping him get up off the bench at the end.”

“He wanted to be there,” Eileen said.

Blackburn’s last game on the Flyers’ bench was a Feb, 26, 1964 loss to Miami. His assistant Don Donoher took over the team for the last three games. Blackburn died on March 6, a day before the season finale against DePaul.

Move to UD Arena

When UD Arena opened in 1969, the Stalls got their first season tickets in the 300 level.

“We were ready to have a good seat,” Paul said.

Eileen nodded: “One where you had something to lean back on.”

Over the decades, the Stalls improved their seat locations to the 200 level and finally Section 101 near the tunnel where the players enter the court

Some recurring heart problems have caused walking issues for Paul, so this season the couple is sitting in the handicap area at the south end of Blackburn Court.

Paul spent the better part of a week in Miami Valley Hospital South two weeks ago – dealing with leg issues and a serious UTI infection that had spread – and though he was home and recovering last Tuesday, he missed the season opener against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

He and Eileen watched the game on TV and Karen said when the Flames held a halftime lead, she thought of one her children’s recurring observations: “‘Grandpa’s probably biting his fingernails about now.’”

She started to laugh: “We always tease him. He’s a nail biter!”

He and Eileen were at Saturday’s game against UMass-Lowell, but he groused the other day about the prop he’d have to take: “Yeah, I gotta use that dumb thing!”

He nodded back at a walker parked near the table.

He’s always done what it takes to get to games, even when he and Eileen lived on a small farm south of Xenia.

“It had to be snowing like hell for us to miss,” Paul said.

Over the years they often went on the road with the Flyers – to NIT games as Madison Square Garden, numerous NCAA Tournament games, regular-season trips to St. Louis, Chicago and Louisville – and they also followed other Flyers’ teams, including football, volleyball and soccer.

Until this season they had season tickets to the UD women’s basketball games, as well:

“Maybe seven or eight years ago or so they had players from both the men and the women deliver the season tickets to people at their homes,” Tim said. “And one year, the women’s team sent four or five girls out here.

“I remember one was the girl from France (6-foot-4 Jodie Cornelie from Strasbourg.)”

Karen laughed: “Mom made brownies and cookies for them, but I remember she called and said, ‘Can you come over here? I don’t think your dad wants to be here by himself with all these girls!’”

Joining the war effort

Paul Stall grew up on a farm outside of Hamilton.

“When you were a little kid growing up there, you could take an old bucket and nail it to the barn and then get some kind of old ball and you could play,” he said. “In the winter, when the weather got bad, we’d move into the barn and play.”

Coming out of Hamilton High, he joined the war effort as did his brothers.

“How many of your brothers were in the war with you?” Tim asked.

Paul started to count: “One…two…three…”

“There were five of you,” Eileen said. “Your mother had five stars.”

Paul nodded: “Yep, three in the Navy, two in the Army.”

He was 18 when he was drafted.

“It had been 21, but (President) Roosevelt changed it to 18 (in 1942)” he said. “I said, ‘I’m going to the Navy. They aren’t going to get me in one of those Army foxholes.”

He eventually ended up on the USS Saint Croix, a Haskell-class attack transport that was longer than 1½ football fields and could hold 1,562 troops.

“It was an amphibious freight cargo and troop ship,” he said.

The Saint Croix carried troops and equipment from the Solomon Islands – Guadalcanal and the Florida Islands – and went to places like New Caledonia, the Philippines and three times to New Guinea. It also delivered troops to Japan, China, Indochina and Formosa.

Yet, for all those far-away places, the most important stop Stall made while in uniform was to an E. Fifth Street skating rink in Dayton while he was on leave.

“My brother ran the skating rink at 405 E. Fifth Street,” he said. “It was upstairs. I remember he’d gone all the way to New York to get an organist for the place. The guy was great.”

When he visited, he spotted Eileen Bruns, a teenage girl who lived on Sherman Street and went to Wilbur Wright High.

“We tried to skate and fell down some, that’s how we met,” Paul offered.

Asked what he said on that first meeting, he fumbled for an answer.

That’s when daughter Karen threw him an easy lob pass similar to the ones Jalen Crutcher used to loft up there for Obi Toppin to dunk:

“Didn’t you say? ‘There’s that pretty woman over there! Look at her!’”

Once Paul was out of the service, the couple married on August 23, 1947. Eileen was just 18.

He worked a Frigidaire for many years and coached the factory’s basketball team in the industrial league. He suffered a heart attack in the mid-1970s and had to take a medical retirement.

Eileen later worked at Progressive Printing. Their kids all went to Carroll High.

Over the years the children and others have managed to get season tickets at various levels around the Arena.

On a game night there may be as many as nine people from the family at a game. And Karen’s husband, Rodney Smith, works as a ticket taker and usher.

As Paul and Eileen were reminiscing, the talked about some of their favorite players.

“Bill Uhl,” Emily said.

“The Gottschall twins and the May boys and the Paxsons. And there were the Hatton brothers from Waynesville,” Paul added.

“And Henry Finkel,” Eileen said. “And I can’t forget Monk Meineke. He went to Wilbur Wright when I did.”

With a smile, Eileen added: “And Obi Toppin. We all like Obi.”

They talked about their favorite Flyers coach, Don Donoher, and they spoke warmly about Anthony Grant.

They mentioned a couple of opposing coaches they especially remember.

“Dick Vitale, when he was with Detroit, he danced on the floor after a game,” Eileen said.

Paul remembered how the UD students used to razz Notre Dame coach, Digger Phelps.

The season they enjoyed the most was the 29-2 campaign two years ago, but they also had good memories of the march to the NCAA Tournament’s championship game in 1967 and especially a few of the seasons that ended with trips to New York City for the NIT.

“I loved those trips,” Paul said. “One year, though, I realized I had a dang dentist appointment back in Dayton the next day. So I flew from New York, went to the dentist and then flew back to New York the next day.”

“Flights were cheap then,” he shrugged.

Tim shook his head: “Like I said, he’s a diehard.”

UD Christmas

The Christmas theme at the Stall home is always the same:

“It’s always a UD Christmas,” Tim said. “The gifts are UD jackets, ornaments, hats, blankets, gloves.”

During basketball season, Paul and Eileen have a wooden cutout of Rudy, the Flyers mascot, displayed in their yard. But when it’s raining – like it was when we spoke – they put it in their garage.

“We don’t want Rudy to get wet.” Eileen said.

At women’s games the Stalls used to attend the Chalk Talk sessions former coach Jim Jabir would hold beforehand in the Boesch Lounge at the Arena.

Before a game a couple of seasons ago, great grandson Mason, who’s now a third grader in Bellbrook, got Toppin to autograph his cap.

“It was during warmups and Obi came over and signed it,” Paul said.

Mason’s brother, Connor, who is a 12-year-old sixth grader, got his picture taken on the court with Grant after a game.

“UD basketball is firmly implanted on our whole family,” Tim said.

Well, there is one exaction Karen finally admitted:

One grandson, Arick, went to Xavier.

“He was the Blue Blob,” Paul said of Xavier’s blue-furred, red-tongued mascot that waddles around at games.

“We were at a game down there and I had my UD hat on. And that Blob comes over and pulls my hat off. He puts it on the floor and walks all over it.

“My UD hat!

“That little son of gun!”

Like they say, you don’t mess with a guy’s religion.

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