Jablonski: A lifetime of travel memories in seven seasons on road with Dayton Flyers

David Jablonski photographed in Memphis before Dayton's NCAA tournament game against Florida in 2014.
David Jablonski photographed in Memphis before Dayton's NCAA tournament game against Florida in 2014.

Pandemic has stopped the travel for now, but it’s been a fun ride covering UD on the road

Seven years ago, during an eight-hour drive back to Ohio from the NCAA tournament in Memphis, a car carrying myself, Tom Archdeacon, WHIO’s Mike Hartsock and WDTN’s Jack Pohl stopped at a gas station.

There was traffic ahead. Archdeacon wanted to buy a map — a real paper map — in case we had to leave the highway to find an alternate route. This was before the old-school, award winning Dayton Daily News columnist found the fountain of youth in the form of a digital recorder and iPhone. He still had a tape recorder held together by masking tape, rubber bands and hope during Dayton’s run to the Elite Eight in 2014.

We returned to the interstate. Archdeacon unfolded the map. Meanwhile, my phone was updating us about the traffic jam, directing us to a better route, letting us know the exact temperature outside, giving us the scores from the regional finals taking place that day and even offering direct access to all the stories we wrote the previous night about Dayton’s loss to Florida.

That map did not save the day but did give us fodder for years of teasing Arch, who’s a good sport and still chuckles when I bring it up while cursing me under his breath. I mention the story now as a way to transition to this column about my memories covering the Flyers on the road the last seven seasons.

I’m not traveling this season — at least right now — because of the pandemic, but I can’t complain because I’ve made close to 90 road trips out of state since my first trip as the beat writer in November 2013. My dad Jeff prepared me well for this life. During the glory days of the Bob Huggins era, we were Cincinnati Bearcats season-ticket holders and traveled all over to see the team play: Chapel Hill; Bloomington; Honolulu; Milwaukee; Chicago; Memphis; and Orlando.

In the first seven seasons I covered the Flyers, I traveled to 20 states to cover games. I’ve flown to beautiful islands for November tournaments — the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2014; the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas in 2019; and the Maui Invitational in 2019 — and also to Rhode Island six times. I can’t put Kingston in the same category as San Juan, Nassau and Lahaina, though every time I visit Rhody, I set foot on a different icy, windswept beach and try to imagine the scene in the summer.

I leave on the day of the games instead of the day before like the team. A well-tested system makes sure I get to the games on time. I don’t want to put my fate in the hands of the airlines any more than I have to. If I have a connecting flight from Columbus, where I moved a month before getting this beat when my wife Barbara Perenic got a job at the Columbus Dispatch, I try to make sure I connect in a city where I can drive the rest of the way if needed.

That helped two seasons ago when a connecting flight to Saint Louis was delayed. I rented a car and drove from Chicago to Chaifetz Arena. That same season, a delayed flight from Washington, D.C., forced me to make the two-hour drive to a game against Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond, Va.

The only A-10 cities I drive to are Pittsburgh and Olean, N.Y. I’ve never missed a game at St. Bonaventure despite the challenges of navigating the frozen tundra of western New York. I always feel like an extra in the Revenant when arriving in Olean. My dad Jeff sometimes makes that trip with me. In 2019, hoping to beat a snowstorm that was only getting worse, we got on the road at 6 a.m. and had the interstate to ourselves for hours. The roads were passable — that area of the country is used to lake-effect snow and has plow drivers ready — until we hit the Pennsylvania border near Erie. For an hour or so, we would have been better off with a sled. A five-hour drive took seven hours.

Most of the time, I’m alone on these trips. The best stories, however, include my colleagues.

At the start of that Elite Eight run in 2014, Archdeacon and Hartsock picked me in Columbus for the drive to Buffalo. We left my driveway, and for some reason, the car alarm started blaring. We could not figure out the problem. A nearby car repair shop fixed it for us, and thanks to the skillful driving of Arch Andretti, we got to the Flyers’ hotel outside Buffalo in time to interview Archie Miller two days before the famous victory over Ohio State.

Five years later, Arch and I rented a van big enough for half of Dayton’s team for a drive back from Brooklyn, N.Y., after Dayton’s early exit in the A-10 tournament. We couldn’t get an affordable flight home — or a more reasonably-sized car.

There’s little time for sightseeing on most of these trips, but I’m too much of an adventurer to stick to my hotel room. I always find time for something. Among the highlights were: the Road to Hana in Maui; the redwoods of Muir Woods north of San Francisco before a game against Saint Mary’s; Lincoln Memorial and all the terrific museums in Washington, D.C.; Valley Forge, an easy drive from La Salle and Saint Joseph’s; and the memorial honoring Dr. Seuss in Springfield, Mass., just south of UMass in Amherst.

Oh, the places you’ll go on the road as a sports writer.