Ken May had to make his last shot before he walked off the court Friday at UD Arena. That’s a tradition for every basketball player — no matter the day or the arena — but this shot meant a little more.
May led the Dayton Flyers in scoring in the 1969-70 season, the first for UD’s new home on the banks of the Great Miami River. Back then and for the first 16 seasons of the arena’s existence, the Flyers played on a Tartan court. The Tartan surface was invented by the 3M company. Tartan is made of polyurethane, which is similar to rubber.
That’s the surface May stood on Friday, along with his brother Don, whose career ended two years before UD Arena opened. The Dayton legends said goodbye to the Tartan court, as did many people from the University of Dayton. Students and UD employees played one last pickup basketball game on the surface. The scoreboard above read, “Remember the Tartan.”
The old court, which has lived beneath the wooden court since the 1985-86 season, will be removed as part of the three-year, $72 million renovation of UD Arena. The removal process will start Tuesday. It’s not an easy project. In fact, North Carolina State started to remove its Tartan court at Reynolds Coliseum in 2015 and stopped when it realized it would take too long.
Scott DeBolt, the director of UD Arena, expects the process will take about a month.
“It’s going to take a while to get it out and then grind it down also,” he said.
The court contains mercury, DeBolt said, so it has to be disposed of properly. That’s the reason fans will not be able to buy pieces of the court.
UD has talked about taking out the court in the past, DeBolt said. With all the construction coming to the arena this summer and continuing until 2019, he said, “It’s just the right time.”
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The Tartan surface was a necessity in 1969. UD couldn’t install a wood court because it did not have a place to store such a court if the arena flooded. The court at UD Arena sits 35 feet below street level. Water flooded the court in 1990 and again in 2003. In 2005, a game was postponed because of flooding concerns.
By then, UD had a place to move the wooden court. In 1984, Dayton received $450,000 from the NCAA for advancing to the Elite Eight. The next year, it used the money to build a ground-level storage room and media room, where a wood floor could be placed, and also a locker room for the football team.
The new wooden court was placed over the Tartan floor, which remained hidden for decades, only emerging three or four times a year. Every year when the NCAA installed its own court for the First Four, it removed the panels that make up UD’s current floor, revealing the Tartan surface with a blue “D” logo set inside a red circle at center court.
Don Donoher, Dayton’s all-time winningest coach, bid farewell to the Tartan on Friday, along with four of new coach Anthony Grant’s assistants. A group of women’s players, including UD’s all-time leading scorer Ann Meyers, posed for a photo on the court. Bucky Bockhorn and other UD legends also paid their respects.
Donoher pointed out that the Tartan court set to be removed isn’t the original. It’s the second version. The first Tartan surface was poured into place and had a harder surface. The second Tartan was rolled out like carpet.
“You can put your knuckles into this substance, and it will give,” Donoher said. “There’s some cushion. The difference between rolled Tartan and poured Tartan is night and day.”
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