UD basketball fan turns 100 as he enters 72nd year as a season-ticket holder

John Mauro: ‘I like Anthony Grant. He’s a great coach. They’re getting good players, and they play as a team’

John Mauro wore a white T-shirt that read, “Yes I’m 100,” on the front and “Every day is a holiday on the back,” and a Dayton Flyers hat to his birthday party Saturday in Centerville.

The Dunkin’ Donuts on Woodman Drive made the shirt for Mauro. It’s a business he’s frequented over the years. Close to 70 friends and family members attended the party.

“He could not believe how many people love him,” John’s daughter, Kathy Grobe, said.

The big “D” on Mauro’s hat stood for Dayton, of course, but could have stood for devotion. There are few fans more devoted to the Flyers than Mauro, whose longevity on his planet is almost matched by his time as a season-ticket holder.

Mauro first owned season tickets in the 1951-52 season, when Chris Harris, who passed away earlier this month at 89, was a freshman guard. He still has tickets entering the 2022-23 season. This will be his 72nd season as a season-ticket holder.

Dayton coach Anthony Grant was told about Dayton’s 100-year-old fan at a media session before practice last week and asked what it means to have fans like that behind his program.’

“That’s incredible,” Grant said. “First of all, happy birthday. I think that’s indicative of the community we have. It’s amazing. I’ll go and grab lunch, and I’ll have people come up to me and say, ‘When I was kid, my parents used to take me to your games, and now I’m taking my children.’ That’s the beauty of the community we have here. The Flyer Faithful is unique, and it’s special.”

John’s son Tom Mauro, who runs the 3rd Base Drive Thru in Riverside, takes him to games these days.

“I hope we can get him out there at least for a few games this year,” Tom said, “but he’s just having a hard time walking. I know going from the parking lot into the arena and down those steps, it might be a little too much.”

John has had season tickets in the same 200 section for many years. Fan who have stayed in the same seats for a long time describe the areas as neighborhoods. They get to know the people around them as if they were living on the same street. One fan in Mauro’s section saw his upcoming birthday mentioned on Twitter last week and commented on the Tweet.

“I have known Mr. Mauro since I was in grade school and have had the pleasure to have the UD basketball season tickets next to him for over 30 years!” Kim Kelly wrote. “He is still mentally sharp, physically capable, watches and analyzes the Flyers performance and remembers everyone. Amazing life and man!”

John credits his wife of 72 years, Rita, who died at 94 in 2020, for turning him into a Dayton fan. They started going to games in the 1950-51 season when the UD Fieldhouse, now called the Frericks Center, opened.

“My wife was a country girl, and her brother played for a country high school called Clarksville (Ohio),” Mauro said last week, three days before he turned on 100 on Saturday. “We bought tickets when the Fieldhouse opened, and wife likes basketball, and she says, ‘Why don’t we buy season tickets? This way we’ll have a saved seat.’ We had been sitting in different places for every game.”

The Mauros witnessed the birth of a college basketball powerhouse in the 1950s. Coached by Tom Blackburn, the Flyers averaged 23.7 victories from 1950-58 and reached the National Invitation Tournament championship game three times in eight seasons.

John has fond memories of those days.

“The Fieldhouse was more personal,” he said, “but it was small.”

John rattled off a list of names from his early days as a fan — Don “Monk” Meineke, Chuck Grigsby, Razor Campbell, Junior Norris and Harris to name a few — during his interview with the Dayton Daily News. He’s also familiar with the current team, which fans can see for the first time Saturday in the Red & Blue Game and likely will be ranked in the top 25 when the season starts Nov. 7.

“I like Anthony Grant,” John said. “He’s a great coach. They’re getting good players, and they play as a team. Obi Toppin was probably the greatest player I’ve seen in a UD uniform.”

Toppin, now entering his third season with the New York Knicks, spent three years at UD and was the consensus national player of the year in 2020. Mauro is a near-lifelong Dayton resident.

“The only time he’s ever not lived in Dayton was when he was in the Army during World War II,” his daughter Kathy Grobe said. “When he got out of the service, he started taking classes at UD. He took some classes with Carmen Riazzi, who was a center at UD, and I thought that’s how dad got started, but he said I was mistaken and that he started going to games because he liked basketball. Somewhere there’s a picture of him and my mom on a train in 1951 headed for New York to go to the NIT.”

Going to games became a family affair once the Mauros started having kids.

“What happened is my mom went for probably four or five years,” Grobe said, “and then after my brother and sister were born, my mom kind of lost interest. So I started going. I’m the oldest child. And then when I went away to college, my brother who’s the middle kid, started going with them. And then occasionally we’d let my sister (Patti Saunders) have a ticket. She’s the baby.”

Kathy lives in Tallahassee, Fla, now, and Patti lives in Winter Garden, Fla. John and Tom live in Riverside. The whole family got together for the 100th birthday party, where surely the Flyers were discussed along with John’s other favorite things.

“I always tell my friends I grew up with Notre Dame, the UD Flyers, Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman,” Patti said. “That was our life.”

The Dayton Daily News highlighted Mauro’s love of college football in 1988. A story by Bucky Albers told of Mauro’s quest to get a football autographed by the Heisman Trophy winners from Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Mauro, then 65, was described by Albers as a former industrial engineer for the Harris-Seybold company and the Hobart corporation.

John and his kids credit Rita for his long life. She worked as a nurse at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for more than 30 years.

“She took care of me,” John said.

“My mom was on his butt all the time,” Tom said. “She kept him on the straight and narrow.”

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