First Four plans ramp up as Dayton hosts first March Madness games

Wright State Raiders among eight teams playing at UD Arena

The First Four floor was being set Sunday afternoon for the event showcasing Dayton and the UD Arena while unlikely automatic-bid Wright State awaited its fate.

The Raiders playing at the home of the Flyers “would be huge,” adding to growing vibe of the two-day start to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, said Terry Slaybaugh, volunteer chair of the Big Hoopla Local Organizing Committee.

Hopes that Wright State would play at the UD Arena for the first time in more than 24 years were realized Sunday night. After winning the Horizon League tournament championship, the Raiders will play Bryant on Wednesday night. Both are No. 16 seeds, the NCAA announced Sunday night.

Regardless, Slaybugh said at the arena, “It’s really cool to look over my shoulder and realize the first place the country is going to see March Madness on a basketball court is going to be in Dayton, Ohio.”

With the First Four’s return to Dayton after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, the UD Arena’s self-proclaimed moniker as “the epicenter of college basketball” once again fits, said Scott DeBolt, senior associate athletics director and arena executive director. No arena in the country has hosted more NCAA tournament games (125).

This is the 10th year at UD Arena for the First Four, though Dayton hosted the play-in game or opening-round game in prior years. Since the last First Four in Dayton, UD completed a three-year, $76 million renovation of the arena that opened in 1969, DeBolt said.

The NCAA “is really excited to see it and we’re really excited to show it off and see how much better we make the First Four,” he said.

Sunday events celebrating its return included the Big Hoopla Four Miler in and around Welcome Stadium and the STEM Challenge at the Dayton Convention Center for K-8 students.

The day was capped off by the Hoopla Family Festival in the Oregon District. It featured activities, special events, interactive displays, live entertainment, and Jumbotrons showing games and the NCAA selection show.

“We really want to make sure that we get people in the community every opportunity to involved in the Dayton Hoopla,” Slaybugh said.

“Really it’s about just getting as many people in the community energized as we can around the Dayton Hoopla,” he added. “Because it’s not only about basketball.”

Wright State grad Allison Corbolotti was at the convention center with and her husband Adam and their two kids, 7-year-old Olivia and Peyton, 6.

They came from Springboro to “just have some fun for the kids,” she said. “To get back to normal and check out some of the basketball things coming up this week in the area.”

The Corbolottis hope to get tickets for Tuesday night.

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UD season-ticket holders Doug and Anita Wales of Miami Twp. said they have been to many First Four games. They were among those in the Oregon District on Sunday afternoon after their Lily’s Bistro lunch.

“The fans in Dayton are really superb and really energetic and bring a local flavor to it,” said Doug Wales.

“I think it’s an amazing experience here,” he added. “And we’re so glad to have that opportunity to have that.”

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While the Wales don’t plan on going to First Four games this week, “ticket demand this year has been over the top,” Slaybaugh said.

“And we’ve seen that with all of our events: A lot of excitement around the tournament,” he added. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up energy and people are ready to come out for this tournament and have a good time.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey


UD ARENA FIRST FOUR

•Game tickets: Available through http://daytonhoopla.com/tickets.

•Practices: 5-8 p.m. Monday and 12-3 p.m. Tuesday. Admission and parking are free for public team sessions.

•Games: Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. truTV; Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. truTV.

•Parking: Lot A and C Tuesday and Wednesday passes are $25. One-day passes are $15. Available in advance at the UD Arena ticket office 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. General spots $20 (CASH ONLY) in lot D each day. Call ticket office at 937-229-4433 for more info.

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