Oct. 9, 2006
There's usually history in the air at Baujan Field, but this past weekend the history came to life for the Dayton Flyers.
A slew of former Flyers ventured back to campus to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the men's soccer program renewing friendships, reminiscing about old times and even play a friendly exhibition game.
During Sunday's game against Rhode Island the former Flyers were acknowledged, celebrated and hailed one more time on the field where they had played, evoking memories of joy and brotherhood.
"It's an excellent way to get back together with the old teammates and friends we haven't seen in a while and bring back the competitive spirit," said Brady O'Toole who ranks fourth on the Flyers all-time list in goals and points. "I'm very proud to be back here and be a part of the program. It means a lot to me and the returning guys."
Although the stylish mustaches, short shorts and 16-passenger vans to road games have vanished from the old days, one aspect of the program remained constant through 50 years of Dayton men's soccer: togetherness.
Initially Dayton head coach Dennis Currier wanted the 50-year celebration to enhance the alumna's interest and involvement of this program. The event not only reconnected the past to the present team, but helped renew the spirit of Flyers soccer from the alumni that appeared dormant.
"It's come a long way," said Paul Schmidt who played from 1971 to 1974. "When we played, we were non-scholarship players. We had good teams back in the 70s and almost made it to the NCAA's without any athletic scholarships. But it's great to be a part of the evolution of soccer. When we come back, we view it as paving the way for the future and helping coach Currier take it to the next level."
One of the great facets about celebrating 50 years of Flyers soccer was each player's favorite memory during their career. For some, the big wins and crazy crowds at Baujan Field stood out the most.
"My best memory is my freshman year when we beat Notre Dame in overtime," said Dave Conway, who played from 1979 to 1982. "We beat them 3-2 on a penalty kick. It was the first game of the season and my first college soccer experience. The place was sold out on both sides. Trailing by one, we tied the game, then they took the lead only to have us tie it again. We eventually won, but the interesting thing after the game was all of the kids in attendance lined up for our autographs."
For others like Mike Beehler, a simple thing like hearing his name called during the pregame introductions will never be forgotten.
"My best memory was starting my senior year in the first game. I didn't play much my junior year, so that was a big deal," Beehler said who played during the 1977 and 1978 seasons. "It was a great experience for me because I transferred in and I didn't have to worry about joining a fraternity to make friends. It was Dayton soccer. They were soccer guys and it was our own kind of frat."
As the formality of the event gave way, so did the players' reserve. Their affection for each other has not ebbed. Sometimes even nostalgia is as good as it used to be.
"The thing I see about Dayton compared to other schools, the team is its own fraternity," Lee Crawford said, who helped the Flyers reach the NCAA Play-In Game during the 1998 season. "It's a great, close-knit group of guys. Everybody hangs out together in the off-season. We didn't just play the game and then do our own thing. We were always together. Everyone is so close."
Many notable alumni watched the Flyers games on Friday and Sunday, attended a lunch reception as well play in a scrimmage on Saturday morning. Although their belt sizes are a bit bigger and steps a little slower, the question was still the same on the field.
You ready to go? And the answer out of many of the legends' mouths was of course, "No." Laughter ensued, but it was play on the field that earned many of these players their spots in Flyers lore.
"It's about old stories, old times together, the crazy things we've done and past experiences as far as soccer goes," O'Toole said. "My best experience was when we played Evansville, who then was No. 1 in the nation. We took them into overtime. We ended up losing the game, but a great experience to compete against the top team in the nation and represent UD."
Most of the returning alumni came from Ohio and the Midwest region. But for former Flyers like Robert Philpott, the journey back reminded him of his expedition to Dayton.
"I came to the United States from Australia and I chose to go to Dayton after spending a year to pull funds together," Philpott said. "Once I got over here, I had aspirations of playing American football. But I saw these group of guys kicking the ball around below Stuart Hall. I figured soccer was the love and had been such a big part of my life. Eventually, I found out it was the varsity tryouts. After a week or two, just before school started, I was selected to play and was a four-year starter from that point on."
In the early days of Dayton soccer, many of the players came from the region. The all-time rosters featured numerous players from the east coast and Ohio. Now the current Dayton roster features players from around the United States and world.
"It's been a big evolution," said Philpott. "Where the program is at in 50 years is great. Dayton has a squad that is contending, Baujan is still around and that's fantastic. It's come a long way."
Several of the former Flyers echoed Philpott's sentiments. With renovations to Baujan Field, the entrance into the Atlantic 10 conference and the university's continued focus on academics, the Flyers have built on groundwork laid by the alumni to make the men's soccer program respected on a national level.
"It's really interesting because soccer was growing on the national scene," Conway said. "Playing in the late 70s, early 80s, it was a lot of fun, particularly in the area. Soccer in the Dayton area was ahead of its time, so we would get great crowds when we would play Notre Dame and Wright State. We felt like pioneers in some respects."
With the success of the event, many former Flyers believe it not only rekindled the awareness of men's soccer, but enhanced an already memorable tradition.
"We had success when I was around, but these guys have taken it to another level," O'Toole said. "It's great to see the commitment from the guys and the university, as well as seeing the facilities improve. It gets bigger and better every year. When I tell people I played for the University of Dayton, it's very well respected."
That pride and passion came back quickly for guys like Crawford who remembered the short comings as well as the highlights of Dayton men's soccer.
"We never quite got to the NCAA's, but we had a play-in game my freshman year against Lafayette," said Crawford. "We lost the game in overtime, but despite the heartbreak, it was great because Baujan Field was rocking. We may not have been as successful as we wanted to be on the field, but we never regretted for one minute coming here."
After the weekend festivities ended, the players enjoyed themselves, soaking up the atmosphere of an event that is meant for the fans and alumni to ignite the glory days of Dayton men's soccer.
"It's great to be back here and hopefully we can do this consistently every year," Conway said.