Part One: Need for the Arena

Athletic Director Tom Frericks had begun to think about building a new basketball arena long before the team’s remarkable NCAA run 1967. By the mid-1960s it was evident to Frericks that the program had outgrown its existing facilities. The demand for seats to watch the Flyers play was the pivotal reason to construct a new venue. The success of basketball program and expanding student population meant that more people wanted seats than were available.

There were other factors as well. The growing importance of athletics within higher education, competition between universities for students, and increasing role of educational institutions in the economic health of cities in the post-war period all played a vital role. It is the combination of these influences that drove planners at the University of Dayton to begin the most expensive and expansive project their institution had undertaken to that date.

The Growth of UD Basketball in the Post-War Era

Before the opening of the Arena in early 1970 the Flyers played in the Fieldhouse. Located about 100 feet from the University chapel and designed to seat approximately 5,000 people. The much beloved Fieldhouse was constructed in 1950 to accommodate a growing student population – approximately 2,500 at the time. [4] In the post-war period, attendance at American universities rose due to the introduction of the 1944 The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill. Public funding made college education possible for millions of Americans who would have never been able to afford it before. [5] UD alumnus Peter Kuntz recalled that as early as 1946 the first wave of veterans flooded a “totally overwhelmed the administration and the faculty.” [6] Ultimately the influx of GIs utterly transformed the school from a residential college to a commuter college. By 1959 only 500 of its 3,300 undergraduates lived on campus. Between 1950 and 1960 the Fieldhouse hosted a number of great games and local events. For a wonderful look at its history see Scotty Moore’s “University of Dayton Fieldhouse” website.

“Fieldhouse 1950s” Source: University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, University of Dayton.

“Elvis Presley at the Fieldhouse, May 27, 1956” Source: Marvin Israel and Lawrence Israel, Elvis Presley 1956 (Harry N Abrams Inc, 1999).

University attendance also benefited from the post-war economic boom. Like many other cities across the nation, Dayton enjoyed a period of increased economic growth at this time. The development of the automotive industry, the continued success of the National Cash Register Company, and growing importance of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were all both indicative of, and contributed to, this new phase of prosperity for the city of Dayton. The city’s population increased by nearly 16% during the decade, and the surrounding suburban district grew even more quickly. [7]

“1950-51 University of Dayton Basketball Flyers” Source: Life With, Frericks Family Private Collection.

“University of Dayton Fieldhouse, Game Time 8:15 P.M.” Source: Frericks Family Private Collection.

Don Donoher, former player for the Flyers between 1951-1954 who later served as coach of the UD basketball team during their 1967 run, remembered that during his playing days the adjacent Brown Street thoroughfare, linking the university with the city, was filled with NCR workers. “You would not think of driving your car down Brown Street when workers were leaving NCR,” he recalled. “They were like ants. They were everywhere.” Many workers were migrants, having come to Dayton from the South to find work in the midst of the economic boom of the 1940s and 1950s. Coach Donoher remembers that at that time one saying was “When you went to school in Kentucky you were taught reading, writing, and I-75 North” [164].


Outgrowing the Fieldhouse

While the growth of the student population, prosperity, and increasing spending on leisure pursuits contributed to filling the seats at the Fieldhouse, a primary factor was the success of the UD basketball program. Donoher played for the legendary coach of this era, Tom Blackburn. Hired in 1947, Blackburn, a former navy physician, was the first full-time coach hired by the institution to oversee the basketball program. Blackburn’s disciplined teams quickly transformed the program from one that had won just seven games in the two seasons prior to his arrival to a regular qualifier for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).  He made a point to bring other returning G.I.s onto the squad, and also began to seek more regional, rather than strictly in-state, games. As the Universities Public Relations Department put it some years later, Blackburn “had taken the obscure Flyer basketball program in the 1947-48 season and gave it national attention. His 17 teams won 352 games and lost 141. They participated in 10 National Invitation Tournaments, finishing second in five and winning the 1962 tourney. He also participated in 12 other holiday and post- season tournaments, winning the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament in the 1955-56 season.” [9]

The success of the program convinced university heads to authorize Blackburn to hire his first full-time assistant coach. In February of 1963 Blackburn selected his former player Don Donoher, who had previously served as an unpaid assistant while working full-time at Chaminade-Julienne High School. One year later, Donoher found himself thrust into the head coach position when Blackburn contracted cancer and died in March of 1964. The following season Donoher continued the success of his mentor steering the Flyers to a 22–7 season and a berth in the NCAA tournament reaching the second round. In the 1965-1966 season the Flyers went 23-6 and again reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.


(Right) Photo taken on the night Tom Blackburn entered the hospital and then Assistant Don Donoher filled-in on the sidelines, “Don Donoher Filling-in” Source: Don Donoher Private Collection.

The convergence of these developments meant that by the early 1960s the Fieldhouse had grown too small to satisfy the demand of students and Daytonians to watch the Flyers play. [10] When the Fieldhouse was constructed in 1949, then University Athletic Director Harry Baujan had told the University of Dayton Alumnus magazine, “You only build a fieldhouse once, so you have to build carefully.” He was right and wrong all at the same time.  In 1949 Baujan could not have foreseen the changes the University was experiencing that would create the need for a new fieldhouse just a short eighteen years later. [11]

“Flyers Basketball, hosted by Schoenling” Source: Poster, Misc. Holdings, University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, University of Dayton.