Southport alumnus puts Dayton on the map
Southsider Voice Web Editor
For coach Tony Vittorio, his love for baseball was planted as a seed at Southport Little League. The result of playing baseball on the Southside has bloomed into 25 years of coaching experience in the college ranks.
“I loved growing up on the Southside, wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Vittorio, who is in his 16th season at the University of Dayton with previous head coaching jobs at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College.
Since taking over the Flyers in 2000, he has had eight winning seasons with 12 of his players drafted by major league organizations. That’s a big improvement for a school that had just one winning season in the 1990s. Dayton won its first regular-season championship in the Atlantic 10 conference in 2009 and captured the league tournament in 2012 to earn its first bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I was known as a builder of programs,” Vittorio said about one of the reasons Dayton hired him. “Over the years at Dayton we built a pretty good program, and then it became a championship level program as we won the A-10.”
Coaching baseball was something Vittorio knew he wanted to do as a teenager. It all started growing up on Anniston Drive across the street from the Little League fields in Southport.
“The baseball diamonds at Southport Little League were our second home,” he said. “That’s where we hung out. That’s where the love came from for baseball.”
Southport had strong Little League success and would eventually go to the Little League World Series in 1985, the year Vittorio was being coached in college by Bob Kirkoff.
“Very fortunate that at that time Southport was a very prominent Little League,” Vittorio said. “It all started right there.”
In middle school he was coached by Mark Pieper, who still teaches in Perry Township. Vittorio says Pieper is someone he counts on even today.
“My dad passed away three years ago,” Vittorio said. “Mark Pieper was kind of my go-to-guy, probably my biggest mentor since my dad passed on.”
At Southport High School, Vittorio was a three-sport athlete in tennis, basketball and, of course, baseball. He played basketball for Bill Springer and says he still uses some the conditioning and team-building tactics used by his former coach.
In 1984 as a senior, the Southport baseball team upset No. 2 Roncalli in sectionals but lost to No. 12 Perry Meridian. All three schools were ranked in the top 20 that year.
“It was a heck of an area at the time for baseball as far as Roncalli, Perry and Southport,” Vittorio said.
“Baseballwise, my all-time favorite coach at Southport High School was probably Bob Baker. He kind of did everything there.”
Baker coached tennis, freshman basketball and junior varsity baseball teams. Vittorio says Baker talked him into playing tennis to stay in shape during the fall.
A high school friend whom Vittorio is still close to is Darrell Skirvin, a home remodeler who has been a Dayton Flyer fan ever since Vittorio was hired.
“He does so much for the community; he’s a great family man,” Skirvin said. “Tony’s other passion is fishing. We go camping and fishing a lot.”
Vittorio played baseball at Hanover College and earned a graduate assistant job at Indiana University in 1989. This led to his first head coaching job a year later at Lincoln Trail in Robinson, Ill. He was the youngest head coach of a college baseball team in the country at age 23. Robinson is also where he met his future wife, Heather. They have two teenagers, Taylor and Nic.
After more than a decade and a half of living in Dayton, the Vittorio’s see no reason to leave for another school. Vittorio has turned down offers from bigger names to stay at the program he built.
“When you’re young it’s about your own personal climb. What’s the next step I can take? What’s the next level I need to be at?” Vittorio said. “At the same time when you get married and have kids, it all becomes about your family. That’s kind of what has happened in my career. I have not been like most coaches searching for the next best thing.”
In 2004, Dayton opened a new baseball stadium as Vittorio helped raise the $4 million needed to complete the project. This type of growth in the program is another reason Vittorio loves coaching the Flyers.
“Everything that has happened at Dayton we can put our name on it. It’s hard to leave something like that.”