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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Buzzell Games' stakes remain high for both the schools and for charity

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By Jason Eisenberg

In October 1950, just as the polio epidemic was beginning to spread across America, three members of the Horace Mann varsity football team contracted the deadly disease.

While two of the players gradually recovered, the third, a student-athlete by the name of Robert Buzzell, succumbed to the illness a few weeks later.

Shortly after his death, a group of students worked together to organize a basketball game between Horace Mann and local rival Riverdale Country School, to honor the memory of their classmate.

The first ever “Buzzell Games,” played on Feb. 21, 1951, featured a contest pitting the Lions against the Falcons, as well as an exhibition game between faculty members from the two schools. Admission cost 50 cents and more than 600 people attended, making the inaugural event an overwhelming success. All proceeds raised from ticket sales and donations were sent to the March of Dimes foundation, which at that time helped fund polio research, but now focuses on fighting birth defects.

Since then, the Buzzell Games have been entrenched as an annual school tradition and continues to thrive right up to the present day. Over time, there have been a few minor changes, including an increase in ticket price, the elimination of the faculty exhibition and adding a varsity girls game. But the purpose of the event has always remained the same: to honor Robert Buzzell and aid an important charity.

Not surprisingly, the event always creates a lot of excitement among the students of both participating schools, and attendance regularly ranges from 700 to more than 1,000 spectators.

“There is always quite a buzz on our campus in the days leading up to the Buzzell Games, so it is basically the closest thing to a winter homecoming,” said Robert Annunziata, Horace Mann’s athletic director. “There used to be wild pep rallies and parties, but that has kind of calmed down a bit in recent years. We still set up tables to sell shirts for the kids to wear to the games and the players definitely consider it the biggest game of the season.”

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