Buzby’s passionate buzz: Family, sports and Special Olympics

GEORGETOWN — Anyone involved with Special Olympics in the state of Delaware over the past 29 years or so has probably crossed paths with Jon Buzby.

Jon Buzby, left, goes over the itinerary with John Marvel prior to Special Olympics Delaware’s Sussex County basketball skills event held at Sussex Tech High School.

The 50-year-old New Jersey native is the director of media relations for Special Olympics Delaware.

His job takes him all across the First State, from the northern tip of New Castle County south to Sussex County.

In early February, he’s the master of ceremonies for the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics – the largest fundraiser that has generated more than $10 million in support for SODE in the plunge’s 26-year history.

The 2016 Polar Bear Plunge drew 3,602 registered “Bears” and raised $900,000.

As tradition dictates, Mr. Buzby has taken the ceremonial staff plunge every year but one in the history of the Polar Bear Plunge.

SODE currently offers 19 sports and serves more than 4,000 individuals with intellectual/physical challenges.

“We basically try to have a sport offered all of the time that regardless of your age, your intellectual disability or your physical ability you can be part of,” said Mr. Buzby. “In this day and age, you can’t talk to someone who doesn’t know somebody with an intellectual disability. Thirty years ago, when I started that wasn’t the case, but a lot of families wouldn’t admit that they had a child with an intellectual disability, or it certainly wasn’t something they would talk about. But that has completely changed now.”

“I am continuing to be amazed when I tell somebody, ‘Hey, this is what I do,’ and they typically say, ‘You must feel great about what you do.’ And of course, we do, but then they say, ‘I know ‘such and such’ and he loves Special Olympics.’ That wasn’t the case 30 years ago because we had less than 500 athletes in the program and now we have more than 4,200.”

Born in south Jersey, Mr. Buzby earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Delaware. He’s a loyal follower of Blue Hen sports.

In high school back in New Jersey he played soccer, basketball and competed in track and field.

It’s an obvious no-brainer that he is a sports nut.

A die-hard New York Jets fan, Mr. Buzby was just two years old when Joe Namath led the Jets to their stunning 16-7 upset of the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

“Unfortunately, that is the last time they won the Super Bowl,” he said. “And I might not live to see the next one!”

He follows the Philadelphia 76ers and Phillies. “I grew up a huge Phillies fan,” said Mr. Buzby.

He sometimes follows the Flyers of the NHL. “I’ll watch them in playoffs like all of the other fair-weather friends,” said Mr. Buzby.

His passion for sports can be heard on the Fox Sports 1290 AM where he now does radio play-by-play for high school football and basketball. He’s an author, too, having written several books.

Mr. Buzby’s family includes his wife Patty and sons Alex, 25 (from his first marriage), Riley, 10, and Tyler, 9.

Bear, Del., is the Buzby’s home.

This week’s People to Meet: Jon Buzby.

Your college alma mater?

“I’m a big UD fan. My wife is a huge sports fan. My boys are big sports fans, too. We are at every home football game, and every home basketball game we can get to. We typically go to an away game. We went to Virginia Tech this year for football. Last year we went to the Drexel game for basketball.”

Like son, like father?

“I follow the Premier Soccer League because Alex, my oldest, that is his favorite sport now. He didn’t start liking that sport until a couple years ago and he never played soccer, so go figure! I follow NASCAR only because my youngest son, Tyler, is a big NASCAR fan.”

“My middle son, Riley, got me back. I was a huge Sixers fan growing up and then when they had their slim years I admit I kind of fell off the face of the earth. Now, I am a bigger fan than him.”

“So, it’s Liverpool, 76ers and NASCAR, because is what my three boys follow. The sports I follow are centered around my boys’ favorites.”

29 years with Special Olympics Delaware?

“I started out my full-time career with Special Olympics. I spent seven years teaching elementary physical education. But at the same time, I worked part-time for Special Olympics. So, I’ve have never stopped working for Special Olympics during that time.”

Opportunity with SODE?

“I was a graduate student at the University of Delaware, and one of my professors was on the board of directors. They had an opening in their sports position. At the time they were only a staff of three, one being a secretary. Basically, the sports position was open. He asked if I would be interested in filling it on an interim basis until they found somebody full-time. Basically, I started doing that. After graduate school, I decided, ‘I enjoy this so I’m going to just keep doing it.”

“The reason I went to teach is because that is what I went to college for, as a physical education teacher. And at the time I was offered a job by Smyrna Elementary. I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t do it now I’ll never do it and I might always regret it.’ So, I did it, knowing that I could remain part-time with Special Olympics with the reality of it that if I ever wanted to come back full-time I probably could — and that’s exactly what happened.”

Your SODE roles?

“My official title is director of media relations. But it’s really only 25 percent of my job.  Originally, I was the sports director, so anything relating to sports, which is now a four-person job, I did. Basically, I was in charge of running all of the events and all coaches’ trainings and handling all of the volunteers back when I started.”

“The next move I made when I came out of teaching, my main role was coaches’ education and training, working with our coaches. From that I evolved into the title of director of media relations. But I also worked with our school programs. Basically, I tell people I am a PR person and I am in charge of getting our schools involved in Special Olympics.”

Community support?

“I have always thought about Special Olympics as one of the few nonprofits where you can literally come and see where your money goes. There are 1,000 nonprofits that do wonderful things, but it is very rare that you can write the check to an organization and then come to an event and see where your money is going, upfront and personal.”

Jon Buzby holds the microphone as Marquis Troy-Danso reads the Special Olympics Oath during opening ceremonies of the basketball skills competition at Sussex Tech. Unified partner Hannah Zimmerman looks on.

Special moments?

“The one story I always tell was there was a young man, a boy at the time and he is now in his early 40s. He ran track and field but could only run two laps. And then about four years after that with all the training and everything that goes into that, he ran a half marathon. That was kind of the one instance — this was back in late 1990s — that I thought to myself, ‘That is the difference this program makes from an athlete standpoint.’”

“The other story is we had a young man who attended Polytech High School. He was shy as shy can be. He wasn’t your typical Special Olympics athlete. He was on the high end of a learning disability. But what Special Olympics gave him — and he would tell you this story — is the confidence to be what he wanted to be. So, he competed with us. He was a runner. He was a cross-country and long-distance runner. He competed at the World Games. He is now a professor at a university in West Virginia – not the University of West Virginia, it’s a smaller university. And he is married with kids, and a professor at that university. So that is the story I always tell about the difference Special Olympics can make beyond sports. Those are my two favorite stories. There are 100 other stories.”

Other likes?

“I like to golf. I’ve got a 24-year tradition of spending four days in Hilton Head, S.C., with my two uncles and three cousins. That is the one thing I do on kind of my own without my wife or kids or anybody else. I am thankful when I have an evening where I can home and eat dinner and not have to rush out of the house to take a kid to practice or to go broadcast a game. But at same I enjoy all of that, and having gone through it once with my oldest son I realize how valuable those times are and never just assume you’re going to have that opportunity next week.”

“My wife and I are trying to make sure that our boys, we give them the experiences at least once that either we had or in some cases did not have. We’ve never been up to see Times Square at Christmas time. That is on our list to do this Christmas.”

Got a fun fact?

“Probably the moment I will always remember the most from a meet-the-celebrity standpoint is I got hang out Cal Ripken Jr. for three hours one night as his handler, for lack of a better word. He and I hung out behind the scenes of an event. It was a Special Olympics event. I was the one who had to make sure he had everything he needed, and everything we wanted and was not bothered. That was my celebrity moment.”

Another fun fact?

“Our most popular event is the Poplar Bear Plunge. And there is only a handful, think it’s only four people who have done every single Polar Bear Plunge. I missed one and it was very first one. And the reason I missed it is because my now ex-wife and I went to the wedding of a couple … that are now divorced.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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