Regina Buggs is one of more than 200 volunteers who help make events tied to the NCAA’s First Four run smoothly, even though her first taste of the tournament got a bit sticky.
Buggs made her First Four debut four years ago at the Oregon District street party, which drew huge grounds on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Her station: cotton candy.
“I had never done it before and I’ve never had so much fun in all my life,” Buggs said. “It took a lot of practice and there was a line of people; kids want their cotton candy. But they were very patient.”
Buggs, who lives in Trotwood and works for PNC Mortgage, said that by the end of her shift she had cotton candy in her hair and all over her clothes.
“It blows around when you’re churning that thing,” she said.
Still, Buggs saw that day as a success because she “loves interacting with people,” a sentiment shared by other volunteers who enjoy helping out at the First Four, which tonight features a pair of basketball games at UD Arena.
On Sunday, two days before the NCAA tournament was set to begin in Dayton for the 16th straight year, Buggs worked at the Big Hoopla 4-Miler and the STEM Challenge, pulling double duty because volunteering is in her blood.
“I have volunteered my entire life,” Buggs said. “I do it because it’s part of our community.”
So how much of her time does she donate to worthy causes?
“Maybe you should ask my husband,” she said. “He’d say all the time.”
Buggs and other volunteers helping out with the First Four this week answered an email call put out by the Downtown Dayton Partnership, which has compiled a large database of potential workers.
“People always respond in a big way,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the downtown organization and the volunteer chair for the First Four Local Organizing Committee. “We know the value that it brings to our community. Yes, it’s about basketball, we understand that. But it’s really about showcasing Dayton.”
Tim Connair agrees. The 84-year-old retiree from Kettering calls himself a “professional volunteer.” He’s working the coat check station at the First Four’s VIP receptions at the University of Dayton’s River Campus today and Wednesday.
“I’m giving back to the community,” the 1948 Chaminade High School graduate said. “I’m a native Daytonian and I’ve lived here much of my life. I just think Dayton is the greatest place to be.”
Connair, who worked as an investigator with the Montgomery County Child Support Enforcement Agency and also served in the Air Force, said he worked 160 volunteer assignments in 2013.
He admits the coat check gig is pretty easy, but it gives him a chance to chat up visitors from out of town.
Gudorf said that it didn’t take long to fill 120 volunteer slots for the 4-mile run, STEM Challenge and VIP receptions.
“Within three days we had 80 percent filled up,” she said.
“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers — they’re tremendous,” said Scott DeBolt, UD Arena director. “We always have people lining up and offering to volunteer. It’s huge.”
Rae’Monda Adams-Hogue has taken the First Four volunteer spirit to a whole new level. She volunteers both nights at the VIP reception and also works the STEM Challenge at Chaminade Julienne High School.
She’s joined at different times by her three children, her husband, her brother and her parents. At Sunday’s STEM Challenge, which drew 700 kids, she welcomed participants with her daughter Tocarra and GM retiree Patricia Peebles.
Adams-Hogue said the family tradition started as a way for her daughters to rack up community service hours for a mission program at church. Now the First Four is marked permanently on the Trotwood resident’s calendar.
Adams-Hogue, who works as a team lead at Fuyao, said volunteering is her family’s way “of giving back to the community.” Like Buggs and Connair, she works many other events throughout the year.
In addition to seeing old friends and talking basketball, Adams-Hogue does like to take advantage of a nice perk for volunteers: tickets to the games.
“A lot of times after we’re finished they’ll shuttle us over to the game if they have extra tickets,” she said. “Every year except last year — they didn’t have any extra tickets last year.”
Of course, that was because UD was playing in the First Four. That won’t happen this year, but their still will be a buzz around the event.
Adams-Hogue summed up the allure of the First Four from the perspective of someone who has rubbed elbows with countless fans during the month of March:
“It’s a bonding time for a basketball city.”