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Fun facts about schools heading to Buffalo for NCAA tournament

Where else would the Bison roam but to Buffalo?

Which team coming to Buffalo for this week’s NCAA basketball tournament is coached by an alumnus of another team playing here this week?

Which campus housed the Capitol of the United States, for four months in 1783?

And which school had a dormitory break away from the university, part of a student protest during the Vietnam War?

In a few hours, you can learn a lot about the seven teams coming to Buffalo, and the two playing off Tuesday night to come here, thanks to the wonders of Google, the schools’ websites and a few phone calls.

Those searches yielded several surprising facts, interesting college traditions and perhaps unlikely prominent alumni from the schools.

Bison migrating here

Buffalo, it’s time to meet the Bison, as in the Bucknell Bison – not Bisons.

Bucknell is located in Lewisburg, Pa., smack-dab in the center of Pennsylvania, about 220 miles from Buffalo. Part of the campus is located in East Buffalo Township, Pa., and it’s near Buffalo and West Buffalo townships. College officials don’t know of any bison ever roaming the area, but East Buffalo Township does date back to the early 1770s, when Buffalo Township was born.

So how do the Bison from East Buffalo Township feel about coming to almost their ancestral homeland, the city of Buffalo?

“I’m sure it’s not lost on anyone,” said Andy Hirsch, chief communications officer for the university. “Maybe it will feel a little bit more like home. I’d like to think if there’s a place outside Lewisburg rooting for Bucknell, it’s Buffalo.”

The college even had a sports logo that very closely resembled one of the Buffalo Bills’ logos. According to the website, Bucknell used a “Buffalo Bills streaking Buffalo with orange streak” as its primary logo from 1990-2001.

The current Bucknell logo depicts a charging bison tilted at a precise angle, heading slightly upwards from left to right.

“It’s tilted 6.5 degrees off the horizontal axis so it looks like it’s in motion,” Hirsch said.

Facts you may not know

  • Bucknell won the first Orange Bowl, a 26-0 spanking of the University of Miami on New Year’s Day in 1935.
  • The U.S. Continental Congress met in Princeton’s Nassau Hall, which served as the fledgling nation’s Capitol for four-plus months in 1783.
  • During the Vietnam War, Sorin Hall, the first dorm built on the Notre Dame campus, broke from the university to form its own college. Students and professors held classes there and boycotted other university events. On the front porch, they declared the dorm “Sorin College.”
  • Only the U.S. Naval Academy has produced more Navy admirals and Marine Corps generals than Villanova.
  • In May 1921, Babe Ruth, from nearby Baltimore, made his second visit to Mount St. Mary’s University. The first? According to the school history posted on the university’s website, “Tradition holds that he was discovered on Echo Field years earlier in a game between his team from a Baltimore industrial school and the Mount.”
  • Current Villanova coach Jay Wright played basketball at Bucknell, graduating in 1983.
  • The University of New Orleans was used as an evacuation point and staging area by the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The local Fighting Irish

Of course, Notre Dame’s coming to Buffalo. The large and active Notre Dame Club of Buffalo and Western New York made sure of that.

“We prayed it would happen,” said Peggy Cronin, the club’s president. “That’s how we do things at Notre Dame.”

The club has about 400 members, most of them Notre Dame alumni. And it boasts the nation’s longest-running tradition, more than 40 years, of taking an annual football trip to South Bend, where members even get beds on campus, in the Sacred Heart Parish Center.

Buffalo and Notre Dame, of course, are a natural fit, with the city’s strong Catholic tradition and the campus within a day’s drive, about 445 miles.

“It’s fitting that Notre Dame is coming to Buffalo, because Buffalo has always considered Notre Dame their home team,” Cronin said. The club is an active one, including watch parties at the Blackthorn Restaurant & Pub in South Buffalo, where a leprechaun does pushups on the bar after every Notre Dame touchdown, with the school’s fight song blaring from the speakers.

This week, the emphasis will be on the scramble for basketball tickets and the search for a club party to celebrate the team playing here.

On Monday, the club set up a send-off celebration for the team at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Buffalo RiverWorks, including Notre Dame cheerleaders and the band, before the 12:15 p.m. tipoff.

Cronin wanted to emphasize that the local organization has a larger purpose.

“Our club gives tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money every year to local students going to Notre Dame,” said Cronin, the president of Mount Mercy Academy. “That’s what we’re proudest of.”

That, along with their basketball team – at least for this week.


And the 2017 NCAA tournament champion is Bucknell – at least in the classroom.

Inside Higher Ed has filled out brackets for its 2017 Academic Performance Tournament, crowning Bucknell the overall winner among this year’s teams, defeating Kentucky in the finals. And that’s in a tourney field including Princeton, Duke, Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, among other highly ranked institutions.

Based on the NCAA’s own measure of a team’s classroom performance, Inside Higher Ed used each team’s academic progress and graduation success rates. The criteria are “admittedly less-than-perfect,” the online education publication noted.

“It’s certainly imperfect, but we’ll take it,” Bucknell’s Hirsch said.

College traditions

  • What’s a Virginia Tech Hokie? When the school’s name was changed in 1896 to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute – VPI for short – the old spirit cheer was no longer suitable, so there was a contest to select a new one. The winning chant started, “Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy; Techs, Techs, VPI...” Student O.M. Stull won the $5 top prize for his cheer, now known as Old Hokie.
  • Bucknell students walk through the Christy Mathewson Gates on their first and last day at the college. Mathewson, a major-league pitcher and one of the first five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, was better known in college as a fullback, punter and drop-kicker on the Bucknell football team.
  • Notre Dame students love to have their photos taken on the stairs leading up to the Main Building on commencement day. Why? Because campus superstition has it that students won’t graduate if they walk those steps before then.
  • An essay, interview and “cheer-off” competition are all part of the selection for West Virginia’s mascot – the buckskin-wearing Mountaineer – a honor that dates back to the late 1920s and goes to the Morgantown student who exhibits the most enthusiasm, character and service.
  • Back in the 1870s, after the Civil War, Princeton students often carried canes. But sophomores took a burn to lowly freshmen strutting around with fancy canes, so the older students stole the walking sticks from the rookies and beat them with their own canes. That led to the modern tradition known as Cane Spree, with freshmen and sophomores engaging in one-on-one battles to maintain their grip on a cane.

Prominent alumni
Buffalo likes to boast about its ties to world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but Wisconsin owns the rights to him.

Wright, a Wisconsin native who attended the university at Madison, enrolled to study engineering and worked for the department’s dean to help pay his tuition and support his family, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

But he knew he wanted to be an architect, so he dropped out of school and headed to work in Chicago, doing some of his best work here.

Thanks, Wisconsin.

Other notable alumni:

  • Wisconsin: Charles Lindbergh, Dick Cheney, Boz Skaggs and Joan Cusack.
  • West Virginia: Don Knotts, author Stephen Coonts and Jerry West.
  • Virginia Tech: Tyrod Taylor, Hoda Kotb, Bruce Smith and Stephen Bannon.
  • Villanova: Jill Biden, Bradley Cooper and Toby Keith.
  • Bucknell: Leslie Moonves, Philip Roth, Mathewson and Wright.
  • Princeton: Take your pick, among Presidents Woodrow Wilson, James Madison and John F. Kennedy (for a semester), along with Bill Bradley, Ralph Nader, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Will and Jimmy Stewart.
  • Notre Dame: Condoleezza Rice, Regis Philbin, Phil Donahue, Nicholas Sparks and Knute Rockne.
  • Mount St. Mary’s: Boys Town founder Edward J. Flanagan and painter John LaFarge.
  • New Orleans: Ellen DeGeneres and John Larroquette.

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