'Kids always top priority': Marshwood's Rich Buzzell is Maine's Athletic Director of Year

'Kids always top priority': Marshwood's Rich Buzzell is Maine's Athletic Director of Year

Brandon BrownPortsmouth Herald  May 4, 2021

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine – Rich Buzzell graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a master’s degree in athletic administration with sights on becoming a collegiate athletic director. 

Twenty six years later, and in his 18th year at Marshwood High School, Buzzell has received the 2021 Robert Leahy Athletic Director Award for the top AD in the state of Maine.

This is the first time that Buzzell has received the honor.

“It was a surprise, especially given the year we had, I think that means more to me,” Buzzell said. “You have 184 of your peers who vote for you and for me to receive an honor like that, it was pretty special. There were 184 deserving athletic directors in the state of Maine, too, because all of the things (we) had to go through (with COVID). This (has) definitely been the most challenging year of my career.”

Marshwood High School football coach Alex Rotsko called the award a "great honor" for Buzzell.

“Certainly, he’s worthy of the award,” said Rotsko, who has been the Marshwood football coach for the past nine years and recalls interviewing for the position. “After the meeting, we walked out, and it turned out we had some mutual friends, which I didn’t realize. It was just a good way to start at Marshwood.”

Though grateful for the honor, Buzzell recognizes it has been a group effort.

“I never look at awards individually,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I was without great coaches, and great administration.” 

Marshwood boys basketball coach Bobby Pratt said the award was "well deserved."

“It is a great honor to be named AD of the year in Maine and I couldn’t think of a more deserving person,” Pratt said. “We are very fortunate to have Rich as our AD.”

Buzzell, who found out he won the award during a virtual ceremony in the first of week of April, started his career at Traip Academy, where he attended high school. He ended up spending eight years at his alma mater.

“There were no collegiate jobs open nor available to me at the time,” said Buzzell, who thought it would be just a one-year stop at Traip while he kept searching for collegiate openings. “My one year turned into eight (at Traip). I had such a good time working at Traip that I decided I was going to make athletics a career at the high school level.”

Buzzell took over at Marshwood in 2004, replacing Lisa Tanguay.

“My favorite memory of Rich was when he was hired at Marshwood,” said Pratt. “It was halfway through my freshman year of high school (2002-03), and he instantly made a positive impact on athletics. It was a big deal to have him take over and lead our athletic program. He was well known throughout the Seacoast as someone who was passionate about athletics and had high expectations for all student-athletes and coaches.”

How Buzzell approaches his job

It is a pretty straightforward job for Buzzell.

“My mission is to make a kid’s day better every day,” said Buzzell. “If I could, make multiple kids’ day better every day. But I try to make an impact on a kid’s life every day.”

“One thing that he does so well is when he has to make a decision on something, the kids are always his first priority,” Rotsko said. “That’s the first thing that comes to mind with him, that’s number one. Number two is if you ask him a question, if you need something, if you ask for advice or whatever, he’s going to look into it right away. He’s going to get back to you right away or sit down and talk with you right away.”

A moment Buzzell recalls, which is at the top of his list, is when former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren came and spoke to the students about his struggles with drugs and alcohol. 

“(Herren) came to our school to speak, and he was one of the most powerful speakers,” Buzzell said. “We had a gym full of our kids, our high school and middle school kids, and all the Traip Academy kids came over. When he was speaking, it was rare to see a dry eye in the house because of the impact. He touched a lot of kids, not just athletes. He touched a lot of people. I think it was good for our kids to see that you can reach an ultimate pinnacle in your career and have it be derailed by something that we talk about all the time. I think that was a highlight having him come to our school and speak.”

Buzzell does have numerous favorite moments and memories so far during his 18 years at Marshwood.

“I’d say working with the kids in a positive environment has probably been the most positive feel, and the most impactful aspect of the job,” said Buzzell. “Working with some really, really great coaches. Marshwood’s got a super supportive community for athletics, so that’s been a real highlight in my career working over at Marshwood.”