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Beloved basketball referee returns to Williamsville North to thank those who saved his life

Benjy Bluman collapsed during a game on December 28

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Benjy Bluman recently returned to the Williamsville North basketball court to take a walk around. The last time the beloved referee, a 44-year-veteran and member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, stepped foot inside that gym, he doesn't remember how he left. 

"Everybody told me after the fact that I kind of stumbled. I kind of stumbled or lost my way. Then I went down the other end of the court and that's about all I remember," he told 2 On Your Side. "Then I woke up in the hospital." 

North was playing a championship game against Williamsville East in a holiday tournament. Varsity Coach Chuck Swierski saw Bluman collapse out of the corner of his eye. 

"He just went straight back," Swierski explained. "My trainer Paula was right next to me and my assistant coach was right there and we all get up and we go running over to see, Benjy's down on his back and he's out." 

Dr. Ray Ogra, one of the Williamsville East parents, was one of the several medical professionals in the stands who jumped into action to help the referee. 

"Did not feel a pulse and you could feel that he was cold and unfortunately really lifeless," Ogra said. "It was very scary."

He was joined by fellow East parents, Dr. Jeffrey Neu, and his wife Heidi, a retired nurse, as well as others. 

"By then, there were a lot of people gathered around," Ogra said. "Part of the people who were down there were trying to clear out, clear out the crowd so we could hear each other and get our work done. We obviously called for 911."

They administered CPR, and got him hooked up to an automatic defibrillator, which was behind the North bench on the athletic trainer's cart. 

"It seemed forever," Swierski said of the moments they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive. "In a situation like that, time, it's hard to judge time. You know what I mean. Just because of the stress, just because it's literally a life or death experience." 

Everyone who was in this gym has different stories about what happened, but they all remember one specific thing.

"There was a very eerie hush that came over the gym. As I told you at the beginning, there was so much animation, so much fun and fanfare, It's very unusual to be in a high school basketball gym full of people and literally you could hear a pin drop."

"People said the only thing you could hear in the gym was the defibrillator," Bluman said. "It was very quiet, and not many people let I guess from what I heard. Not many left."

Bluman's doctors told him a blockage in his artery caused him to go into cardiac arrest that day. He had stents put in, spent about a week in the hospital, and has been home recovering ever since. 

He's resumed his workout routine, but won't return to the referee for at least a few more months. But he promises that he will be back in his stripes soon. 

"Sometimes you wonder after all the years, how many, I mean what your last game is going to be like," Bluman said. "I didn't want that to be my last game."

Credit: WGRZ-TV
Referee Benjy Bluman with Dr. Ray Ogra, Dr. Jeffrey Neu, and Heidi Neu.
Credit: WGRZ-TV
Benjy Bluman's son, Kory, will officiate Wednesday night's game in his father's place.

Williamsville North and East will meet again to resume their game Wednesday night. Prior to the game, the Williamsville Central School District will honor all of the parents and first responders who saved Bluman's life.

They'll start the game with 2:52 in the first quarter, when play was stopped on December 28. Bluman's son, Kory, will officiate the game in place of his father.

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