DERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WHTM) — The Hershey Teddy Bear Toss is a beloved tradition for Hershey Bears fans across the Midstate, and this special tradition came back in person on Saturday at the Bears game at the Giant Center. It was the first time the Teddy Bear Toss could be held in person since before the pandemic.

The 20th Teddy Bear Toss did not disappoint. This year, the fans helped beat the 2019 record by collecting over 52,000 bears and other stuffed animals. The new record means the Sweigart Family Foundation will donate $50,000 to Children’s Miracle Network Hershey.

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Fans at the game Saturday all expressed excitement at being back in the Giant Center for the Teddy Bear Toss, both first-timers and long-time participants alike.

“I’ve been coming to games since I was 12 years old,” said long-time fan Russell Lingle.

Lingle has been watching the Hershey Bears play since the 1950s, long before the Giant Center became the team’s home.

“I ushered them when I got to be 18 and 19, and I worked the refreshment stand for a couple years,” Lingle said.

As for Teddy Bear Tosses, Lingle is no stranger — he’s seen them all.

“Yeah, all of them,” he said. “Bears go flying down.”

He also remembers watching the event grow over the years.

“They had them in one bit and one player dove into them,” he said.

Sitting in the Giant Center Saturday with his fellow fans, Lingle said he was looking forward to this year’s toss — the first one in person since before the pandemic — and the fans shared his excitement.

“People have been dropping items off all day, people were already parked in their cars at 4:00 today,” Hershey Bears managing director of community relations Kathleen McGraw said.

When it comes to the toss, Carrie Gordon and her family make it a tradition, and they go all in.

“This is unicorn that we brought for the toss. His name’s Paul,” Gordon said. “We bought him his own seat.

Gordon already knows how this works, having been to many a Teddy Bear Toss.

“The lower rows, they’ll get pelted by [the bears], so they toss them over,” Gordon said.

Still, there is nothing quite like the first time fans see those teddy bears fly.

“This is our first one. Actually, they were surprised, this is a surprise for them, so we’re excited,” Jennifer Eisenhour, who brought her daughters, said.

Eisenhour said her family finally made it out to the Giant Center this year.

“We tried to get tickets for years and they were always sold out,” she said.

Whether it is the first time, or the 20th time, fans said this is an unforgettable tradition.

“Just to experience it actually. I don’t know, I’ve seen it on TV, they’ve seen it on TV before. It just looks fun,” Eisenhower said.

Now that the more than 52,000 bears and other animals have been counted and sorted, they will be given out to more than two dozen local organizations. Those groups will eventually help these creatures find their homes with kids in need.