Where the Buffalo Roam… On Friday Nights

Grace Schmidt – Sugar Beet staff reporter

Once upon a time in the small town of Garden City, Kansas, a buffalo, one of the largest existing land mammals, ran wild on the high school football field. Not only did the live buffalo run on the football field, a man named Buddie Lawrence Heaton rode along with it. This buffalo is known widely around the area as Sodbuster. To this day, Sodbuster remains inside Garden City High School cheering on the buffaloes from his glass case.

Along with the story of Sodbuster comes more history than Garden City residents realize. Buddie Lawrence Heaton, the GCHS buffalo trainer, was the son of Harold “Buddy” Heaton. Harold was a widely known rodeo clown, he performed all across southwest Kansas and the world. A few highlights of Harold’s rodeo clown career include riding a buffalo in JFK’s inaugural parade, being featured in multiple TV shows and movies, and performing for Queen Elizabeth II, and Winston Churchill. Harold’s son, Buddie, continued the buffalo riding legacy at GCHS football games.

For many GCHS alumni, the buffalo running on the field is the most prominent memory of high school.

“It was one of the coolest things to see, a buffalo leading the team out to play,” Jarrod Stoppel, GCHS alumni said. “It was a lot of fun and it helped create an amazing atmosphere.”

Although, in the 90’s, the glory days of Buddie riding Sodbuster on GCHS home turf had to come to an end. Sodbuster’s life was ended and a new buffalo was not trained to partake in the same activities.

“I’m thinking the last years that we had Sodbuster were around ’92 or ’93,” Bill Weatherly, former GCHS football coach, said. “He died and the trainer decided to not get another buffalo.”

Today in GCHS a farfetched story of Sodbuster running on the field is told. It is said that when the football team was playing Manhattan, the buffalo ran down the sideline at the Manhattan players and coaches. This caused them to dive out of the way and run from the buffalo. Even though this tale is false, much history remains in the story of Sodbuster.

This Friday, a live buffalo will return to lead the football team out of the tunnel. But, this year there will be no one to ride with the buffalo. The West Texas A&M University herdsmen are bringing a 2000 pound buffalo to run on the field.

GCHS student council has been looking to bring a live buffalo back for a while now, and they have finally achieved their goal.

“There were a few people who really wanted to bring the live buffalo back,” Janet Hackett, stuco sponsor, said. “We talked about buying one, but having West Texas A&M bring the buffalo to us was our best option. We are thrilled to be able to relive the glory days of Sodbuster.”

Although the original buffalo and trainer will not be able to take the field Friday night, a new version of Buddy and Sodbuster will be leading the football team onto the field as they take on Great Bend.

Grace Schmidt is a health academy senior. Contact her at schmidtg@sudent.gckschools.com.

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