Hildebran 5th grader wins world championship

Hildebran 5th grader rides his way to a world championship
Posted on 10/27/2022
Morganton, NC – Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022

It takes about 8 seconds to tie a shoelace, form a first impression or get bored with a video. For Hildebran Elementary School fifth grader William Buff, it takes exactly 8 seconds to win championships.

William, 10, has been riding the rodeo circuits since he was 3 years old. He started on sheep and advanced to horses and now half ton steers. Earlier this month, William became a two-time World Champion Miniature Bull Riding winner, outlasting a bull named Chuckie in the junior division in Mesquite, Texas. Last year he won the peewee division at the same event. In both events, he was going up against 70-plus other young bull riders.

While most 10 year olds collect video games or Legos, William collects championship rodeo belt buckles. He has about 50 so far. This blond-haired, brown-eyed, 75-pound, 4-foot, 10-inches tall boy isn’t stopping there. William said, “I look at them (championship belt buckles) every night, and I think my future is going somewhere.” And that “somewhere” is all the way to the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) with some of his heroes, many he has met, such as JB Mauney, Daylon Swearinger and Ezekiel Mitchell.

Though the mention of going pro makes his mom, Chelsey Smith, cringe slightly, she and William’s dad, Tray Buff, are his biggest fans. “Mom is good with it as long as he graduates high school,” Chelsey said about William riding the pro circuit when he’s 18. “He has to graduate high school.”

In many ways, William is a typical fifth grader. He has an older sister who is 12 and a younger brother who is 5. He likes pizza, tacos, Dr. Pepper and sweet tea. When he’s not riding a bull, he’s on a four-wheeler, though atypically so, he just bought one with his own earnings. He has a girlfriend he’s known since kindergarten. His favorite subject in school is math.

Terry Penland is one of his teachers at Hildebran Elementary. He said, “I have had the privilege of serving as William's teacher for the past two years. William is a good student. He excels in math and works well with his peers. He loves playing different sports during recess with his classmates.” Penland saw William ride over the summer in Hickory. He said, “It was truly remarkable to see him ride a bull. I can't imagine the fears and obstacles he had to overcome to conquer bull riding. He is certainly a very brave young man. I look forward to getting to see him ride again soon.”

William has influenced at least one classmate and his younger brother to try the sport, but he said bulls can sense fear, and it’s not for the faint of heart. He said, “If you’re too scared to ride one, it’s not your type of sport. The bull feels if you are scared or not. Some people get on and just shake.” Chelsey added, “It’s a fun sport. You’ve got to be prepared. If you’re scared, you can get yourself hurt.”

Like other kids his age who are into travel sports, William and his family are traveling to rodeos for his sport year round on most weekends. Chelsey said, “Everyone asks us, ‘what are you doing this weekend?’ Um, we have a rodeo.”

Being a two-time world champion comes with its own earnings, but Chelsey said there are also expenses with the sport: entry fees, helmets, vests, chaps, professional photos and hotel and other travel expenses. While some weekends they get to stay close to home, other rodeos are in places like neighboring Tennessee or as far away as Texas; William has competed in Texas seven times in his young life.

William, who has been around horses all his life, said his love for the sport started when he was 3 and a friend enticed him to ride a sheep. Since then he has been through the ups of winning championships and the downs of breaking bones. William has broken a few bones playing football, too, but says bull riding is much more dangerous.

To prepare for his competition rides, William practices on a bucking barrel at home. He said he stays in shape by doing pushups and sit ups. His dad is his coach and a motivator as some of William’s “earnings” have come from winning bets with his dad. He got a cell phone after one rodeo and enough money to buy a felt hat he had had his eye on after another by winning bets with his dad. “I haven’t lost many bets,” he said.

The quick witted William said he doesn’t take after his dad when it comes to riding bulls. He said, “My dad rode a bull one time and the bull went right and he went left.” But when it comes to being in the shoot on top of a 1,200-pound animal, William likes having his dad nearby. He said, “In the shoot, nobody’s in. It’s just me and the bull. My buddies hype me up. And my Dad pulls on the ropes.” The young bull rider already has a few superstitions. One involves not washing a certain pair of riding pants.

Chelsey said she is proud of her son, who has gone out and secured his own sponsorships, including local companies such as Select Tire Pros of Hildebran, Homer’s Feed and Seed, H&H Hauling, Ken Wilson Plumbing, Turkey Creek Ranch and Rodeo and M&G Cattle. She said seeing her son happy and her family together makes the traveling and bucks, breaks and bruises worth it. She said, “He goes out and does what he loves to do and has a smile on his face and accomplishes what he wants to accomplish.”

To hear from the Champion himself, check out the Learn in Burke podcast where we sit down and have a conversation with William.
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