Photo by Madison Meyer
Austin Dunning, commonly known at Harding as Buff the Bison, was recognized at the basketball senior ceremony Feb. 24 for his final season after representing the school for 12 years as its beloved mascot.
Buff said he was glad that people were having a great time during his final seasons. He said it is time for him to graduate and retire, but that he is happy he finally made the decision to do it in a good year.
“I’m glad they’ve welcomed me for a long time,” Buff said. “I can’t wait to tell them thank you.”
Robbie Dunning, Buff’s mom and trained coach/handler, said he has been a mascot for 19 years total. Before he was Buff, he not only was Buzz the Hornet at his high school, but also Freddy Cougar at his community college and two other mascots on the side.
“He considers himself part of the team he represents, so if it’s football season, he’s part of the football team,” Dunning said. “If it’s volleyball, he’s part of the volleyball team. He has always wanted to be part of a championship team.”
Dunning said Buff had a feeling this would be the year the football team would win their championship. She said Buff wanted to go out on a high note with the team and decided it was the right time for him to move on.
Dunning said Buff has been part of nearly 25 different organizations at Harding, representing the school in various departments like admissions and — of course — athletics. She said Buff has also helped with several nonprofits such as Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish.
“He works tirelessly with all different kinds of organizations and at all different types of events,” Harding Sports Information Director Scott Goode said. “He’s been a great ambassador for Harding University, and we’re really gonna miss him.”
Goode said Buff works harder than most people might expect from a mascot, especially during hotter months that could make football games close to 100 degrees. Buff’s costume is 40 degrees higher than the environment he is performing in, Dunning said.
Goode said saying goodbye to Buff is sad because he knows it will no longer be him inside the costume, but that he is excited for him to move on to whatever is next.
“It’ll just be different,” Goode said. “It’ll be strange that the person that I know as Buff is not inside the Buff costume anymore. It’s somebody new that will have big shoes to fill.”
Harding had a mascot for a while before Austin Dunning became Buff, Goode said, but none of the people before him really stuck.
“He brought a whole new level of enthusiasm and passion to Harding athletic events from the first time that he got here,” Goode said. “I’ve been so excited to see him do what he wanted to do and have a great career at Harding. I look forward to seeing what he does next. There’s no telling what it’s going to be.”
Buff said his time as Harding’s mascot flew by faster than he expected.
“To be here for 12 years, it doesn’t seem like 12 years at all — it seems more like five,” Buff said. “If I could do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.”