A New Braunfels High School tradition -the Unicorn Handlers – turned 40 years old earlier this school year. This group of students have escorted the legendary Buford around at games in 100-degree temperatures, pouring rain and even the freezing cold. (Photo: Unicorn Handlers with Buford at a football game in 2000.)
“To me, being a Unicorn Handler means being a part of a super fun and spirited community that not only cheers on the football team, but also brings the school spirit wherever we go,” said Kate Windrow, a current handler. “Being a handler also means getting others involved in school spirit, and making sure each and every event we attend can show how proud we are to be Unicorns!”
Part of the job of the Unicorn Handlers is to escort Buford, a statue-like Unicorn for those of you who don’t know, onto the field after scores and before football games. As the Unicorn football team runs onto the field, the players touch Buford as a good luck charm, somewhat similar to the Notre Dame football team’s tradition of placing their hands on the “Play like a champion today” sign.
On the topic of Buford, Kenneth Tuch made the shell of Buford back in 1970-1971 in his art class. It was completely made with chicken wire. He was not sure what to do with it and it was put in an art closet to be later finished by the late Maurice Leifeste who used paper mache to finish constructing it in 1975. Since then, Buford has never missed a Unicorn football game and as tradition continues it remains unchanged from his early days.
Coach Poeck, who was a math teacher at NBHS, originally recruited young men to pull Buford along the sidelines after a Unicorn score. However, according to those Buford historians and those close to the situation, he said that the boys didn’t have quite the enthusiasm that he had initially envisioned.
The year was 1983, and Coach Poeck thought, why not allow girls to handle Buford. So, he recruited senior girls from his Math Class to form what is now known
as the Unicorn Handlers. He then went to Mrs. Vann so she could lead the handlers while he focused on hauling Buford to and from games on a trailer. A group of men are the haulers of Buford and take him to and from each game.
(Photo: Buford haulers Kevin Korpi, Weldon Preiss, Scott Presley and Trent Wenzel with Buford at a football game in San Antonio.)
Mrs. Vann was the Unicorn Handlers sponsor and she then appointed Denise Ortiz until 2023, when Alexandra Dowd took on the role. (Photo: Denise Ortiz and Alexandra Dowd standing in front of Buford at a football game in 2022.)
Original Buford haulers aside from Coach Poeck were Stump Garrett, Ronnie Wunderlich, Mr. Trollinger and Weldon Preiss. Preiss also is a current hauler along with Kevin Korpi, Trent Wenzel and Scott Presley.
Unicorn handlers can be spotted out very easily by their attire. They typically sport denim overalls as their uniforms with collars.
Unicorn Handlers are responsible for cheering on the New Braunfels High School Football Team to victory and for taking care of Buford the Unicorn. This role also includes running Buford onto the field at football games when the Unicorns score.
Other places one will see the Unicorn Handlers in action would be In the NBHS hallways showing their spirit on game days, Trick or Treat on Unicorn Street, Unicorn Christmas, the Comal County Fair and other NBISD events such as ORMS Pep Rallies. (Photo: The Unicorn Handlers at a football game in the fall of 2023.)
“In short, being a Unicorn Handler is about embracing the Unicorn spirit and pride in NBHS tradition,” said Rylee Kanz, a Unicorn Handler who will graduate this year. “I feel intuitively connected to the handlers that came before me and those that will get to participate in the tradition in the future.”
Here’s what other current Unicorn Handlers said about the tradition:
“Being a Unicorn Handler has meant the absolute world to me. I am constantly surrounded by the most amazing girls and it has truly been one of the biggest blessings. I’ve made lifelong friendships and had the time of my life with all of the Unicorn Handlers. I don’t think any words will truly show how grateful I am to be a Unicorn Handler.” -Brynley Jackson, 23/24 Unicorn Handler
“To me, being a Unicorn Handler means working together as a team to help promote school spirit, while also creating lifelong friendships and deeper connections with the other members. “ -Mackenzie Gaspard, 23/24 Unicorn Handler
“Being a unicorn handler means to support the football team through thick and thin. Whether the team is losing or winning, to always be positive and pump up the team with school spirit.” -Chloe Guzman, 23/24 Unicorn Handler
“Being a Unicorn Handler to me is like being a part of a sisterhood where girls who come from different backgrounds join together to form a connection with one another who will push each other to achieve the best not only for themselves but for the community as a whole. Unicorn Handlers has given me a sense of belonging, not only in the school but in the community, through carrying on the tradition of caring for Buford. It has provided me the platform to continue to be a role model because, as Unicorn Handlers, we represent the school with the way we carry ourselves on and off the field.
Through this opportunity, I wish that we continue to inspire other little girls who are watching from the stands and see how they can imagine being here when they’re old enough. I am forever grateful for the everlasting memories and bonds that I have created through becoming a Handler, for Unicorn Handlers, and of course Buford will always hold a special place in my heart. Ultimately, becoming a Unicorn Handler has allowed me the opportunity to build new relationships with my peers while caring for Buford, a sense of belonging, and the opportunity to spread a little bit of sunshine in the program and New Braunfels community.” -Sunshine Aofia, 23/24 Unicorn Handler
“I can wholeheartedly say that becoming a unicorn handler has not only been one of the biggest blessings of my high school years, but also of my life. Handlers has given me the opportunity to come together with the sweetest people & show our community what our school and town stand for. It has been so beautiful to see how much of an impact a group of people can make with their encouragement, unity & fellowship. I am eternally blessed by the friendships, memories, intentional conversations and wisdom that this organization has provided for me.” -Bri Perez, 23/24 Unicorn Handler