MERIDIAN — The Legend
To this day, many Meridian natives still refer to Oliver Buntin as the best athlete Meridian High School has ever produced. A larger-than-average child, Buntin excelled in football, baseball, basketball and track while in high school. Those who knew him say if he would have played golf, tennis or any other sport he’d be the best at those as well. When asked later in life what spurred his athletic success, Buntin simply replied, “Shoot, you know I’m a terrible loser.”
“He was almost like a celebrity,” Bosarge said of her younger brother. “Even people who didn’t know him treated him like he was famous.
“All the girls loved him; he was quite popular with the ladies,” she added.
Those who knew him say Buntin was practically unstoppable in his bright-white Corvette, racing through the streets of Meridian fast while going through women even faster.
Though he only lived to be 30 years old, Buntin married three times. However, it was just too hard to hold him down.
“I first met Oliver either in the summer of 1961, ’62 or ’63 and began running around with him,” Meridian native Son Bryant told Farmer in the book he's writing. “… He was extremely bold. We would stop at red lights next to some girl on a date, and he would try and talk her into coming into the car with us, completely ignoring her date.”
The Corvette was one of two purchases Buntin made after signing a professional baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs for $15,000 directly out of high school. The other purchase was a 14-foot boat equipped with a 50-horsepower motor.
Living life with a reckless abandonment was Buntin’s passion, and nothing brought him closer to that than his times on the water.
Upon first buying the boat, Buntin took a couple of friends down to the lake to show it off. The daredevil then proceeded to floor the engine and head straight towards telephone poles which were poking up from under the water, turning just in time to avoid collision. According to friend Billy Dorman, Buntin was able to pull the maneuver twice before smacking into a pole on his third attempt. With water quickly filling the boat, the fast-thinking Buntin ran the boat hard, forcing the water out the back until he could return the crew back to the banks safely.
Buntin would continue racing boats in tournaments across the nation. When the Cubs ordered him to stop racing as not to jeopardize his playing career, Buntin refused, opting to leave the team to continue racing.
Most of Buntin’s adventures came aboard a hydroplane boat named Miss Peg. Once aboard the Peg, Buntin let loose, often releasing a fearless approach – which earned him the nickname “Wild Bill” by those in the racing community.
During roll call before tournaments, the confident Buntin was known for calling out “Buntin's here and the Peg is honking.”
“He was cocky in a good way,” race enthusiast Joey Nolan said. “He was very confident in his ability and what he could do.”
At no time was that confidence better demonstrated than during the Southland Regatta in St. Petersburg Fla., in February 1968.
Before the race, Buntin stood up in front of his competition, boasting if the other racers raced their hardest and their boats ran at their best, they could compete for second place. Sure enough, Buntin followed up on his proclamation, blowing past the field while setting a world record in the process. Buntin finished the three lap, 5-mile race with an average speed of 92.3 miles per hour, shattering the previous world record held by Skeeter Johnson aboard The WaWa 2 at 89.02 mph in 1966.
Later that night, in typical show-stopping fashion, Buntin drove his motorcycle into the lobby of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club during award ceremonies to claim his prize.
Five months later, Buntin took home the national championship in Tonawanda, N.Y.