Pool icon’s team keeps tourney hope alive

Iconic Baton Rouge pool player Carol “Bull” Buhler died several days after he suffered a stroke while doing what he loved most: competing for a pool championship with his daughter and a room of friends surrounding him.

And just as the 82-year-old would have wanted, his team won the tournament without him two days later and will head to the national championship in Las Vegas in August.

“He really wanted to do it with me. He wanted this team to go,” said Staci Buhler, Bull Buhler’s daughter. “He will be there in spirit, and he’ll be leading us.”

On June 13, the tournament’s second day, Buhler was partway through a match against his friend of almost 30 years, Todd Duhon, when he had trouble finding the cue ball and missed while trying to hit it, Duhon said.

“I just can’t keep playing; something’s just wrong,” he told Duhon. Eventually, Buhler sat down to rest and was soon taken by ambulance to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, where he was unresponsive by June 15, said Staci Buhler, 55.

Bull Buhler’s team, C’est Bon, had to forfeit that match. Niall O’Callaghan, 21, Buhler’s grandson and a team member, had flown back to New York the day before, but the remaining six team members — including Staci Buhler and several of Bull Buhler’s old friends — kept playing through the weekend as the tournament continued. Buhler wore her dad’s signature necklace of a bull with horns, and team members would touch it for good luck.

Buhler said some questioned why she didn’t leave the tournament to stay with her father in the hospital.

“I knew that my dad would want me to be playing in that tournament,” she said. “This is exactly where my dad wanted me to be.”

At the tournament’s end on Sunday night before a crowd of about 50, C’est Bon’s remaining members sealed an emotional victory.

The team’s captain, Greg Adams, said the team never expected to win first place, but they did so while missing their most famous shooter.

Buhler took the trophy to her father in the intensive care unit, and it remained by him until his death on Wednesday.

Buhler, her son and Bull’s friends will head to the American Poolplayers Association’s national championships from Aug. 18 to Aug. 24 at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Adams said the tournament’s rules do not allow an added player, so the team will compete one member short.

Bull Buhler made it to the national tournament seven times, but this will be his daughter’s first.

Just hours before the stroke, Buhler received an achievement award for the most games played of anyone in the region — 2,539 games, Staci Buhler said. Also, she said, her father was excited to finally play as part of three generations of pool players along with his daughter and her son.

Bull Buhler taught himself to play when he was in high school in the late 1940s and took the lead in teaching his family how to play over the decades. Staci Buhler asked her father to teach her to play in 1964 when she was about 6 years old. Decades later, Bull Buhler taught O’Callaghan, now a junior at LSU, during family visits to her father’s house, his daughter said.

Bull Buhler also passed on the pool-playing tradition in his family when he bought and refurbished old pool tables, giving one to his daughter, one to her brother and keeping one for himself, Staci Buhler said. He also made and repaired pool sticks for players all over Baton Rouge, she said.

Buhler was known for playing pool almost every day at Bayou Billiards on Florida Boulevard, Staci Buhler said, although he was known at pool halls all over Baton Rouge. Almost everyone at the tournament with Bull Buhler when he had the stroke was a friend or at least a friendly acquaintance, Duhon said.

“My dad’s legacy in the pool community is that he taught everybody something,” Staci Buhler said.