BOISE — “He wasn’t our coach, he had the title of coach, but he was way, way more,” Brianne Baty said tearfully of longtime Treasure Valley Community College rodeo coach Sonny Hansen.
Hansen died just after midnight Thursday from head injuries he sustained after being bucked from a horse during rodeo practice at the Malheur County Fairgrounds in Ontario, Ore.
“He was more like a dad, a friend,” Baty, a TVCC student and rodeo team member, said. “He just never has been a typical coach.”
Hansen was working as the pick-up man during practice for his TVCC team, which was preparing for its season-opening rodeo Oct. 14-16. Timing proved tragic when Hansen leaned forward to grab another horse’s rein, was bucked over the front of his horse and struck his head.
Getting bucked off was not uncommon, said TVCC roper Jason Duby, as he recalled seeing his coach bucked off earlier in the evening.
“He hit and bounced right back up, that’s what happens,” Duby said.
Emergency services were called and Hansen was taken to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise by Life Flight, where he had surgery and was placed on life support, TVCC announced in a press release. Hansen’s family notified the school he had passed away Thursday morning.
“On behalf of the entire college community, we send our thoughts and prayers to his family, as well as to all those who love Sonny,” TVCC President Dana M. Young said in the press release.
The news came as a shock to many in the local rodeo community who were touched by Hansen.
He took over the Chukars program in the fall 1995, after attending and competing in rodeo for the school himself from 1986-89, and serving as student body president. During his competitive days, he rode saddle and bareback broncs along with doing tie-down roping and team roping.
“He touched just about everybody who has saddled up a horse, he had an influence on them,” said Hal Coburn, one of the top rodeo announcers in southwestern Idaho and a friend of Hansen’s for the past 10 years.
Lisa Cunningham, who grew up rodeoing alongside Hansen and watched him coach her daughter, Kaitlyn, in college, said he’d be very missed.
“He was such a role model for those kids,” she said, adding when she heard the news, “the man rode horses his entire life and was a very, very good horseman, so for this to happen to him is a shock.”
Along with being a coach, Hansen was TVCC’s livestock center director and he also worked as a pick-up man at local rodeos, at the College National Finals Rodeo, and PRCA events, including the Snake River Stampede and Lewiston Roundup. He also was coordinator for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s bucking horse and bull sale.
“I’d say for the rodeo community, it’s unbelievable the impact he had,” Duby said. “I’ve had probably 50 calls from guys ... calling me to say that they’re sorry and just wanting to say sorry to the family … He was an unbelievable man. If he didn’t know you he would still do anything for you if you asked him and needed him to.”
Coburn added: “His loss is a huge loss, but it’s his influence that will be missed most and everything he did for every single rodeo kid that went on.”
The Chukar Rodeo will go on at the request of Hansen’s family and his team, and has drawn great community support from people volunteering to help, TVCC public information director Abby Lee said.
“In honor of Sonny, we will be dedicating the upcoming Chukar Rodeo on Oct. 14-16 to his legacy and commitment to this program,” Young said.