The Obit For Brian Hansen

Brian Hansen: A sporting life

UB Hall of Famer, baseball coach, basketball official dies of cancer

By Mary Jo Monnin -- News Sports Reporter

Updated: 01/15/08 11:20 AM

Their love story started out as, well, let’s call it a soap opera. Brian Hansen was sure looking good when Elaine Gardon used the right detergent in 1967.

“He was a catcher [at UB] and he was filthy from head to toe from the dust and dirt,” Elaine said. “I said, ‘How do you get that [uniform] clean?’ and he said he does the laundry once or twice a week. I said, ‘I can wash it for you.’ After two weeks he was known as the White Knight because his uniform was the cleanest of everyone else.”

Elaine said goodbye to her white knight on Monday, as did hundreds of others during a funeral Mass at Resurrection Catholic Church in Cheektowaga. Hansen died of cancer on Jan. 9 after a two-year battle.

Hansen packed a lot of living into his 61 years. He was Williamsville South’s baseball coach for 33 years, a girls basketball official for 38 years, a teacher in the Williamsville South school district for 30 years, a coach of youth hockey in Cheektowaga for 22 years, and the official clock operator for Buffalo Bills home games for 32 years.

Grant Amey met Hansen in 1974 when he became his freshmen baseball coach. They later taught together and were golfing partners. Amey attended Monday’s funeral breakfast at Lancaster Country Club.

The two were golfing once in Fort Myers, Fla. when Amey hit a rare errant shot that landed near an alligator. “As I was walking toward my ball the alligator growled at me,” said Amey. “As I moved away Brian yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘Run in a zigzag pattern.’ That story has kept with me for a long time. But that was Brian.”

Hansen was told in March 2006 he had a spot on his stomach, but it was non-malignant. A day later he got a call saying his test results were misread.

The next 22 months were consumed with surgery, chemotherapy treatments, comebacks, disappointing test results and experimental medications. Through all the setbacks and struggle, the athlete in him wouldn’t quit.

He planned to return to Williamsville South in the spring for his 34th season as the Billies’ head baseball coach. He met with South’s director of athletics, Kevin Lester, in December to order equipment.

The athlete

Hansen moved to Buffalo from his hometown of East Detroit, Mich., after accepting a football scholarship from coach Buddy Ryan at the University at Buffalo in 1964. As a sophomore he also joined the baseball team and immediately became a pro prospect.

UB’s media guide describes Hansen as “an offensive tornado.” He was twice named first team All-America and averaged .506 in three years as UB’s catcher. As a junior in 1967 he led the NCAA in batting at .533.

After graduating from UB in 1968, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the seventh round. He played four seasons in the minor leagues in a variety of cities, mostly at the Class A level. Hansen was a teammate of future major leaguers Bob Boone and Greg Luzinski.

In 1983 he was inducted into UB’s Athletic Hall of Fame. He joined his second Hall of Fame in 1999 when he was selected by the Western New York Baseball Hall.

Call ’em both ways

Hansen was the longest standing girls basketball official in Western New York. He started in 1968-69, when high school girls played six-onsix (two rovers, two guards, two defenders). When they weren’t officiating for free, referees received a whopping $6 a game back then compared to today’s stipend of $79.

He also officiated college women’s games in the Big East, Atlantic-10, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and State University of New York Athletic Conference.

Hansen was a top-ranked official and was at the top of many coaches’ “preferred list” for sectionals.

Sacred Heart coach Sister Maria Pares, never a fan of the men in stripes, has been waging her own battle against cancer since 2002. In a twist of fate she bumped into Hansen at Roswell Park Cancer Institute last year when both were having blood drawn. Their intimate conversation about the dreaded disease ended with Hansen giving Pares a hug and Pares answering with a peck on the cheek.

“That was the first time I ever kissed an official. I told him not to tell and he said he was going to tell everyone,” Pares joked. “Brian’s loss is really going to be felt. This will hit a lot of people hard. He wasn’t just a competent official, but he understood situations and took care of them.”

A teacher/coach

Hansen taught physical education at the primary and secondary levels. He began his career in Williamsville at Maple West in 1971. Nine years later he moved to Mill Middle School, and in 1993 he began teaching at Williamsville South.

Although he is known as the face of Williamsville South baseball since 1974, he also coached football and hockey. From 1971 to 1980 he was an assistant varsity football coach for the Billies. He retired from teaching in 2002, but remained as baseball coach until 2007.

Tom Stepka pitched for South and was named Western New York Player of the Year in 1993. He went on to Le Moyne College in Syracuse, and in 1997 was drafted in the 10th round by Colorado. He played seven seasons in the minors, all in Class A.

“We always had a good relationship. If anything I caught more flak from some of my teammates because he almost treated me like another son,” said Stepka, who lives in Roanoke, Va. “When I was growing up and playing there wasn’t much instruction. He was probably my first influence on playing the game the right way.”

Family man

As proud as Hansen was of his baseball teams and his accomplishments, he was more proud of his sons. Hansen and Elaine had three: Kurt, 35, a teacher and varsity baseball coach at Maryvale; Keith, 31, an assistant manager at Home Depot; and Erik, 28, a mechanic for the Town of Cheektowaga. The Hansens had one grandchild, Alison, 5.

“Most officials like to tell you how many games they do and how they do ‘the big one,’ ” said longtime assigner and official Whitey Nichols. “Brian liked to tell me about his last golf trip to Myrtle Beach with his sons. When I did the assigner for the Catholic League, every coach, without fail, had Brian Hansen at the top of his/her playoff selection list. If there is a topnotch women’s basketball game in heaven this week, Brian Hansen will be on the crew.”