2017-03-17 / Front Page
Polo player rides into the sunset
MHS alumna was a pioneer in sport of kings
A 1987 graduate of Moorpark High School, Hale was a top-ranked polo player who helped pave the way for women in the traditionally male-dominated game, which is played by two teams of four on horseback.
She died Feb. 26 in Oklahoma due to complications from breast cancer. She was 48.
Hale was a U.S. Women’s Open Champion in 1990, 2011 and 2013. She made history in 2000 by being the first woman to ever play in—and win—the U.S. Open Polo Championship in Palm Beach, Fla.
Hale played on team Outback, which was owned by Tim Gannon, the man who founded the Outback chain of Australian-style steakhouses. Gannon was also a member of the team that won the competition considered the Super Bowl of polo.
Throughout her life, the athlete competed in 11 countries, including Argentina, Malaysia, Jamaica and Thailand, and in 2013 she competed in the first international UAE Ladies Polo Tournament in Dubai.
She was inducted into the National
Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2012.
The road to acceptance was far from easy.
“I’ve had guys say they’re going to run me over, going to kill me,” Hale said in a 1997 Sports Illustrated interview. “I’ve been called every word in the bad-word dictionary. I’m in a sport where it’s more common for men to be good than for women. So I’m going to take some criticism. And I’m willing to take that. I’m more interested in playing a good game than reacting angrily to someone who’s just being chauvinistic.”
Patty Akkad, a longtime family friend, said she felt as though she’d lost a daughter when Hale passed away. Her own daughter, Rima, was best friends with Hale, and they played polo together.
“(Sunny) told me about all her hopes and dreams and struggles,” Akkad said. “Sunny was always straightforward and honest and cheerful and kind to everyone. We will all miss her very much.”
Akkad was close with Hale’s mother, Sue Sally Hale, also a well-known advocate for women’s inclusion in polo.
In the early stages of her career, Sue Sally Hale disguised herself as a man in order to play professional polo. In 1972, she became the first woman to be registered in the USPA.
Sue Sally Hale and Patty Akkad founded the Moorpark Polo Club, which was in operation in the 1980s and late 1990s on Grimes Canyon Road in Moorpark and was the first womenowned polo club recognized by the U. S. Polo Association.
Like her mother, Sunny Hale was determined to pursue a career as a professional polo player.
She completed one semester at Moorpark College before moving to Oklahoma, where she bred and trained polo horses. She was 18 when she turned pro.
Over the years, Hale divided her time between her home in Oklahoma and Florida, where many polo players pursued the sport professionally, Akkad said.
“Women in polo just idolized her (and) she encouraged them,” Akkad said.
But more than her prolific polo career, Akkad remembers Hale for her kind heart and the time she helped bring a smile to her face after a personal tragedy.
In 2005, Rima was traveling with her father in Amman, Jordan, where they were killed after suicide bombers destroyed their hotel.
Just months after the attack, Hale tracked down Rima’s favorite thoroughbred, Confetti, which she had sold. As a gift, Hale shipped the horse to Akkad’s home in California.
Confetti, now 33, still lives with Akkad at her home in Acton.
“That horse has meant so much to our family,” Akkad said. “That was the most amazing gift anyone gave me.”
Arshia Rios, a friend of Hale’s who was with her during her final moments, remembers the champion for the courage she displayed while competing in a sport where women were not always respected as athletes.
The Moorpark resident grew up playing polo at the Moorpark Polo Club with Hale’s family.
“It’s a shock when you lose one of your closest friends,” Rios said. “She carved a really, really dignified life with a whole lot of integrity that she never compromised.
She was the sister I wish I had.”
She said she admired Hale for continuing to pursue her sport while battling cancer and for the positive influence she had on her daughter Serafina.
“She was a fighter. She was never of the mind-set that anything stopped you or slowed you down,” Rios said. “She really was a person who was a dignified, tough cookie. She inspired me most because of the time she would spend with my daughter and inspiring her to be the best person she could be.”
Serafina, a third-grader at Walnut Canyon Elementary School, remembered when Hale sent her a signed copy of her book, “I Want to Be a Champion: A Champion’s Letter to Kids with a Dream.”
The 9-year-old said she gave a class presentation on her “Aunt Sunny.”
“She wrote a note for me in the book saying, ‘To Serafina, follow your dreams and don’t give up! Good luck!’”
Rios said she’ll always remember Hale for never letting anyone dim her aspirations.
“She’s powerful because she set her own goals, she achieved those goals and she never allowed anyone to describe her weaknesses and strengths to her,” she said. “She defined what her strengths were.”
To learn more about Sunny Hale’s life and polo career, visit www.SunnyHalePolo.com.
This story was updated March 17, 2017 at 12:01 p.m. to correct the name of Sunny Hale's website.