It was a sad day on Thursday for the many people that loved coaching legend Willie Hall Sr. It was seven years since his presence was felt on this earth. A rare few that had the privilege of knowing him and being trained by him, Hall Sr. still lives on in the athletes he trained, what he was able to pull out of them and produced in their lives with his deeds and words.
Hall Sr. lives on through the many fighters he taught not only to defend themselves inside the ring but outside of the ring. Hall Sr. taught them to throw a jab, to duck a punch and how to counter on offense and defense. He knew that each fighter, whether his own or their opponents, had a weakness and all he had to do was watch them warm up and he would be able to tell his fighters how to attack their opponent.
What Hall Sr. instilled in his fighters was if they would do the grunt work and grind before it was fashionable to say grind. His fighters would win the close fights, fights when they had nothing left in them to give.
This is the moment Hall Sr. prepared his fighters for when there was no one with them in the ring and it was just them and their opponent and both were exhausted. It would come down to who wanted it more. He wanted his fighters to know that moment in the ring was life in itself all about the guts they had and the will to keep pushing through to become a champion. Once his fighters experienced that breakthrough and became a champion, they would never go back to average. It is in the ring that Hall Sr. was about teaching his fighters to believe in themselves and to figure it out, no matter who was in front of them.
He taught them to rely on themselves and gut the fight out to the end whether they won or lost. Hall Sr. taught his fighters if they did their best they were already winners. He taught them sometimes you win and sometimes you give it your best and the opponent is better than you on that given day, but not always.
He gave his boys confidence in themselves, discipline to get up and run at 5 a.m. and train when others were doing the now things that bring gratification for the moment but wasn’t lasting in the long run. Hall Sr. taught his boys a work ethic and character that it took the tone of a champion inside the ring and out.
There were many times when he would talk to his fighters when driving to fights and ask them questions about their personal lives, not to pry but to get to know them as a person. Because he was a role model, a lot of his fighters worked teaching boxing to give back to the community of Roswell. He felt like boxing gave kids a chance to achieve in life, to become somebody and increase their self-esteem. Boxing gave kids a chance to make a difference in the lives of others.
“He taught us about life,” Ray Baca said, “character, sportsmanship and brotherhood. His focus and training were boxing, his teaching went beyond boxing.
When Hall Sr.’s fighters were crowned Golden Gloves champions, they would expect the best from themselves and they would never go back to living the ordinary life when he had taught them the secret passage of being a champion: If you don’t take any shortcuts and you dedicate yourself to a goal, you can win inside the ring and outside the ring.
He taught his boys to have confidence in themselves and their talents. He also taught them to rely on God for direction.
Where it all began
Hall Sr. was born in the year of the Great Depression in 1928 and was one of the original Horatio Alger stories where he pulled himself up by his own work ethic and bootstraps to forge a life of his choosing. He made a difference in the lives of others because of his own tough upbringing. His mother Ethel and his father Horace separated when he was young. His mother would die when he was 14 years old.
Hall Sr. was the benefactor of a kind man looking out for him. One day a bunch of men gave him some boxing gloves and taught him to box in order to give him something to do and stay out of trouble. He fell in love with the sport and began to live it and fight on the Golden Gloves circuit.
An accomplished fighter in his own right, Hall Sr. fought some of the best boxers in history: Jersey Joe Walcott, Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey and another fighter you might have heard of — Muhammad Ali — both men became friends and would spar together.
Hall Sr. boxed in the Golden Gloves for 18 years, winning several titles including the Mexican National Title. He also boxed with the Air Force team as a welterweight. He was so good at fighting and giving advice that his teammates talked him into coaching.
Because of his tough upbringing, he wanted everyone to get an education and have a better life than he had; and he certainly wanted it for his seven children: daughters Sondra Butler, Shirley and Gwen Hall, Deborah Warner and Loretta Boyd; and his sons, Willie Hall Jr. and Corey.
“It was very important for his kids to excel academically,” Hall Jr. said. “He didn’t feel like professional boxing was a clean game and he wanted me to have options with an education. Dad didn’t want boxing to be a way of life for me.”
School of hard knocks
Hall Sr. didn’t have the opportunity to get an education, but along the way he developed a work ethic and the knowledge he gave his fighters was through the school of hard knocks. He found employment at Shoe Smith and for over 40 years he worked for Ginsberg Music Co.; he was also a licensed welder, and he did janitorial work. Through those jobs, he taught his fighters and family the first important lesson in their boxing lives: “There is no free lunch in life.”
For many years, Hall Sr. trained boxers at the Ava Maria Center, Roswell Police Department and the New Mexico Military Institute where he coached from 1982-92, the Roswell Boys and Girls Club in the ‘60s, and ABC (Any Boy Can) ‘80s, Roswell Rock Boxing Club. For many years, Hall Sr. was selected to take his fighters to the state and national competitions. Many of his fighters have been selected to the New Mexico Boxing Hall of Fame.
Impact on others
For his efforts to the youth and boxing in Roswell, former Roswell mayor Bill Owen proclaimed Willie Hall Sr. Day.
Hall Sr. was so beloved that Roswell held the Willie Hall Invitational that was sanctioned by USA Boxing on Sept. 22, 2001.
“The streets of gold were built for Golden Gloves,” former mayor of Roswell Del Jurney stated at Hall Sr.’s passing.
Willie Hall Sr. lives on through his former boxers: The Anaya brothers, also known as the “Magnificent Seven,” Ron “Chubby” Brown, Ray Baca and most importantly his son: Willie Hall Jr., a former five-time state champion.
“At that time,” Hall Jr. said, “being a champion was an expectation.”
Hall Jr. had an opportunity to play for the San Antonio Gunslingers in the United States Football League, but they didn’t want to give him a guaranteed contract just as he was given his first job at Bay City Middle School. His father gave him the advice of choosing stability in a career over football. The league folded after three seasons.
With that, Hall Jr. took his degree he earned at Eastern New Mexico University and settled in on a coaching and teaching career where he has been the head coach at Breckenridge for 24 years with a record of 137-120. Hall Jr. has made the playoffs 10 out of the past 11 seasons. He has learned his coaching lessons well, becoming the all-time winningest coach in the history of the San Antonio Independent School District.
Hall Jr. has coached players that have either played Division I college sports or pro football and basketball. Players like Sam Hurd, Ramon Richards, Tremaine Butler, Earon Holmes, Hart Lee Dykes, NBA guard LaBradford Smith and Olympic gold medalist Joe DeLoach who beat Carl Lewis in the 200 meters at the Olympics.
“I think the biggest thing my dad taught me,” Hall Jr. said, “was to treat people right and to treat women right. My dad was a very patient and passionate man about life, boxing and his family.”
Hall Jr. still coaches boxing and has been the head coach for the San Antonio Parks and Recreation — called the San Fernando Boxing Gym. He has taken his boxing team to the state tournament seven times and has won it back-to-back twice.
“My dad inspired me to coach,” Hall Jr. said. “I thought it was a great thing to teach young boys how to be men — those are characteristics that I don’t think will ever leave me. That’s what it was all about, not so much boxing but at the end of the day. My dad was teaching a lot of young boys how to be young men — that was the end goal.”
In summing up the legend of Hall Sr., as a boxing coach, it was said he was so good as a coach, he could take his fighters and beat your fighters and your fighters and beat his. That’s a testament to his skills in knowing the boxing game and knowing people.
“My dad was a provider,” Shirley Hall said. “He worked hard and he was stricter on the girls. He loved his family and had a lot of pride in his family.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.