Just ask any of the former great boxers that fought in Roswell. They know what it is like to duck a punch and take a punch. They also know what it is like to get hit flush on the jaw, get knocked down, and have to get back up to win.
Boxers such as Ray Baca, Raymond Anaya and the “Magnificent Seven” — to name a few great fighters in Roswell — would use their skills learned as boxers to be successful in other areas of their lives.
Willie Hall is one fighter that knows what it is like to survive until the round ends, get to his corner and listen to instructions from his coach, who happened to be his dad, Willie Hall Sr.
Hall used those boxing skills he learned in the ring to earn a football scholarship to Eastern New Mexico. He parlayed that into a pro football tryout with the San Antonio Gunslingers in the U.S. Football League in 1983. Because of the nature of boxing, Hall did what his dad asked him to do: make a living using his brain instead of his fist.
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Hall has put down roots in San Antonio, Texas, and has become a teacher and football coach at Brackenridge High School for the last 41 years and the last 27 years as the head football coach. Hall joined the Eagles’ coaching staff in 1983 and was promoted to head coach 12 years later. Hall will retire at the end of this football season.
“I enjoy what I do,” Hall said. “I love coaching, I love the kids that I’m coaching and I love where I’m at. The community has been good to me. Brackenridge is like home. It seems like when people come to the San Antonio Independent School District, they stay a couple of years and they move on. I’m invested in the community. I had some opportunities that could have taken me away from Brackenridge to more prestigious schools, but I just felt obligated to stay. I would have felt bad leaving those kids because I know what they have to go through every day. I felt like these kids need good coaches, too. For me, staying was never about the money, it was about the kids.”
Getting to 150 wins
Hall, who turned 64 in February, is the longest-tenured active head football coach at one school in San Antonio. Hall is a mentor to the community in which the school has a lot of inner-city kids. Hall has tried to pass on the principles that his father taught him growing up. For Hall, the job has always been more about the people than the game he coaches.
Under Hall, the team has been excellent on the field as well as off of it. Hall has the most wins in the San Antonio Independent School District history with 143 wins and 120 losses. His teams have made the playoffs 15 times. He has coached NFL players such as former Cowboys wide receiver Sam Hurd and Ramon Richards of the Los Angeles Rams.
“I have 143 wins,” Hall said. “I would like to reach 150. I’m going to have to win a playoff game to do it. It’s a milestone (150). Hopefully, we don’t slip. We have enough — we’re like the Kansas City Chiefs.
One of the highlights of his coaching career has been to be able to coach both of his sons. William Hall was a cornerback and graduated in 2017. He will be a senior at the Red McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin when school starts. His youngest son, Wesley is a sophomore this season and will play wide receiver and defensive back.
“I coached one of my boys (William)” Hall said, “and it was good. I’m getting my other son started and I want to be a fan and go up in the stands and watch him play. I’m really a true coach to my son. I treat him like I do the rest of my players. We didn’t talk football on the way home unless he brought it up.”
Hall starts practice Monday, and his Eagles will only play a district schedule. His team is ranked No. 9 in the preseason polls. They will play in pods in the school district. With eight teams in a pod, whoever wins one pod will play the other pod in the championship to represent the district in the playoffs.
COVID-19 prepares Hall for retirement
“I’m going to miss the kids and coaches,” Hall said. “I’m looking forward to having more time to do other things. I have a bucket list and I would like to travel to Africa. I want to see what Africa is really like. I heard it is a beautiful country, that it is (as) modern as some of the cities as the United States.”
While Hall had been thinking about retirement for the last two years, that point was really driven home when one of his good friends Sonny Detmer, who coaches against him died two weeks ago. Hall attended Detmer’s funeral on Monday.
Detmer is the father of Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer of Brigham Young University. He attended his wake and funeral. Detmer was 76 years old and coaching when he died. Detmer and Hall’s teams opened the season playing against each other for the past four years.
“I have been thinking about retirement for a couple of years,” Hall said. “Everything comes to an end. I turn 65 in February. I see people around me and I’m the longest tenure coach. I’ve had a long good run and sometimes you can overstay your welcome with 38 years at the same school. I’d also like to sit up in the stands and holler at the coaches the way fans always hollered at me.”
Hall and his wife Olivia will travel and enjoy life. For a man that has always been on the go with football and boxing, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for him to retire. Being off since last March has given him an appreciation for his family and being able to enjoy them in ways he never could have if he would have been coaching. He has done things he has always wanted to do.
Hall has won the Texas State boxing tournament for the last three years. He wanted to return to Roswell, but time and situations always prevented him from coming back.
One of his favorite memories is the knocking heads in the spring and the way Texas eats, sleeps and lives football. In 2013, his team beat the No. 7 team in the state of Texas in the first round of the playoffs that year. His Eagles kicked a field goal with 10 seconds to go in the game to win 21-20.
“I want to be remembered as a man that worked hard at my craft,” Hall said. “I enjoyed being around kids and kids enjoyed me. It killed me to lose. I was a winner and I wanted my kids to be a winner, too. The environment the kids come from is not always good. I tried to teach young men to be young men and to be responsible in life.”
Hall thinks about his dad all of the time. He owns boxing gloves signed by all of the boxing greats. He feels his dad’s spirit with him every day of his life. He feels like the most important lesson his dad taught him was to be a man and to take responsibility for what is yours and what is right — and to always be a man.
For Hall, those words might have sounded easier, but it meant simple things like putting food on the table, having a roof over your head, and clothes on your back. Taking responsibility for any and everything that goes on around you, in your home and with your family. For Hall, those are manly characteristics that some people want to shriek off today. It was important to my dad that I was a good man, not just a man, but a good man.
Hall thought about it and what his dad would say to him if he were still living: “Well done, son, well done.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.