Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Willie Hall didn’t realize how this season would end, and how hard it would be on him emotionally. After 23 years as the head coach of the Brackenridge Eagles, Hall didn’t realize how fast his final year would go.
The end of his career seemed faster than the beginning, Hall said. When he was young, he said coaching was all he wanted to do, he could never imagine doing anything else with his life. That was before he had a wife and three kids.
Hall can remember getting his first coaching job at a middle school — he spent three years there at Bay City Middle School from 1980 to 1983, his players included some names serious sports fans will recognize. They included Oklahoma State University and future NFL wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes, University of Louisville and NBA guard LaBradford Smith, and Olympic gold medalist Joe DeLoach and was undefeated in those years. He quoted an old saying, he had the Jimmie’s and Joe’s, so all of his strategies work. Talent makes a difference in competition, something he learned when he moved up to the high school level.
The final game (not knowing)
As Hall stood on the sideline preparing himself for his team’s playoff game against Southwest Dragons High School on Dec. 10, 2020, a lot of things went through his mind in a flash. Maybe this year, Hall might win in a few games in a playoff run that he had been chasing.
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Whenever his Eagles lost, it would be the end of this journey in his life’s work: making a difference and mentoring kids on the football fields and in the classroom. Hall would retire from teaching and football at the end of the school year.
This year, Hall went undefeated through district play but lost in the crossover game. The loss cost him the district championship at the end of the season.
“It hit me before the game,” Hall said. “I kind of got to myself and was taking it all in. I had to take a few deep breaths. When the game was over, I felt like a ton of bricks fell off my back.”
Hall noted that as a coach, he was responsible for his team grades, and anything his kids did wrong, people were coming to him instead of the English teacher. Hall said he was a father figure to his players: that he watched them grow and then he’d see them go.
The game was hard-fought, but in the end, the Eagles could not score and missed out on opportunities. In the end, they came up short, 31-7. The Eagles ended the shortened season (5-2 overall and 4-0 in district).
“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Hall said. “When you take responsibility for that many kids, especially in the game we play; football is a contact game, it is dangerous. I got through it with no casualties and that was a blessing.”
After 23 years as head coach and 41 years total, Hall seems ready. His job at Brackenridge is highly sought after. Coaches from Florida, California and other parts of Texas are applying to be the head coach.
Black History Month
“It is very outstanding,” Hall said. “All that we have endured and been through (all these years.) It is crazy. I was watching TV and I told my wife ‘this is what happened in the ‘60s’. My wife told me ‘that it’s not the ‘60s, that is happening now.”
As a public figure, Hall is asked to speak at different events, and he is quick to preach racial harmony. Hall said he knows the world he lives in today is not as idealistic as the Roswell he grew up in.
Growing up in Roswell, Hall said it was about who he was as a person, and the good name his mother and father gave him and his sisters. Hall recalls being home on break from Eastern New Mexico and was pulled over by the police after leaving a party.
Hall said he and his friends were told to get out of the car and assume the push-up position. The officer asked him his name and Hall told him. The officer told him to get up and asked him what he was doing. Hall told the officer he was home for Christmas break. The officer told his partner that Hall was OK and let them go.
“Roswell has always treated me and my family well,” Hall said. “I was the benefactor of the name Willie Hall. I enjoyed growing up in Roswell. When I was a kid, I could stay outside until 10 p.m. playing and not worry about anyone doing anything to me. Those were the good old days, that’s the kind of environment I grew up in. My parents steered us in the right direction.”
Hall tells his three children that education is so important, without an education they cannot go far in life. He tells them it is important to be able to read, write and communicate properly with all people. That is done by having a proper education. Without an education, Hall tells his children it will be hard for them to support themselves and their families.
“I tell my athletes,” Hall said, “you work hard in sports and if you don’t take care of business in the classroom, then you have wasted an opportunity to better your life through education. Having an opportunity to get an education will allow you to compete in the job market for a successful future.”
Hall said it all started with his parents, Ruth and Willie Hall. His parents would instill a great work ethic in him and his sisters. He said if they didn’t get it in their head by talking, then his parents made sure they drove the message home through tough love.
“My parents stressed to all the siblings that education is the key, and treating people the same way you want to be treated,” Hall said. “The biggest lesson they taught me was, no one is better than me, and I’m no better than anyone else.”
Hall was a dad to countless athletes regardless of color. He said he didn’t see color, only people and athletes that wanted to win and to have a better life for themselves.
“For my dad and me,” Hall said, “it was never about skin color. Dad made me realize that to be a good man, it was about doing the right thing. Doing the right thing meant taking the time to do it right the first time and to be responsible for your actions.
“As a coach, I wanted to help young men be the best versions of themselves, so they could provide for themselves and their families. I want kids in 20 years to come back and see me after they have lived their dreams,” Hall said. “I hope every kid I coached lives their dream. If they do that, then I will have done my job and had a successful journey.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.