The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 20, 2013

A Don McCormack column: Frank Hall — the man we know as our hometown hero — thanks to SI, now the world does, too

By DON McCORMACK - donmac@suite224.net
Sports Editor

JEFFERSON — Sorry, Frank Hall, you’re going to have to get some new material now. But we’ll get to that later.

The first-year head football coach at Lakeside High School graces the cover of Sports Illustrated, going with the wonderful story by the great Gary Smith. The story, headlined, “A Coach’s Courage,” chronicles Hall’s heroic actions during the tragic shootings at Chardon High School.

With him on the cover, not surprisingly, the 1992 Harbor High School graduate was thrust back into the spotlight Wednesday and he was once again in high demand.

“It’s truly humbling, and not something I was out for,” the former football and wrestling great at Harbor said last night. “Every television station in Cleveland showed up at our football field today and my phone’s been blowing up.”

But Hall, his wife, Ashley, and their four boys realize it comes with the territory after his amazing actions that day, Feb. 27, 2012. Three students were shot and killed that day by T.J. Lane, two others were hospitalized, one of whom required extensive rehabilitation and was left paralyzed and a sixth student received a superficial wound.

However, it could have been even worse if not for the actions of the burly Hall, who literally chased an armed killer out of the building.

“I know, it sounds crazy,” he said. “But in all honesty, I really didn’t think about anything... I just reacted.”

Which is why in the aftermath, when not only the reality, but the enormity of the tragic killings and what he had done set in.

“About half an hour afterward, I sent Ashley a text and said, ‘I’m OK,’” Hall said. “Then, a few hours later, my principal pulled me aside and said, ‘Frank, you have to call your wife.’”

And that, Hall admits, was a difficult conversation.

“I told Ashley, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said. “When I realized what happened and how I reacted, it really hit me — I could have left my four boys forever and left my wife a widow.

“Now, that scares me to my core.”

That day, though, it didn’t, and because of that, who knows how many lives Frank Hall’s heroism saved?

But that’s not what the humble big guy is focusing on.

“When you think about all these shootings across the country, or the bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon, I worry about our society,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons I’m willing to still talk about this is that we, as a society, cannot lose our outrage when these kinds of tragedies happen. We can’t just get to the point where we accept these kinds of things as just part of our lives, now.

“We have to make sure we, as a people, don’t stand for this... we don’t accept it... we can’t!”

Smith, whose stature in the business of writing allows him to be extremely selective in the projects he undertakes, spent considerable time with Hall and his family.

“When Gary called, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do something like this,” he said. “But the more we talked, the more comfortable I became. He told me he does only four stories a year for Sports Illustrated.

“Then, he came and spent seven days around me and my family. I told him, ‘Gary, I don’t know what you’re going to find to write about...my life isn’t that interesting. It’s pretty boring’

“But he did a wonderful job with the whole thing and while I am truly humbled, I am also very appreciative.”

As far as his “new material” goes, whenever he makes a public-speaking appearance, Hall would talk about how Ashley would answer the telephone, then yell to him, “Honey, it’s Sports Illustrated on the phone. They want to talk to you.”

Thinking it was perhaps a writer, such as Smith, for example, who wanted to talk to him for a story, he would rush to the phone, only to hear, “Is this the man of the house? We would like to make you a subscription offer.”

Obviously, it would bring the house down.

“It was a made-up, funny story I would tell to, in all honesty, calm me down because I’m anything but a great public speaker and I get nervous,” he said with a laugh. “But it served as a nice icebreaker and it seemed to make everyone laugh and settle things down.”

Now, though, he’ll need a new line or two, because that call actually came and it had nothing to do with a subscription.

“Absolutely, I’ll need something else, now,” Hall said with a laugh.

In the meantime, Hall hopes some normalcy is setting in for his Dragons program, which has struggled mightily the past few seasons, including a 1-9 mark in 2013.

“That seems to be happening,” he said. “The guys are starting to buy into and accept the things we’re doing, the messages we’re trying to deliver about being a family and about loving each other.

“And about being responsible, mature young adults who carry themselves with dignity, pride and class and treat people the right way and do the right thing, every day.”

And who better to deliver that message than Ashtabula’s own Sports Illustrated cover guy, Frank Hall, living proof that heroes aren’t made... they’re born, and they prove it in not only their actions, but their reactions.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.