HAMMOND — We've all met people who have spent hour upon hour telling us how great they are.
Once the white noise finally ends, we roll our eyes and move on knowing the absolute truth. Or lies in such a case as this.
Robert Hall would never be accused of such a thing. The Morton boys basketball coach died Tuesday after a losing battle with cancer was only about one thing.
And it was never about him.
"Everything he did was for the kids," said friend and Morton scorekeeper Julie Kopanda at Wednesday night's 91-85 win over E.C. Central. "He loved these kids."
For 30-plus years Hall, a 1965 Gary Tolleston grad, taught and coached in the Hammond school district. One wasn't any more important than the other. Hall taught special needs students at Morton, which often isn't an easy task.
"Robert was drama free," Kopanda said. "He just did his best for the kids. It was never about him."
In December, our staff had a long conversation after the death of Lighthouse coach Marvin Rea. We were trying to recall if the Region had ever had a coach die in the middle of a season. No name or story came to our mind. We were not sure. Certainly, now with us losing our second coach of the 2017-18 season, such a tragedy has never happened before.
Now, good folks, is the time for our tears.
The 70-year-old Hall planned on retiring after last school year, when he led the Governors to the Class 4A Sectional 1 championship game. But when Morton student Obed Garcia died last summer, Hall had to rethink his future. After much meditation, his mind turned.
"He told me he had to come back this year," Kopanda said. "He said the kids needed him."
I felt this love connection deeply talking to the Governors after their big win over E.C., which was the program's first win against the Cardinals in school history. A photograph of coach Hall was at one end of the court and the players ran to it and touched it, like a moth drawn to a flame. One that still burns after his passing.
"We came out and played together," Morton senior guard Kristofer Mingo said. "We did it for coach. His presence will be missed. Yes, he's going to be here spiritually. But I'm going to miss him being here physically."
Kristofer, I understand your pain. But you've hit on the most important thing. Your relationship with coach Hall, even before his passing, was a spiritual one. When you heard his loved voice and his shoes walking across the court, this was spiritual.
Love can be physical. But the eternal kind is that which is most important.
Governors, I beseech you all, to allow Hall's light to lead you on into the rest of your days. Work hard. Believe in yourself and the future. Do the right things no matter what others tell you.
Please keep Hall's wife, Rogercarol, and his daughter, Simone, in your prayers. This is a very difficult time for them, of course.
Kopanda heard a story of how in his final days a weakened Hall was still drawing up plays on papers near his bed. For 22 years she watched Hall before games showing nerves, pacing around, treating every game like it was his first.
"He was so passionate," Kopanda said. "He wanted his kids to win every game."
Robert Hall was a great man, a quiet, confident person who worked very hard while often the spotlight shined on others. He didn't care. His love for his students was his light.
And it is still shining today.