MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Muskegon High School football community rallied around a mourning player and parent as the Big Reds awarded one of their highest honors to someone who never played a single down.
Anthony “A.T” Hall is a key part of the perennial football powerhouse. He’s not a star or even a starter, but he’s one of the Big Reds’ most respected players.
“There’s no one that works harder than A.T. I mean, A.T. is a teammate, he’s a friend, but I tell you, man, he’s dependable and he’s gained a lot of people’s trust,” head coach Shane Fairfield said.
A.T. is a backup wide receiver, defensive back and special teams stalwart — not to mention a straight-A student now in his senior year. A team leader, he has become someone his teammates can turn to.
“He really strong. He keeps his head high no matter what’s going on around him,” teammate Keyante Carpenter said. ” That’s why I like to talk to him about my problems. He know how to handle situations and be positive about it.”
“That’s just who I am. I love helping people. I love giving advice,” A.T. told 24 Hour News 8. “But I feel like when people come to me or I can go to them now, it really means a lot.”
Even in these, A.T.’s most difficult days.
“17 years old but the wisdom of a 40-year-old man,” his father, Anthony Hall Sr., said. “And I kid you not, there’s been times he’s helped me out.”
Hall Sr. is a pastor. He moved his family to Michigan from Tennessee more than a decade ago.
“The ministry brought us here,” he said.
A.T. fell in love with football. His mother, Donyetta, was his biggest fan, attending nearly every one of his games.
“She’d set up in the stands over there a little bit, but you know she was always here,” A.T. said.
But on Oct. 16, the night of the Big Reds’ matchup against Mona Shores — the biggest game of the year and of A.T.’s senior season — Donyetta was unable to attend due to illness.
“She hadn’t felt good for a couple days,” Coach Fairfield said.
“Had been having some chills since that Wednesday,” Hall Sr. recalled.
The Big Reds lost the game.
The Halls lost much more.
Donyetta died unexpectedly in her sleep that night. She had just turned 35 years old.
“It was just unspeakable,” her husband said.
On Nov. 7, the Big Reds returned to Mona Shores to meet the unbeaten Sailors in a playoff game for the district title. There, on the field that A.T. could not help but associate with loss, the Big Reds won.
After the game, Coach Fairfield made a special presentation to A.T.
“It was three weeks ago one of our young men lost his mom this night. And no one ever has ever worn the Big Red No. 1,” Fairfield said that night.
Not during Fairfield’s tenure, anyway. Not since former head coach Tony Annesse took the number out of player circulation more than a decade ago.
“It was about 2002 that we got rid of the No. 1,” explained said. “Everybody always fought over it and Tony was like, ‘I didn’t want to think one person was like he was the number one person.’ So we never had it since.”
He gave A.T. a large wrapped package. Inside was a jersey bearing No. 1. It was for Donyetta.
“This game and this moment is about you and your mom being Muskegon’s No. 1 fan,” Fairfield said after the game. “No one’s ever had the No. 1 jersey again, OK. His mother will always be No. 1 Muskegon, in our hearts and in his heart. Wherever he goes in college, wherever he goes in his professional life, he’ll remember you guys and his mom being No. 1. We love you, A.T.”
The jersey number is now officially retired. It will always be Donyetta’s.
“Big Red football is more than just football, it’s more like a family, so it meant a lot and it really touched my heart and I knew my teammates, they care about me,” A.T. told 24 Hour News 8 on the night he was given the jersey.
“To let him know we care, that we’re here for him. We all grew up together, we faced the same struggles, we stick to together, we’re going to get through it, that all it’s about: family,” Carpenter, A.T.’s teammate, said.
“I cried,” Anthony Hall Sr. said. “I watched as much as I could, and then I couldn’t watch anymore. Just to see the love that the kids and the coaches and Muskegon staff showed as a whole, it was phenomenal.”
The framed jersey Fairfield gave A.T. now hangs on the wall in the Hall’s home.
Donyetta would be “overjoyed,” Hall Sr. said.
“I know she’s smiling down right now, so it really means a lot,” A.T. said. “Now she’s an angel in the sky.”
He said he has no doubt his mother will be with him this Friday in Lowell as the Big Reds meet the Red Arrows in a matchup for the regional title.