Reminiscing on early childhood memories, Duane Hall begins to tell the story of how he became fascinated with sports. Growing up as an Army brat he says there were many teams and fan bases to choose from. Though, everything can be traced back to his grandparents and parents.
Every year as a child, his family would take trips to Farmington, Maine. Whenever there was a game on, "I would lay in bed listening to the Red Sox on the radio with my grandfather," he says, following up with a big "so I'm a diehard Red Sox fan. I've got them tattooed on my body, so I'll be with them forever."
"When I was younger, we were living in Virginia and I think I was four years old, at the time, and my dad had a bunch of buddies over and they were watching the football game," he says about how he choose a football team. "Well, there was a red team and a white team, which ended up being the Cowboys and the Washington Football Team (WFT) and everyone was cheering for the WFT and so I bet them that the white team would win," he continues, as he shares that he won the bet, got 25 cents, and became a Dallas Cowboys fan.
His love of sports continued into his adult life. But simply by accident, he was introduced to coaching.
After graduating college, Hall started to apply for teaching jobs. While he waited, he got a job at OHI, a company that supports individuals with intellectual disabilities. "One of the gentlemen in the group home was supposed to go to his Special Olympics track and field event, but nobody wanted to take him," Hall says. "I had just got done my overnight shift and I was wicked tired, but I took him, and I was just engrossed with the event and how much fun it was."
Soon after that, taking the residents to practice became a weekly thing, which ultimately led to Hall becoming the "coordinator at OHI and becoming a member of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Maine .” “I just fell in love with it," he says. And because of that love, Hall's daughter Rylie Hall became a part of the movement, too.
With enthusiasm in her voice, Rylie goes back in time to the moment she was introduced to Special Olympics. Since she could walk, she says, "I've always been a part of it, whether just helping at basketball practice or being a Unified partner , I've been doing it for as long as I can remember. He's always dragged me along."
With her dad having traveled across the world for Special Olympics events, Rylie now gets to experience some of the same: the two of them will attend the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, FL. Duane will serve as Special Olympics Maine’s Assistant Head of Delegation, working to help run things smoothly for the delegation while Rylie will be working on just one thing: going for gold.
"It's just exciting for me to be able to be a part of something that I've seen my dad do so many times," Rylie shares. In Orlando, Rylie will be a Unified partner in bowling and says having a team is great but "having that one-on-one (experience) you get to create a relationship and a bond with someone," she says is special.
Having just met her bowling partner, the two of them will now work to get to know one another and build chemistry, a key component to finding success in sports.
Special Olympics athlete Marie Bolstad says, “I am so psyched about being able to represent Maine at the USA Games” and gives being paired with Rylie “two thumbs up.” As a talented bowler, Bolstad is excited about the times she’ll get to practice with Rylie.
“I will see her at practices and maybe we can do a pen pal type of thing on the internet because she is going to be my friend and my partner during the whole thing,” Bolstad says.
“It is such a treat to be part of all this,” Bolstad’s mom says, adding to the excitement.
Due to COVID-19, the two might not be able to meet up as much as they like, but Rylie agrees with Bolstad in saying she hopes to make up for lost time at future USA Games practices. "We're friends on Facebook so we've had conversations there, but I'm looking forward to seeing her in person," she says.
Starting now until leaving for the Games, the Special Olympics Maine bowling team will get together once a month to practice. "Rylie will have those opportunities to connect face-to-face with Marie," her dad says while Rylie adds, "it's nice because I know a lot of the people who are on our bowling team so it's nice to be able to have those pre-existing relationships with people as well."
In what might seem like a cliche, but actually holds deep meaning, a common thread between Special Olympics coaches is they all get "hooked" once they’re introduced to the Special Olympics movement. Once Hall became involved, his family followed suit, finding an extended family they’ve immediately become deeply invested in. In a sorrowful tone, Hall describes how when a former softball athlete passed away, everyone he's met--past and present--in the Special Olympics organization reached out. He says, "people caring and being that family even when they're not still participating really means a lot to me.”
It's the relationships that matter most to both Rylie and Duane and make everything they do that much more meaningful. Hall says he's always been a "sports junkie" and reiterates that his love of sports is why he started coaching . "I like to see the athletes succeed," he says with a smile on his face. He once took an athlete to Winter Games who had never won anything in his life. "The tears that came down his face (when he won a medal), it moved me," Hall says. "To see that joy, that's what I want every athlete to feel."
Each athlete coached and each teammate of Rylie’s becomes a part of the Halls’ extended family. That’s the way it’s always been. As Rylie and Duane Hall prepare for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, they are certainly excited about all that’s to come, including meeting new people. It’s safe to say all those new faces will quickly become like family to the Halls.