- November 10, 2017
When West Orange and Dr. Phillips square off in football Sept. 7, Steve McHale and Nemea Hall will be on different sides of the field at Bill Spoone Stadium.
McHale, athletic director for the Panthers, will be on the home sideline in his trademark Dr. Phillips polo and hat.
Hall, a rising junior running back for the Warriors, will be suited up in orange and blue. He’ll be doing his best to pick up first downs and touchdowns for West Orange, while McHale will be cheering on the Dr. Phillips defense to slow him down.
It will be, in short, as any high-school sports rivalry ought to be.
Of course, none of that changes the fact that, when one was in a time of need, the other was there to help.
First, some background. Before McHale was a coach and later an athletic director, he served in the U.S. Marines Corps. On June 22, he was in El Paso, Texas, for a national conference for combat veterans. Along with several other of his fellow veterans, McHale is a motorcycle enthusiast, and so that day, he and a group went for a ride to the base of the nearby mountains, where there is a scenic overlook of the city.
Thanks to a freak accident, McHale ended up in the emergency room instead of taking in the splendor of the overlook he and his friends had sought out. As a result of the accident, his bike had slid from under him, leaving him with a fractured vertebrae in his back, a broken hand and road rash up and down both sides of his body.
After spending two days in the hospital, the Panthers’ athletic director was cleared to travel home to Orlando, but there was an additional problem. McHale and his family, who reside in Winter Garden, were supposed to be moving to a different neighborhood in Winter Garden at the beginning of July.
Eric Schwalbach, a neighbor of McHale’s and an active member in the local sports community, decided to help by bringing a trio of teens whom he had known through youth football to help with the move. Hall was among them.
McHale has known Hall since the standout running back was in elementary school; he was in the same class as McHale’s daughter. A few days of Hall and company helping to move furniture and boxes provided an opportunity for McHale to catch up with the young man he had known since he was scoring touchdowns in Pop Warner football.
“We talked about being so talented (at football) and making the right decisions,” McHale said. “We talked about his GPA and stuff he can do within the community.”
Part of the reason college football coaches from around the country are taking an interest in Hall is he stands 6 feet tall and weights a solid 210-pounds. He boasts an athletic frame that helps him break through tackles as he accelerates down the field. As a sophomore, he was dominant running the ball, culminating in bowl-game appearance where he rushed for five touchdowns and more than 300 yards against Lyman High.
He can be soft-spoken and shy outside of the game, though, and McHale wanted the community to know that there is more to the Winter Garden native than football.
“He’s got a big heart, and he’s a great kid,” McHale said. “He’s helping out the athletic director of a rival high school — which is unheard of in other parts.”
As much as anything, it was also a reminder of what the “rivalry love” that Orange County Public School’s Metro Conference likes to talk up actually looks like.
“I’m really good friends with (West Orange football coach) Bob Head, and my daughter is a senior at West Orange,” McHale said. “I support West Orange 100% every day that they’re not playing Dr. Phillips — there’s a lot of friendship and camaraderie.”