When I first met Emerald Ridge High football co-coach Troy Halfaday, I hated him.
And for years after that first meeting, whenever other students my age talked about their favorite teachers growing up, Halfaday was always mentioned. Yet, I still hated him.
Let me back up and explain my first meeting with Coach Half, to give a little context.
It was 1999, and Halfaday was a new coach on the Ballou Junior High coaching staff. I was in ninth grade, having already played with the team for a few games a year before.
Here I was at lunch in the middle of the first day of school, talking with my friends how I always talked. And then Halfaday introduced himself to me. In that one moment, Halfaday called me out for swearing (quite loudly) as I conversed with my friends.
That day’s practice, in full gear holding my helmet on a particularly hot September day, Halfaday said the punishment was simple: 10 pushups for every curse he heard.
By his count, that was five, but knowing full well he was being generous.
“One, two, three, three, three, four, four,” Halfaday called out as he changed up the pattern in various forms, until he was satisfied.
“Sometimes Half’s harder on the kids that need it more because they lack that discipline elsewhere in life,” said Emerald Ridge co-coach Darren Erath, who was a student-teacher at Ballou as well as a part of the Rogers High football staff in 1999. “Sometimes they don’t see it until a few years after high school that they needed someone who would hold them accountable. He’s always been the person who would be hard on a kid, but then go the extra mile and see how their doing outside of football, take them out for dinner just so they feel connected to an adult that cares.”
Let me be clear: I don’t hate Troy Halfaday, and I never really did. In fact, looking back on those days are found memories of mine as I realized I was one of those kids who didn’t know they needed that structure, not until well after high school.
“Having our son being around all of (Emerald Ridge’s) coaches, but especially Troy, and how he will be fair with everyone, hold every player accountable — I believe it was the right choice,” said Jeri Rankin, who, along with her husband Scott, used their background in the military to help build structure for their son, Brett.
This past summer, after going out to Emerald Ridge’s Junior Jags football camp, I was reminded of that time so many years ago.
There was Halfaday, haggard looking and beaten down from life. Only a handful of months prior, he gave the eulogy to one of his closest friends, Krystal Skoda, while dealing with the harsh new realities he and his wife Julie are going through now.
On top of all of the personal strife he was dealing with, Halfaday was still there for the Emerald Ridge football team, as he wore the pride for his team and community quite literally on his sleeve.
“We have this thing where if you need to go, you can just go,” said Erath about the ER coaching staff’s practice of allowing coaches and players to deal with family matters when they arise. “He had the option of taking time away, but he chose to be here for these players. You would see him move around all over practice, finding time to stop with all the teams as well as talk with the parents. He lives this team’s motto more than anyone.”
That summer practice I was reminded of one particular day, weeks past my first meeting with Halfaday. On a rainy day I headed off Ballou’s campus toward Meridian, beginning my two-mile trip home carrying a bag full books on my back with my football equipment in one hand and a trombone case in another. As I exited the school grounds, Halfaday pulled up and asked if everything was alright and if I needed a lift home.
That was just the beginning of who Troy Halfaday is as a coach, and as a person.
“All the coaches on the staff reach out to our players and spend the extra time with them,” Erath said. “But Troy goes beyond that.”
Seeing Halfaday that summer day, I did what any person should do in seeing those small moments of weakness. I asked him how he was doing, starting a six-month long dialog about a community coming together to heal in the hardest of times.
I reached out to Troy and Julie to discuss their personal story in connection to the Skoda family series I recently completed, but with the holidays and Julie’s illness, I wanted to respect the Halfaday family’s privacy in the matter.
“The scoreboard doesn’t matter,” Halfaday told me earlier this year during an interview for the Skoda piece. “The only thing that matters is the game of life. When you step off that field, all the stats, and the wins and the losses go away. What matters most is how you hold yourself, and what you take away from this game. Because football will end, but life away from the field never does.”
But Troy Halfaday has demonstrated what his mantra means — the game of life matters most. This is from a man who is helping define a community in his own little corner of South Hill.
The Legacy of Krystal Skoda
Part 3: A strong source of inspiration for one family going through tough circumstances.