Coach Hall

Magazine of CA

Personal Best

September 4, 2019

Ask most Cary Academy alumni to name a faculty figure who has changed the course of their lives and Conrad Hall’s name comes up time and time again. Whether sparking new passions for history, developing championship-winning cross country and track and field teams, or stewarding a tightly-knit community of running alumni, Hall has been instrumental in shaping the CA community.

Joining CA in 1998—the school’s early days—Hall was initially drawn by the opportunity to meaningfully pursue his tandem passions of teaching and coaching. It is his approach to both—the very embodiment of CA’s core values of discovery, excellence, collaboration, and community— that has made the partnership a natural and impactful long-term fit.

“To be able to share my love of both history and running—to have the opportunity to shape CA’s history curriculum, as well as its track and field and cross country programs from the very beginning, to develop them, to build that community—it was, and continues to be, exciting work,” offers Hall.

For Hall, teaching and coaching have always been different sides of the same coin, each offering unique chances to shape student trajectories, build character, and foster community.

A high school track star—Hall has five NCISAA individual event championships, three state cross country championships, four state track and field championships, and numerous local running records under his belt— he credits the “immensely positive and important” role that his own high school coaches played with helping him successfully navigate the waters of high school and beyond. “My high school math teacher and track coach has been a powerful role model, mentor, and guide throughout my time in high school and beyond, even to the present day,” Hall explains.

It was those powerful coaching experiences that led Hall to teaching. While double-majoring in history and political science at Duke University and captaining the track and cross country teams, he found himself increasingly drawn to secondary education. He ultimately pursued a Master of Arts in Teaching, motivated by the chance to positively shape his students’ lives in much the same way his mentors had his.

“I had experienced first-hand the positive impact that a good coach can have and the benefit of being part of a team,” Hall explains. “I realized how both teaching and coaching could allow me to help people learn and grow. I knew that it was what I wanted to do.”

At the heart of Hall’s approach is an effort to strike a productive balance between guiding students and allowing them the freedom to chart their own paths. A philosophy of finding a healthy balance—between academics, community, family, individual success, shared goals, joy, and adversity—figures prominently. “I hope to be a role model by living that balance, to show that it’s okay to pursue your goals and seek out success, but that you need to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and personally, along the way.”

For Hall, his commitment to his craft extends beyond test results, records, and titles to something much larger: “Both in the classroom and with my teams, helping my students and athletes learn and grow, to be stronger, more confident, more capable, and more caring people—that is what I am passionate about, that is what I look forward to every day.”

In the classroom, that means making history relevant to his students in ways that help them grow and relate to their community and the world. “History is replete with individual examples of courage and striving,” Hall explains. “Whether reflecting humanity at its best or worst, it provides compelling insights into who we are as human beings, and how we deal with the complex challenges of life.”

Hall uses those observations to connect with his students and student athletes alike, applying the lens of the past to help them glean insights into, not only current events, but challenges they might by facing in their own lives, whether at home, in the classroom, on the track or trail, in their community, or the broader world.

On the coaching side, Hall builds his teams around a no-cut concept that emphasizes a balance between individual growth and group successes. It is a philosophy that has set the tone for a program that has amassed a combined seven NCISAA State Championships, 21 State Runners-Up, and 26 TISAC Conference Championships and crafted a tight-knit community of runners whose bonds remain active across graduating classes, even years after commencement.

“Everyone likes to win, but it’s about so much more than that,” explains Hall. “There might be a few hundred people in a race, but only one person can win. Running is a sport that embraces a supportive growth mindset.” Some of the best members of the cross country and track and field teams are not the fastest runners, according to Hall. Instead, they are those that add intangibly to the team’s sense of camaraderie, through their pursuit of personal growth and strident support of their teammates and even rival runners.

“I wasn’t the best runner on the team,” notes alum Connor Riser ’12, “but I never felt unimportant or had a performance held against me. To that end: we were State runners-up all four years I ran for CA; three years after I graduated, the team won their first championship, and Coach Hall made sure I felt included in that celebration.”

For Hall and many of his athletes and alumni, running isn’t just an after-school activity; it’s a joyful, transformative experience that imparts lessons—about teamwork, leadership, community, and personal growth—to broader parts of their lives beyond the track. Those lessons and the friendships born on the cross country and track teams have made for a community whose closeness surprises even Hall, as many have remained close friends and even business partners.

“Conrad’s passion is contagious; it built this community,” says Bryan Fisher ’03, who briefly returned to CA as an assistant coach after college, before starting his own business. “His vision for the program and challenging us to set our own goals, to recognize our limits, and choose our priorities was inspiring. He was my first mentor.”

That closeness is on display each fall, as CA alums who graduated 10, 15, and nearly 20 years ago return for the annual cross country alumni meet. “Starting at CA, even before we had a graduating class, I always talked with my runners about how cool it would be to have an alumni meet,” explains Hall. “As soon as we actually had alumni, we had an alumni meet.”

For Hall and his runners, the alumni meet is a low-key, low-stress fun time for alumni to get-together. It also gives the varsity team a chance to connect with their CA predecessors, who help to mentor a new generation of Charger runners while renewing their bonds to the school. “It’s almost like a second Homecoming for this group, and it makes them feel very connected,” remarks Hall.

For those who can’t make it to the alumni meet, Hall serves as the point of connection for many alumni. He maintains living histories and running logs for the cross country and track and field teams, highlighting historical milestones and apprising the programs’ alumni of the current teams’ achievements. Fisher explains it simply: “Conrad is our point of connection. Even if we didn’t go to school together, we have the shared experience of being coached by Conrad Hall.”

For Hall, the opportunity to inspire growth, year after year, in new groups of students and runners—now stretching across generations—is what keeps him moving forward. “Every student has the ability to become the best person they can be. We should do everything we can today to be the best we can, then wake up tomorrow and be better. I’m hoping to help them on that journey.

Meet the Match

Beyond spurring him to teach and coach, Hall’s education also inspired a passionate advocacy for need-based financial aid. “Without need-based aid, I would not have had access to the education I was fortunate enough to receive. I don’t know where I would be without it, but I know I would not be here,” offers Hall.

Three years ago, Hall was able to advance his fervent belief, not only in expanding access to need-based aid but also endorsing a healthy balance between self, community, joy, and hard work, with the foundation of the Coach Conrad Hall Endowment. Established through a gift from his parents in 2018, the endowment provides need-based financial aid for a CA scholar-athlete dedicated to embodying excellence while finding a balance between school, home, and sport.

This year, inspired by the impact that Coach Hall has had on their lives and the broader Cary Academy community, cross country alumni Joel Blondy ’07 and Rachael Blondy ’10, along with their mother Mary, have created a matching challenge—Meet the Match—in support of the Coach Conrad Hall Endowment Fund. “I would not be the person I am today without him… he was always there to inspire and challenge us,” offers Joel Blondy.

In turn, Mary, Rachael, and Joel are now challenging the Cary Academy alumni community to honor Coach Hall and his commitment to need-based financial aid. The Blondys will match, dollar for dollar, each gift made to the endowment by alumni through June 30, 2020, up to $50,000.

When asked about the challenge, Hall remarked, “I am just absolutely humbled by it. Knowing that it is being built by alumni who have been through the program, that they value the impact it has had on their lives, even to this day, and feel compelled to give back—it makes it all the more meaningful.”

“I think everybody should be rooting for Coach Hall because he’s always rooting for everybody else,” says Bryan Fisher ’03. “A lot of people, including myself, give him credit for helping them become successful people. I’m sure there’s a lot of alumni who want to give back.”

If Conrad Hall inspired you, the Blondys invite you rise to the challenge and #MeetTheMatch. More information online at bit.ly/meetthematch.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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