Sports Illustrated Cover Story: Do You Remember Chardon, Ohio?Posted: June 19, 2013
Gary Smith tells the story of Chardon’s tragedy and the town’s reluctant hero—Frank Hall
What will I do when a student pulls out a gun and starts shooting? It is a question educators must ask themselves. For Frank Hall, anger trumped everything, trampling thought and fear when on Feb. 27, 2012, a 17-year-old left three kids dying of gunshot wounds in the cafeteria of Chardon High School in Ohio. If not for the courage of Hall, a beloved assistant football coach who chased the killer out of the school and then returned to comfort the dying boys, many more lives would have been lost. For the first time since the tragedy, Hall opens up for an exclusive cover story by award-winning writer Gary Smith in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Smith takes readers through that frightful day in a small town 30 miles outside Cleveland, and the journey of the community and its reluctant hero since the tragedy. “In a flash, Frank had determined that attack was the best defense, the only way to be who Frank Ray Hall always had been: the protector.” (PAGE 74)
The community’s gratitude for Hall, who was known around school as Mr. Tickle, was overwhelming—as was the grief that overtook him. He was racked with intense and debilitating remorse. Smith says, “The day after a man does the most selfless thing a human being can do, and then doubles down by rejecting a flood of national media requests … his mind begins to devour him for what he couldn’t do. You should’ve spotted that kid beforehand….You should’ve done more….” (PAGE 76)
The toxic drip in his mind didn’t stop until a trip last summer with his wife and four adopted children ( to the USS Intrepid in New York City. A movie on the historic vessel described how a World War II attack on the ship that killed 69 men was the worst day in the Intrepid’s history, and the best day since the survivors saved the ship and helped turn the tide of the war. Smith writes, “That’s just what happened at Chardon, it struck him. We got attacked, but we didn’t let that kid pull us apart or break us down. It was our worst day, and our best day.” (PAGE 78)
After a successful football season for Chardon and more time to heal, Hall made the difficult decision this past March to take the head football coach position at nearby Lakeside High in Ashtabula—the school that Frank’s alma mater, Harbor High, had merged with after closing in 2001. Ashtabula, stricken with poverty and little hope, needed Hall too. Four times as many players as last year showed up for off-season workouts for the football team which was 2-28 over the last 3 seasons, and 30 people showed up for the first booster meeting.
Hall’s journey also had him raise a controversial question to the men in his extended family—who are avid hunters. “Why does anyone need a semiautomatic weapon?” Hall asked one day at a gathering. “You can’t convince me that a civilian needs a weapon like that with all those bullets in a clip.” (PAGE 77)
More than a year later, Smith asks: Do you remember Chardon? Rob Cox, the cofounder of a nonprofit to help people affected by the massacre in Newtown, Ct., asked Newtown residents if they remembered the tragedy in Chardon. He was mortified that nobody recalled it. Smith says, “Which meant the clock was already ticking in the land of amnesia. How long before Newtown, too, was gone.” (PAGE 78)