ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. - Tony Hale was one of those guys with the “it factor.”
"It doesn't matter in the classroom, meeting room, in the field house,” said Adairsville football coach Eric Bishop. “When he walks in, something about the atmosphere in the room changes."
Hale was on the minds of many on the field and in the stands during the Tigers’ season-opening win Thursday night over Woodland; unfortunately, Hale wasn’t there to see the game.
"It's painful for me from that time up to this point still,” said Adairsville assistant coach Torrey Hale.
Torrey is Tony’s uncle. Tony lived with his uncle and cousin, also named Torrey, while living in Adairsville after growing up in Gadsden, Alabama. This past March, Tony was back home in Alabama and was walking around downtown with some friends. They were walking near a nightclub when a fight broke out. Shots were fired, one of them hit Tony in the back of the head. He would later die at a hospital. Police told AL.com Tony was an “innocent bystander.”
"We love him, everybody loves him,” said senior running back Sidnee Johnson. “It's a great community, the whole school, Adairsville. Everybody looked up to him. He was a good guy."
Hale was remembered before Adairsville’s home opener. Teammates brought his #6 jersey out to the opening coin toss, and then draped it over the center of their bench, where it will remain during every game this season. The crowd also observed a moment of silence. Players wrote the number 6 on wrist tape, towels and had stickers with the number 6 on their helmets.
“It shows everybody he's still with us even though he's watching down on us,” said Johnson.
Several of Hale’s family members attended the game. His uncle, who coaches safeties for the Tigers, was moved by the tribute.
"I sort of hid a little bit in the moment of silence, the tribute to him,” said assistant coach Torrey Hale. “Then I had to toughen up, walk on out here and just accept it. He'll be in our hearts forever."
The Adairsville football team took busses to attend Tony Hale’s funeral. He would’ve been a senior this year. According to Torrey Hale, the family was still deciding if Tony would spend his senior year in Adairsville or back home in Gadsden.