Continuing a Legacy | Outstanding Early Career Award: McCall Hall

“Since I was a kid, I wanted to be the Oprah of sports,” says McCall Hall (B.A., 2010), who has harnessed her passion for sports into a rewarding career. Hall is a legacy graduate of the University of Washington; her parents met for the first time at the Hub in the late 1960s. “For me, the UW is more than a school. It means home,” she says with a marked softness in her voice. Hall’s parents ingrained in her a dedication to community service and giving, something that remains integral to every aspect of her life and career.

Currently, as Director of Community Outreach for USC Athletics, Hall oversees a multimillion-dollar endowment, and creates community engagement programs for USC student-athletes. “I oversee all 21 sports, which includes 650 student-athletes,” she shares with pride. “I preach the gospel of giving, and encourage students to see beyond their circumstances, and give back to the underserved in their community.”

Even though her parents and extended family were all proud Huskies, Hall didn’t come to the UW right out of high school. “I wanted to do something different and carve my own path. I went to the University of Oregon because they also had a good journalism program,” she says.

However, during the winter of her freshman year, Hall’s life completely changed. She lost her father, Hayward Ray Hall, Sr. “My father, who had been battling kidney failure since I was in high school, suddenly passed away. That changed something in me. When I got on the train to go back to Eugene, I realized I didn’t want to be away from my mom. I knew I had to come home. And that to me [that] meant the UW, not any other school,” she shares.

In the fall of 2007, Hall came to the UW. “It was a weird feeling coming back. The UW is so big, it can be intimidating,” she points out. “You have to find your tribe. Being a student-athlete, I reached out to the women’s basketball program. Coach Tia Jackson believed I’d be able to push my teammates in training. I competed and traveled with them, and they became my tribe. The other important tribe was my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. My sorority sisters helped in my transition back to Seattle, and they’re still a part of my journey when I travel around the world.”

McCall Hall with Dr. Ralina Joseph

Before applying to the Department of Communication, Hall had to take some general elective classes. In particular, she loved the classes she took with Dr. Ralina Joseph, who introduced Hall to “a new tribe… of other young Black women on campus. We would meet every Thursday, and Dr. Joseph included our stories in her book, ‘Postracial Resistance: Black Women, Media, and the Uses of Strategic Ambiguity.’”

Despite having decent grades, Hall wasn’t admitted to the Department; she was crushed. “That was the lowest moment at the UW for me,” Hall confesses. “I remember sitting in Red Square by the George Washington statue, and getting the letter. It felt like the tears would not stop. I remember looking at the statue and crying so much, I couldn’t tell if my feet were soaked from the rain or my tears.”

When Hall reached out to Dr. Joseph and told her what had happened, Dr. Joseph “went out of her way to fight for me. She saved my life! At that moment, I didn’t feel like I had much of a purpose. Dr. Joseph wrote a beautiful letter of support that got me accepted into the program. I will be forever indebted to her. I was coming off of such a low: my best friend, my father, had died in my arms. My time at the UW really and truly saved my life. I got to be closer to my mom, and it shaped more than my career,” she says with gratitude.

While still in school, Hall was doing public and community relations for the Seattle Supersonics and the Seattle Storm. When the Sonics left the city, Hall was left without a paying job. That’s when she decided to take a leap of faith and move to Los Angeles. “If I was going to be unpaid, I wanted to get experience in a big market like L.A.,” says Hall. “In 2009, I started as an unpaid intern for the L.A. Sparks. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. Three weeks into the internship, I got hired to be their media personality and in-arena host.”

Hall vividly recalls how she prepared for the audition. “The owners of the team heard that I was funny, and suggested I audition to be their in-arena host. They gave me a script. I took the longest break an intern has ever taken… four hours… and went to the janitor bathroom in our building,” she shares. “I came back upstairs, busted into the owner Kathy Goodman’s office, and recited it. Kathy said, ‘I was totally joking, but I commend your effort. I want to give you a chance, and we’ll consider that an audition.’”

The next game was against the Seattle Storm, a team Hall knew well. “I walked out on the floor at the Staples Center. My job was to electrify that crowd, and I rocked it,” she exclaims. She was offered a contract with the L.A. Sparks, and she traveled back and forth between L.A. and Seattle while finishing school. The day after she graduated, Hall moved to California.

Surviving alone in a new city was tough, but Hall found her footing by building relationships within the community. “I had made the decision to be in a city where I had no friends or family. That’s where I learned how to communicate,” Hall admits. “I had to quickly understand what relationship building and networking meant. I started taking a real interest in learning about the people in my community and connecting them with resources. I wanted to be of service.”

The opportunity to be of service to the larger community came to Hall in 2015 when L.A. hosted the Special Olympics World Games. She got a call from her mentor, Kathryn Schloessman, President and CEO of LA Sports and Entertainment Commission. She recommended Hall to the event’s leadership team, who then offered her the role of Director of Community Affairs and Fan Development. Schloessman believed that Hall was “good at moving the masses. We wanted to build the Special Olympics fan base. We were bringing in 7,000 athletes from around the world; we wanted them to know that ‘LA is here for you.’ My ‘Fans in the Stands’ program encouraged corporations, nonprofits, schools, basically any mass group of people, to volunteer their time to cheer. For an athlete with an intellectual disability, that means a lot. The program was designed to remind people that you have to be there for other people’s big moments.”

Hall spent a year and a half campaigning around southern California. The result? 250,000 people showed up over nine days. Hall’s message of service resonated with leaders at companies like SoCalGas and Walmart, who gave employees paid time off to volunteer. She wanted attendees to “walk away with appreciation for the athletes, and your own life. See your own blessings.” Hall’s successful program was used as part of the pitch for L.A. to host the Olympic Games in 2028.

In 2013, the USC Athletics Department received a multimillion-dollar gift from the Otis Booth Foundation to endow the department’s community service program. Hall was brought on to run that program, which supports Trojan student-athletes’ volunteer efforts to engage and inspire elementary school children. “I was so excited to structure out this endowment. Collegiate athletes are not contractually obligated to serve in their community,” explains Hall. “I feel so proud when a student-athlete who has graduated tells me that something was ignited in them while they were here, and that they carried that spirit of service forward. A former USC student-athlete, Zack Banner, now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember telling him that when he went pro, he shouldn’t forget about the city of Tacoma (where he grew up) and L.A. He now runs a foundation to serve the youth and underserved in those cities. This program gives student-athletes their first glimpse into being of service, understanding the plight of others, and developing compassion and empathy.”

Michael Pittman Jr. of the USC Trojans visits elementary school for Readers of Troy program.

Recently, Hall launched a new initiative called Readers of Troy. The program focuses on encouraging local students to pursue reading and writing. “We want to show these kids that college is obtainable and accessible to them,” says Hall. “I want kids of color to know that they can go to college; that they deserve to be where they want to be. School comes first though; even if they’re student-athletes, they need to work on the education muscle just as much as their athletic muscle.”

Hall credits her passion for sports and social justice to her relationship with her father. “My dad and I communicated through sports,” she says nostalgically. “He taught me how sports can bring people together, no matter what. Today, I have seen the world because of a ball. If my dad were alive, he would have been tagging along for everything, and having a blast.”

In the late 1960s, Hall’s father, Hayward Ray Hall Sr., was admitted to the UW on a football scholarship as a student-athlete. Hall shares her father’s story with pride. “He was a Black Panther, and very socially conscious. He had a big afro at the time. Jim Owens, then coach of the football team, felt like his hair was a political stance. He asked my dad to either cut his afro or leave the team. My dad just said, ‘I’m off the team.’ He made the ultimate sacrifice; he would not allow anyone to disrespect and disregard the hurt and pain of those who are underserved and underrepresented. My dad ended up losing his scholarship. He worked hard, and scrounged together every tuition dollar to get his BFA from the UW.”

As a tribute to her father, Hall has launched a foundation called Art by Athletes. “There are so many kids like my dad, who love both sports and arts. I don’t want them to have to choose,” remarks Hall. “The Art by Athletes Foundation was created to give a platform for professional athletes to showcase their artistic skills. I want to give an opportunity to fans and art connoisseurs to buy that art through auction. The proceeds will be put back into schools to fund art programs. This is a labor of love for me.”

Hall wants to build on the legacy her father started in 1969. “I understand the workings of the world, and I understand the opportunities afforded by my platform. I really want to bring change, and I see sports as a way to unify people, and make that change happen,” she says.