Friday, March 23, 2001

Baby, teaching, basketball make
for real March Madness


Xavier's Erin Hall is a do-it-all mom

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Erin Hall enjoys a playful moment with 7-month-old daughter Alexis and husband Aaron.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        “Go, Mrs. Hall, go, go!” Seven-year-old Kelli Miller stood Sunday in Cintas Center watching her first-grade teacher, Erin Hall, play for the Xavier women's basketball team. The little girl held a sign that read, “XU rocks.”

        The Musketeers beat Clemson to advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday against Tennessee.

        A few rows away sat a group of teachers from Cardinal Pacelli School in Mount Lookout, where Hall works as a student teacher.

        Nearby was Aaron Hall, a former XU baseball player and Erin's husband. On his lap rested 7-month-old Alexis, their daughter.

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At 6-1, Hall towers over her students.
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        A top reserve for the 30-2 Musketeers who averages two points and two rebounds a game, Hall has a diverse fan base that reflects her life. At 21, in addition to being a Division I college athlete, she's a wife, mother, student teacher and college senior closing in on her bachelor's degree.

        Hers is a schedule that gives new meaning to the term March Madness.

        On Tuesday, she was up at 5:30 a.m., out of her apartment shortly after 6, then at Cardinal Pacelli from 6:30 to 2:45 p.m. She went home to visit Aaron and Alexis for about an hour before attending an XU class on curriculum design and teaching strategies.

        Then Hall had basketball practice from 7 to 9:30 before going home to eat dinner, put her daughter to bed, study and prepare lesson plans for the next day's class. She went to sleep about 12:30 a.m.

        “My basketball experience has given me the mental toughness to arrange a schedule and not stress out,” Hall said while sitting on her apartment floor playing with Alexis.

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Hall helps first-grader Abbey Miller at Cardinal Pacelli School in Mount Lookout.
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        For many college athletes, their sport is the most demanding part of their day.

        For Hall, a 6-foot-1 forward and part of a class that has gone 97-28 in four years, her sport is the easiest part of her day.

        Basketball used to be the only focus for the former Erin Senser. She earned a basketball scholarship to XU after graduating from Westerville North High School near Columbus, where she also starred in volleyball and track.

        Her college career began badly when she tore knee ligaments as a freshman even before playing a game. She had surgery and missed the entire season, but returned to play in 25 games as a sophomore.

        She was having her best season as a junior, averaging 3.2 points and 2.4 rebounds a game, before her basket ball career — and her life — changed forever.

        She got pregnant.

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Hall and teammates practice against male students.
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        “Shock,” she said. “I was scared. The worst part was telling my parents. I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with Aaron. We obviously didn't make a wise decision at the time.”

        Erin is Catholic. She never considered abortion but thought about adoption. Aaron quickly talked her out of that.

        “I see it as a character thing,” he said. “She easily could have had an abortion, and nobody would have known.”

        Erin's father, Bob Senser, is 6-8 and played professional football in Canada. He once had a tryout with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.

        “I thought he was going to kill me,” Aaron Hall said. “He got over it in a hurry, though.”

        Then Erin had to tell coach Melanie Balcomb and her teammates.

        “Coach said, "Wow,'” Erin said. “The next thing she said was, "We're going to deal with it.'”

        Said Balcomb: “It was a new experience for all of us. It brought us closer. We told Erin we would do anything we could to help her.”

        The next task was to let the team know.

ERIN HALL FILE
  Review: 6-foot-1 senior forward. Missed freshman season with knee injury. Has played in 70 games, scored 188 points and pulled down 147 rebounds in three seasons.
  Family: Husband Aaron Hall, former XU baseball player. Daughter Alexis.
  Academics: Elementary education major. Student-teacher at Cardinal Pacelli Catholic School in Mount Lookout.
  Ambition: Career as first-grade teacher. Family with five children.
  Born: Sept.16, 1979, in Philadelphia.
  Hometown: Westerville, Ohio. Westerville North High School.
  Honors: Former Erin Senser was runner-up Ohio Female Athlete of Year as senior. First-team all-Ohio in track and honorable mention all-state in basketball and volleyball.
        “She told us right before Christmas,” said Musketeers forward Jennifer Phillips, who has known Hall since high school. “We were totally supportive. Disapproval was the last thing she needed at that time.”

        Instead of letting it divide them, the Musketeers rallied around their teammate. This was a group that already had been through Hall's knee surgery and Phillips' operation to repair a congenital heart defect.

        “I'm not sure what else could happen to us,” Phillips said.

        While pregnant, Erin played through the regular season but had to stop just before the conference tournament. She was getting heavy, uncomfortable and starting to show.

        On Feb. 13, 2000, the Musketeers played their final home game. Aaron Hall had bought a ring. He dressed in the Musketeer mascot costume and arranged with Balcomb and the players to come up with an excuse to keep the team on the floor after the game.

        After the game, the mascot motioned to Erin to come out to midcourt. He was not allowed to remove the costume's oversized head. He got down on one knee and, without saying a word, held out the ring.

        “Everybody else knew,” said Aaron, 24, an XU liberal arts graduate who works as a Federal Express manager. “I had her dad's approval. I had Coach's approval.”

        Said Erin: “I was surprised, but I knew at once what was going on.”

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Hall listens as coach Melanie Balcomb goes over a drill.
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        The couple married June 9 in Portsmouth, Aaron's hometown. Erin gave birth Aug. 10 in Columbus. The team was on a trip playing exhibition games in Finland. Balcomb and several teammates called.

        A month later, Hall returned to campus and began preseason conditioning.

        “Erin lost her baby weight so quickly,” said team trainer Jody Jenike. “She had cramps in both quads, but she didn't complain. She was more ticked at herself that she wasn't full speed right away.”

        College basketball demands travel. Both sets of grandparents help with Alexis, who looks exactly like Erin as a baby. So do Erin's XU teammates. Roommates Amy Waugh, Reetta Piipari and Kristen Lowry took care of Alexis one weekend at their apartment to give the newlyweds a break.

        “Some of the other girls are afraid of Alexis,” Hall said.

        Only once did she have to bring the baby to practice. Members of the training staff took turns holding Alexis.

        Hall's schedule became even more complicated when she started student-teaching in the first-grade classroom of Sue Sieber at Cardinal Pacelli.

        “She's a natural,” the 20-year veteran teacher said. “She came in and took over the reading program.”

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The Hall family.
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        On Tuesday, Hall read stories to her students about domestic cats and jungle cats.

        At 6-1, she towers over the students.

        They read the word “cross” in one story.

        “Cross,” she asks, “what does that mean? It's different than Jesus on the cross.”

        Several children raise their hands. Hall calls on a boy.

        “Mad,” he says. “It means mad.”

        Hall draws two large circles on the blackboard. She asks the students what pet cats and jungle cats have in common and how they are different.

        “Over here are house cats,” Hall says. “Over here are wild cats.”

        A little girl pipes up. “Wildcats,” she says about the University of Kentucky, “that's my daddy's favorite basketball team.”

        Sieber, the classroom teacher, sitting at her desk, says, “Better watch who you're saying that to.”

        Hall laughs. Kelli Miller laughs. She's the first-grader with the sign who has seen her teacher play four games. Kelli has a new role model. So does her eighth-grade sister, Meghan.

        “I want to be like Mrs. Hall,” Kelli said.

        Basketball is important to Erin Hall, but its meaning has changed to mirror changes in her life.

        “Erin is so serious. She has so many responsibilities,” Balcomb said. “It's nice for her to have basketball because this is where she can come and still be a kid. She can just be Erin and have fun.”

        Hall has wanted to be a first-grade teacher since, well, she was in first grade. She's glad student teaching is the first thing she does every day, because even though it's draining, she wants to give her best to her students.

        When the basketball season ends, Sieber will hand the whole class over to Hall.

        Hall is dreading the end of basketball. She choked up and cried before Sunday's game, knowing it would be her last on campus.

        “I feel lucky to have Aaron and Alexis when it's over. Some girls don't have anybody like that,” said Hall, who wants to have five children and plans to take a few years off to take care of her daughter. “It's hard for me to think of Alexis as a consequence. She's part of me. She's the best thing God has ever given to me.”

Complete tournament coverage at Cincinnati.com



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