In sports, particularly football, the analogy of teammates as brothers has become a well-worn cliché.
But in the case of Dysart High seniors Mackinnley Halla and Chris Medcalf, it’s barely even a metaphor.
Medcalf’s early high school years were plagued by an unstable home life. By the start of 2016 he was living with his older sister in Glendale and getting to school and practice in El Mirage was becoming more difficult.
Halla and Medcalf got along well and during the 2015 season both got a job at the same place. Once Medcalf mentioned his situation, Halla asked his parents if his friend could stay at the family’s El Mirage home — and Medcalf moved in full time in April.
“He opened up with what was going on. My parents had an extra room and I asked if we could help him out,” Halla said. “He would stay a few weekends a month, then he started staying a couple nights during the week. One thing led to another and he moved in.”
Paul and Kim Halla said they trusted the judgment of their youngest child — known to almost everyone at Dysart as Macky — and got to know Medcalf when he would stay over on occasion.
They never imagined opening their home about a year before Macky finished high school. Paul Halla said he was not sure how Chris’ family would react to the idea.
“We knew that the kind of kids he hung out with and the character we raised him to have, that if Macky chose him to be a friend we knew he was a good kid,” Ms. Halla said.
Making the decision more unique is the fact that Medcalf isn’t, technically, a kid. He just turned 19.
So the Hallas are not foster or adoptive parents. To the school, they are Medcalf’s guardians. But one conversation with Medcalf makes it clear they are more than that.
“I appreciate a lot. I’ve had different experiences and the chance to do different things that I haven’t done before,” Medcalf said.
For example, there is that 19th birthday. He told Ms. Halla he rarely, if ever, celebrated birthdays growing up and that’s something she made sure to rectify.
“For Macky and his sister and brother, we celebrated birthdays every year. It’s fun to watch that (as something new),” Ms. Halla said. “We went to buy contacts the other day. He asked, ‘I can get contacts.’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’ Ms Halla said.
The boys were not lifelong friends, having grown up attending different high schools in different cities. They knew each other from elementary school flag football but didn’t really talk until their freshmen year.
Medcalf was, as he is now, very quiet. But from Day One in 2013 the new football coach at the school noticed his confidence.
“He walked in the very first day and he had a shirt on that said ‘swagger.’ I was making fun of him and from that day I called him swagger,” Coach Manuel Alcantar said.
Halla played freshmen football and missed most of his sophomore year with an injury. The troubles at home caused Medcalf to sit out his sophomore season. He played basketball while Coach Alcantar tried to get him back into the fold.
“It affected me not being able to play football and there were different things I wasn’t able to do,” Medcalf said.
He came back to the program as a junior and led the 7-4 Demons in receiving. Even then, it was tough for him to make every practice or team function.
“There was a time when he’d be late and I’d chew his butt out. But he was traveling back and forth,” said Coach Alcantar. “We were yelling at him not knowing what was going on. And then you realize there’s a lot more to the story. He’s trying be here and trying to be part of it. It’s just hard.”
Alcantar and the other Dysart coaches were thinking of ways to help when the Halla family stepped up on its own.
“It didn’t surprise me because Macky’s a leader. He does everything you ask him to do. You want your son to be just like him,” Coach Alcantar said.
Medcalf talked with Mr. Halla before moving in full time and learned what would be expected of him — going to school, keeping up with homework and doing chores.
“He said, ‘Yeah that sounds great.’ I think at that time he was relieved to have a stable place to stay,” Mr. Halla said. “I think it was a dream come true to him. Once the excitement was over then reality set in that, “Oh, I really have to do this.’
Ms. Halla said Medcalf has been respectful from the first time she met him and seems to grow more comfortable in the house by the day.
At first, she said, it was like a long sleepover. Then the Hallas made sure each teen did some things on their own so they wouldn’t get sick of each other.
“Macky has always been a very caring and empathetic kid. Just knowing that he would think this and it was no big deal to his — and it still is no big deal to him. Chris was really quiet in the beginning but now he’s making himself something to eat and his girlfriend is coming over to visit. It’s kind of seamless,” Ms. Halla said.
Macky Halla said it is nice to again have someone around his age to communicate with. Teammates have been supportive and this brought an already tight-knit senior core together.
If there is one school in the area prepared to deal with a situation like the one Medcalf was in, it is Dysart High. The football team keeps food in the locker room to make sure some players have something to eat after school.
Several players wear donated cleats. Churches in El Mirage also provide staple items. And as Coach Alcantar and his staff began to build things, kids and parents are quicker to help each other out.
“(Teammates) were really encouraging about it. They offered to help out. Some of them have had similar situations so they know what’s going on. They’re appreciative of what we do for each other,” Macky Halla said.
In the offseason, the new brothers may have thought they would be the Demons main passing combination. Instead, both changed positions and roles with Medcalf moving from receiver to tailback and safety and Halla switching from quarterback to receiver and linebacker.
Medcalf has 644 total yards and 18 tackles, while Halla has 21 tackles, two sacks and five catches after switching to receiver. Dysart is off to its first 4-0 start since 2001.
“Macky is now a dual threat on both sides of the ball. They both are. They wreak havoc for everybody else,” Coach Alcantar said.
The coach said he’s seen noticeable improvement from Medcalf academically and athletically, and Halla as well — as each pushes the other to excel.
Ms. Halla said Medcalf put in the work in summer school and is taking a full course load as a senior to graduate with his class in May. Now, she said, he’s talking about taking his ACT test and attending community college for the first time.
“Now at practice we say, “Where’s your brother at?’ Because now they’re family and we give them a hard time about it. But it brings joy to my heart to see those two boys do that and see the program like that,” Coach Alcantar said.