It was 2:30 in the morning when one of Heather Hall's former students got the news that she had passed away.
"I didn't know what to do," 16-year-old Rayquan Johnson said. "I couldn't sleep. I got up and I sat there and I cried."
The only thing he could think to do was to start a Facebook page to honor Mrs. Hall. When he got home from school the next day, more than 900 people had liked the page.
"Mrs. Hall was one of the most inspirational teachers of my life," Johnson said.
That opinion was widely shared at Brandon High School, where Mrs. Hall taught math and coached cheerleading. She was named the school's Teacher of the Year for the 2011-2012 academic year.
"When I was a freshman at Brandon, everyone was telling me, 'You've got to get in Mrs. Hall's class, she's the coolest teacher ever,' " said Johnson, who now attends Plant City High School.
Mrs. Hall passed away Nov. 13 from cancer. She was about a week shy of her 29th birthday.
She had been diagnosed with melanoma when she was a teenager but had been cancer-free for years. She was diagnosed with melanoma a second time in February 2011. Everyone fully expected her to beat it again, her sister Jennifer Moores said.
Mrs. Hall expected that too. She continued studying for her master's degree in education leadership at the University of South Florida, anticipating a long career in education.
But just a few weeks into this academic year, the cancer and the treatments left her too weak to teach. She did continue her duties as the head cheerleading coach at Brandon.
"She's done an awesome job as both a teacher and a coach," said Tibor Kovacs, the assistant principal for administration and athletic director at Brandon High. "She was an excellent teacher, and she'd go out of her way to help students who weren't getting it. And the cheerleading squad improved every year under her tutelage."
Mrs. Hall lived virtually her entire life in Plant City, and graduated from Plant City High School. She and her sister were raised by their mother, who was also a high school math teacher.
As a girl, Mrs. Hall had never aspired to a teaching career because she saw how hard her mother worked, Moores said. But as an adult, teaching became her passion.
"She never called her work 'work,' " said her best friend Ashley Maffei. "It was her life. She loved being around the kids, she could really connect with them and she loved helping them."
Besides her sister, Mrs. Hall is survived by her husband, Jarrett, her parents, Cheryl Bates-Switch, her father William Edward Bates, her stepfather, John Switch, and her grandparents Richard and Donna Kincade.
A 5K run to benefit Mrs. Hall's family is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 1 at Brandon High School. Registration is $15. For information, visit marketplace.hcsocharities.com and click on the Heroes for Heather memorial 5K Run link.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]