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Coeburn High School senior Brett Hall has compiled a diverse resume as a student-athlete at Coeburn High School. (Photo by Earl Neikirk | Bristol Herald Courier)

Coeburn High School senior Brett Hall has compiled a diverse resume as a student-athlete at Coeburn High School. (Photo by Earl Neikirk | Bristol Herald Courier)

Brett Hall Does It All

May 6, 2010

*** Published May 3, 2010 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

COEBURN, Va. – The crowd was silent as Brett Hall charged to the front of the Coeburn High School gymnasium. Few people knew what to expect. No one will forget what happened.

At age six, Hall lost his best friend to cancer. Hall treasures his brief time with Justin Porter, and that's why he wanted to honor him in a unique fashion.

During the Coeburn graduation ceremonies, Hall accepted a memorial diploma and then presented it to Porter's parents. The emotions were powerful.

"It was a tear-jerker, man," Hall said. "Last year would have been the year that Justin graduated. I just wanted to do something for his family."

Hall and Porter attended the same classes, played the same games, and shared the same dreams.

"I remember when I heard the news that Justin had a brain tumor," Hall said. "It was hard to understand exactly what was going on, but Justin lost the battle in 1997. Just going through that as Justin's friend was tough. I can't imagine what his parents have felt."

Renaissance Man

According to his teachers, coaches and peers, Hall possesses an irresistible blend of optimism and pragmatism. He's even been described as the mayor of Coeburn High School.

As a decorated three-sport athlete with a 4.16 grade point average, Hall has earned the right to act as a big man on a little campus but he's always savoring new challenges.

Hall's diverse resume just over the past two years is a testament to his wide range of interests. He has twice been selected as the best actor in the Cumberland District. He finished in the top 10 with his beloved dog Jewel in the United Kennel Club World Coonhound championship. And he led Coeburn to a state forensics championship.

"I'm most proud of the relationships that I have made with people along the way," Hall said. "I've run into so many different characters in different areas, and I'm always trying to learn from them."

A Generous Approach

Jeff Adkins has worked as a coach for nearly 30 years, including a 15-year stint as head boys basketball coach at Coeburn.

Adkins' field of vision ranges far from the basketball court. He still remembers the nightmarish day 11 years ago when he received the mind-numbing diagnosis of leukemia. Instead of preparing game plans, Adkins missed nine months of school as he endured exhaustive cancer treatments in Charlottesville, Va.

"Cancer changes your outlook on life," said Adkins, whose cancer is now in remission. "You enter a different world."

Over the past three years, Adkins has come to rely on his point guard and team captain for more than intelligent decisions and crisp passes.

"Brett and I've had some good talks about a variety of subjects," Adkins said. "He understands life and knows how to deal with challenges."

Adkins was in the Coeburn gym last summer when Hall paid tribute to his fallen friend.

"I don't think there was a dry eye in the whole building," Adkins said. "To do something like that showed a lot of determination and maturity."

Big Brother

Coeburn High School sophomore Ryan Porter, the younger brother of Justin Porter, has seen both the competitive and compassionate sides of Hall.

"I can remember when Brett and Justin would take me into their clubhouse," Porter said. "Brett has told me stories about my brother. Sometimes I think about how Justin and Brett would have worked together. They could have accomplished a lot."

From the classroom to the baseball field, Porter follows the fearless lead of his surrogate brother.

"Brett has been a very good role model," Porter said.

The Big Picture

Few topics in Southwest Virginia generate more passion than school consolidation. In small communities such as Appalachia, St. Paul and Coeburn, the local high school serves as the bedrock of civic pride.

Hall knows the story, and he's followed the current consolidation debate through various sources. Unlike many adults, Hall can see beyond the volatile debate and grasp the bottom line.

"For the sake of tradition, I would want to see all the schools kept open because you've got a lot of rivalries and community pride there," said Hall, while conducting an impromptu tour of his well-worn school. "But the money is just not here to allow that to happen."

Looking Ahead

Hall plans to attend the University of Virginia's College at Wise. He is considering a career in law or government. No matter what path Hall takes, he plans to use the memory of his childhood friend as a guiding light.

"I think about what kind of person Justin would be if he was still here," Hall said. "I'm sure he would be out there competing with us, so I want to do all I can and take advantage of every opportunity."