Paul Valencia: Thanksgiving years in the making for these 'brothers'

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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Zach Hall arrived at Portland International Airport just before midnight Wednesday.

Dressed in his cadet uniform, the United States Military Academy student was greeted by his parents, his sister, and his closest friend.

Michael Rivers was in uniform, too. That would be Private First Class Michael Rivers. And really, to call Hall and Rivers close friends is an understatement. They are brothers, regardless of blood.

This weekend, the two brothers, former Clark County high school athletes, will be hanging out for the last time in years.

Hall, as a cadet, does not get much time away from West Point. Rivers, just out of basic training and advanced individual training, has his orders to be stationed in Korea. He leaves next month.

"I'm considering it my last childhood Thanksgiving," Hall said. "It's the last one where all my friends will be together."

Hall was appointed to West Point last February, and he jumped at the chance. He is taking general studies now but hopes to major in system engineering.

"West Point math is not normal college math," Hall said with a smile. "I'm literally learning how to decode secret messages."

(And if he wasn't supposed to say that, pretend you never read that.)

Rivers enlisted in February and went to basic in the summer. He is part of the military police, trained in corrections.

"I knew if I didn't leave Vancouver, Wash., as soon as I graduated high school, I never would," Rivers said. "I wanted to get a jump-start on my life and career path. I heard I could have played baseball at some junior college. College has a purpose but doesn't always have a direction. In the military, I have both of those things."

Sports also have helped give each of them the drive to succeed. Hall earned seven varsity letters in football, track and field, and cross country at Heritage High School. Rivers earned a total of five in football and baseball, first at Heritage and then at Mountain View.

"Just being in shape was a huge advantage," Rivers said.

Then there were the challenges that required soldiers to work together to achieve a goal. Like any sports team, Rivers said, there are some people you might not know very well but still have to treat with respect and learn to trust.

"You have to get along with them on the field. That's the way it was in basic training, too," he said.

Hall credited the late, great coach Lee Cave for keeping him going during the tough times at West Point.

"Coach Cave was a role model for me. His 'Never give up' was always running through my mind," Hall said. "There were times I was saying, 'I don't want to be here.' And 'I can't believe I put myself into this position.' Never give up was always running through my head."

Hall and Rivers met in the sixth grade, and became close friends a couple years later.

"If I wasn't at his house, he was at my house," Hall said. "Our girlfriends were best friends in high school."

Michael's mom moved out of state prior to Rivers' senior year, and Rivers wanted to finish high school in Vancouver. Naturally, that led to living with the Halls.

"He had a key to our house long before he moved in with us," said John Hall, Zach's father.

John and Dani Hall, and daughter Zoe, a junior at Heritage, were at the airport Wednesday wearing West Point gear. Rivers was there, too, to welcome home his brother.

"I always tell people my brother is at West Point," Rivers said. "We refer to each other as brothers."

Now they are brothers in uniform, too.

It could be years before they see each other again. Which is why this weekend Zach Hall and Michael Rivers are celebrating a Thanksgiving years in the making.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at paul.valencia@columbian.com.