Operation Hat Trick

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
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Operation Hat Trick is going national.

President Huddleston introduces OHT

President Huddleston introduces Operation Hat Trick at a UNH hockey game in 2007.

Such a simple concept really. They wanted hats and UNH gave them hats.

It started with a radio station contest in the fall of 2007 and after just four years of distributing hats more than 10,000 are on the heads of wounded soldiers around the country. But that was only the beginning. This week Operation Hat Trick went national and now more than 30 colleges and universities around the country will be selling hats to help support the recovery of wounded soldiers and veterans through the VA General Post Fund.

From the beginning UNH Senior Associate Athletic Director Dot Sheehan knew this program was meant to be bigger than UNH. “Not in  a million years would I have thought that this program could or would grow to this point but when a severely burned soldier told me I made him feel almost ‘normal’ by giving him  a hat that covered his burns, I knew that OHT was destined for great things.” Now the national program features three designs and each school can elect to sell one, two or all three styles produced by collegiate headwear manufacturer ’47 Brand. The three styles  adjustable camouflage and team color versions as well as a stretch fit style in team color— feature the Operation Hat Trick logo as well as the logo of the school. “I am grateful to Collegiate Licensing Company, UNH’s licensing representative, for bringing this program to the national stage,” Sheehan said.  

Operation Hat Trick came about when Sheehan heard a Boston radio broadcast that challenged listeners to guess what soldiers with head injuries most often asked for upon their return to the United States. While she was surprised to learn it was something to cover their heads and their burns, wounds, and scars it didn’t take her long to realize the Athletics Department could do something to help and Operation Hat Trick was born.

The poster from OHT that tells the story of Nate Hardy and Mike Koch

The poster from OHT that tells the story of Nate Hardy and Mike Koch.

A hat trick in sports is the achievement of a positive feat three times during a game, like three goals by the same player in a hockey game. Initially, for every two hats sold a third was donated for distribution to veterans hospitals nationwide. Three years in a row university officials, alums and others traveled to medical centers in Washington, D.C., to deliver the hats and every time was a powerful reminder of why this partnership was so important. “This small gesture made such a huge difference in the lives of these young men and women,” said Sheehan. “Their dedication to country and strength of spirit are truly inspiring.”

And then just months after the first hats arrived came news that hit very close to home. Nate Hardy, the son of a UNH professor and his wife, and Mike Koch were killed in Iraq in February of 2008. Two Navy Seals who fought together, died together and are buried together at Arlington National Cemetery. The program is dedicated to their memory.

“Donna, (our son) Ben, and I are honored that Dot Sheehan wanted to dedicate OHT to Nate’s memory,” said Steve Hardy, a UNH professor of kinesiology and Nate’s father. “We are even happier that Mike Koch’s fiancé and family agreed to let us include Mike in the dedication for the national program. From what we know, Mike and Nate grew very close in their time together on Gold. Now they will always be together at Arlington National Cemetery. We all believe they would be pleased with OHT and its support of America’s wounded warriors.”

Ten percent of all sales will go to the VA General Post Fund, which provides money to patients and their caregivers for recovery, comfort kits, travel for family members, etc. All VA medical centers nationwide—152—receive assistance from the fund. An additional 10 percent will go to the school. At UNH those funds will help support efforts to partner with Northeast Passage to educate physically challenged and recovering solders with a long-term goal of building a new strength and conditioning area to retrain military athletes.

When talking about Northeast Passage and OHT Sheehan is quickly reminded of a young man she met on the most recent trip to Washington, D.C. Taylor Chace, USOC Paralympic Sportsman of the Year and paralympic gold medalist in sled hockey, was along on that trip, too. Officials at Bethesda Naval asked him to talk with a young man who had lost both legs just weeks before. He had been a hockey player as well and was very depressed. A 2010 graduate of UNH Taylor was a highly sought after stand-up hockey player until he sustained a spinal cord injury during a game when he was 16. His life changed when he found UNH’s Northeast Passage and sled hockey, and by the time he finished talking with the recently injured soldier who could no longer walk another young man had hope. “The connection was incredible,” Sheehan said. “It gave me goose bumps.”

A veteran receives a hat from Operation Hat Trick

A veteran receives a hat from Operation Hat Trick.

UNH President Mark Huddleston agreed. “Of all the things I’ve done and been a part of since coming to UNH this is by far the most meaningful and moving.”

For more information on the program go to www.operationhattrick.com. Hats can be purchased online after Feb. 1 at www.unhwildcats.com, at Hayden Sports, and the UNH Bookstore. They will also be sold at Operation Hat Trick Night Feb. 10 at the Whittemore Center.

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Words by Erika Mantz, UNH Media Relations
Photos courtesy of UNH Athletics