VETERANS Fred Apt, Larry Smith, Michael Brooks and Kent Nutting took part in a ceremony for Operation Hat Trick at Kennett on May 14. An Honor Guard from the North Conway American Legion Post 95 carried the colors for the ceremony. Dennis Coughlin. (click for larger version)
May 20, 2014REGION — For the record, it was more than just the camouflage hats.
However, the most visible aspect of the Operation Hat Trick (OHT) program at the local high schools last week was indeed those camouflage hats that the baseball and softball (and at least one boys' tennis team) wore.
Former Kennett and current Concord High School Athletic Director Steve Mello helped to get the initiative into the state's high schools after seeing what it was able to do at the collegiate level.
Operation Hat Trick was founded by University of New Hampshire Senior Athletic Director Dot Sheehan in 2007. Its purpose is to generate awareness, support and funding for the recovery of America's wounded warriors, both active service members and veterans.
Sheehan notes that while listening to the radio, she heard that one thing most wanted by head-wounded military members returning from service were hats to cover wounds, burns, swelling and bandages.
Sheehan named the effort Operation Hat Trick after her school's rich tradition in hockey.
And in early 2008, Operation Hat Trick took on a whole new meaning.
Nate Hardy of Durham, the son of UNH professor Dr. Steve Hardy and his wife, Donna, was killed in action in Iraq, along with fellow Navy Seal Mike Koch. The two are buried side-by-side in Arlington National Cemetery. Sheehan dedicated OHT in the memory of the two Seals.
That's where Mello comes into the picture. Dr. Hardy was Mello's advisor during his time at the Durham school and each year, Mello goes back and speaks to classes about athletic administration.
"He (Dr. Hardy) was talking about the program and I thought I'd like to bring this to (high schools)," Mello said. "I think we can do this."
At an athletic director meeting in October, Mello gave a presentation to his fellow ADs from throughout the state and there was plenty of interest.
"All the ADs did a lot of work," Mello said. "Not only do the students benefit, but so do the communities."
OHT is currently adopted by 220 colleges across the nation, as well as 70 Minor League Baseball teams, AHL and ECHL hockey teams and most recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins of the NHL.
A portion of proceeds from the hats go to the organizations that support OHT's mission. For the NHIAA program, all funds raised stay in New Hampshire.
"People need to pause and remember the sacrifice the veterans have made," Mello said.
At his own school in Concord, Mello said the OHT ceremony last week was emotional.
"It was nice to see teenage boys taking to 75-year-old veterans about baseball," Mello said. "The educational piece is just as important as the money piece."
That money piece has been very successful, as the sale of the hats for high school teams has brought in more than $75,000 for OHT causes.
"That's a big deal," Mello said. "But it's also a nice educational piece for the students."
Kingswood baseball coach Chip Skelley noted that the fact that many veterans returning now are younger can help strike a chord with players on his team, who donned camo hats with the Knight logo last week.
"We're living in an interesting time," Skelley said. "It's really the first time that we've had so many veterans coming back, a lot of young veterans.
"As a kid, we had a lot of older veterans, now there's a lot of younger ones," he added.
Skelley noted he spoke to his team about the meaning behind the special hats when they were handed out.
"Any time you can do something like this to raise awareness, it's a good thing for the kids to understand," Skelley said. "That's the point we wanted to get across so the kids could grasp it."
Plymouth held a ceremony prior to its baseball game with Coe-Brown on Friday, May 16, and coach Tom Underwood noted that he had a good talk with his team prior to handing out the hats.
"We talked extensively with our athletes in the locker room so they understood what the hats meant when we handed them out," Underwood said. "The importance of the story and what it stands for."
John Wayne Comeau, grandfather of Bobcat Chris Comeau, and John Boyle, father of assistant coach Mike Boyle, both retired Marines, were on hand to throw out first pitches and a catcher from each team caught the pitches.
"Both teams did a great job, Coe-Brown was right there too," Underwood stated. "The kids were all at attention."
Newfound AD Pete Cofran noted that when Sheehan spoke to the ADs at their meeting last December, it was emotional listening to the story of how OHT came to be.
"When I received my hats, I learned that this initiative with NH Athletic Directors was going to be selling over 10,000 hats and bringing in around $70,000, I was excited," Cofran notes. "When I brought it to the varsity baseball and softball teams, I was impressed with how quickly they embraced the project and how serious they were."
Cofran noted that within a day he had ordered another 72 hats and they were selling quickly.
"As we get closer to Memorial Day, it is important for all of us to realize the sacrifices all veterans and their families make, not only those injured or worse," Cofran pointed out.
Kennett High School held a ceremony prior to games on Wednesday, May 14. American Legion Post 95 color guard presented the colors, along with the Kennett drumline, and the team captains presented Kennett OHT hats to the color guard. Veterans retired Army Master Sgt. Kent Nutting, Mike Brooks, Fred Apt and Larry Smith then threw out the first pitches.
"Steve Mello really challenged us ADs and schools to step up to the plate to help support a great cause like Operation Hat Trick," Kennett AD Kerry Brady said. "We have a great community here in the Mount Washington Valley that realized what a great opportunity it was to help veterans."
Brady noted that numerous sponsors stepped up to the plate to buy hats for the teams and she's had a request for even more, so there are more on order.
"I'm very thankful to our sponsors who purchased hats for our student-athletes to be able to wear this week," Brady said.
The OHT hats are high-quality hats from the '47 Brand and people can search for their college online and purchase OHT hats of their choice. Anyone looking for a hat for their local high school teams is advised to call the school to check on their availability.
Visit operationhattrick.com for complete background information on the program or to purchase hats.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or email@example.com