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The Operation Hat Trick Story

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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.

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 UNH Wildcat fans, the originating OHT school, hats are available at, Hayden Sports and the UNH Bookstore.  For other schools' hats and more information on Operation Hat Trick, go to

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





OHT from another perspective:

Do something meaningful today.
Blog written by: Amber Lilyestrom, UNH Athletics
Originally posted on the NACMA Online Library, September 2011

One of the amazing things about the work we do as collegiate sports marketers is that we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.  Whether it’s a food drive, breast cancer awareness event or fundraiser for a community member in a time of need, our jobs allow us the latitude to help others in many ways. 

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit Walter Reed Medical Center (WRMC) and Bethesda Naval Medical Center (BNMC) on behalf of UNH and a program we call Operation Hat Trick (OHT).  OHT is a special project that was created by the Athletics Department at the University of New Hampshire in response to a radio segment heard in early ‘08 that reported "the thing most wanted by those members of the military who have received head injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan is a baseball cap to cover their wounds, dressings and scars."  The program is dedicated in memory of Nate Hardy and Mike Koch, both Navy SEALs who gave their lives serving their country.  The program was initiated in order to deliver free hats to wounded soldiers in VA Hospitals across the nation and has grown in scale and is now available nationally for schools wanting to participate.  Proceeds of hat sales will go to benefit the VA Medical Center’s General Post Fund. 

On our trip, we were joined by Donna and Steve Hardy, parents of Nate Hardy; UNH President Mark Huddleston; Dot Sheehan, Senior Associate AD for External Relations at UNH and also the founder of OHT; Brian White, Vice President –University Services, Collegiate Licensing Company; Katie Koziol, UNH representative for Collegiate Licensing Company, Tom Carr, Northeast Passage Assistant Director for Outreach & Athletics; Taylor Chace ‘10, USOC Paralympic Sportsman of the year and Paralympic Gold medalist in the sport of sled hockey; and Valerie Schaffner, American MOJO’s Director of Business Development.

For some of us it was our third trip to D.C. and I can tell you, it makes a greater impact each time we visit.  I remember going in to one soldier’s room who had lost both of his legs below the knee and sustained a significant injury to his left arm in Afghanistan.  They told us he had arrived at BNMC on Sunday, July 3, 2011, which was also, coincidentally, my wedding day.  This resonated with me in such a huge way.  On one of the most joyous days of my life, this young man was contemplating life and death and facing his future in a way that would be virtually impossible to comprehend at the time.  Talk about perspective.

Of the three times I have been to D.C. for OHT, I felt as though I didn’t want to leave, like there wasn’t possibly enough time for us to spend with these courageous men and women as they face the road ahead on their journeys to recovery.  And yet, when you talk to them, their incredible strength of spirit and dedication to this nation is beyond awe-inspiring.  We are so fortunate to live in a country where the majority of those injured in battle want nothing more than to continue with their service post-recovery.  They have made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and I don’t think I quite understood the magnitude of it all until the day I walked through the doors of these medical centers.   I am so grateful for the opportunity to gain this perspective and I am blessed to work in a field in which these opportunities are available to me. 

OHT is just one way we can begin to accomplish the overarching mission of “giving back.” I think most of us feel as though we can’t quite possibly do enough; but it’s vital to recognize the role we all possess as harbingers of change.   I encourage you all to utilize this role as much as you possibly can on your own campuses.  One rule of thumb we employ at UNH when making decisions about which initiatives to support is whether or not there will be a positive impact for our community.  Our goal is to implement programs and promotions that affect others in a positive way and create awareness about a myriad of causes and populations that need the support.

I brought home so many incredible messages and experiences from the short trip to D.C. and I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to meet those courageous men and women.  I am also equally grateful for the time I got to spend with Steve & Donna Hardy.  We cannot lose sight of the sacrifices the family members of our military men and women make. 

On our first day in the city, we took a trip to Arlington National Cemetery to visit Nate and Mike.  On the metro on the way there, Donna spoke about raising her sons and reflecting on the time spent with them.  There was one specific thing she said that has resonated in my mind since that day.  She said, “Do something meaningful everyday.  Don’t waste a moment because you can’t get them back.” 

It reminded me that for all of us, life moves at a rapid pace. Sometimes we get so fixated on the details and the upcoming events that we forget to stop and take in the moment and to tell others how much they mean to us.  We forget to appreciate the present moment and all of its beauty.  I am personally trying to remind myself of this fact and make a difference each day, whether it’s by signing an online guest book as our mascot for a young fan who is currently battling leukemia or taking the time to teach my assistant something new to help her further her career and thank her for all of her hard work.  I am by no means perfect and certainly get caught up in the whirl of the calendar; but I am trying to remember this vital message each day.  There are tiny things you can do everyday to make others feel great and I encourage you not to lose sight of that in the hustle and bustle of the upcoming seasons. 

What have you done to make a difference today?
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