Campus Currents

Hats Off
Dot Sheehan '71 watches Operation Hat Trick grow and grow.

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Operation Hat Trick-Dot Sheehan
Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services

Back in 2007, when Dot Sheehan '71 came up with the idea for Operation Hat Trick, she never imagined it would take off the way it has.

The program began simply enough: UNH baseball caps for veterans. Bearing the UNH athletics logo on the front and 'OHT' on the back, the caps offered a way to help injured veterans cover their head wounds, but, as one vet explained it, they also did a little something to help them feel normal again. Playing on the hockey term for a when a player scores three goals in a single game, the business model for the program was straightforward, donating one hat to a veteran for every two that were sold at UNH.

Today, Operation Hat Trick has expanded to include 220 colleges and universities and 60 minor league baseball teams. The OHT logo will soon share space on Boston Bruins caps and will be featured on the PGA tour. As many as 65 New Hampshire high school baseball teams will include the logo on their caps this spring, creating a model that could be replicated in schools across the country.

Sheehan, the university's senior associate athletics director for external relations, says she never expected Operation Hat Trick to get so big so quickly. But those who know the former marketing consultant for professional athletes aren't surprised in the least. They say she has brought the same tenacity to Operation Hat Trick that she has to all of her efforts to support UNH athletics since she was hired to help sell skyboxes at the new Whittemore Center in 1996.

"She's got energy, creativity, and loyalty," President Mark Huddleston says of Sheehan, who was named the university's 2013 Innovator of the Year. "It's just a killer combination."

Loyalty inspired Sheehan to dedicate Operation Hat Trick to Nate Hardy and Mike Koch, Navy SEALs and friends who were killed in Iraq in February 2008, not long after the program launched. Hardy was part of the UNH family, his father, Steve, a kinesiology professor and his mother, Donna, an administrative assistant. The two men are buried side by side at Arlington National Cemetery. Each hat bears a tag with their photo and a note about their story.

For the first few years, Sheehan, Huddleston, the Hardys, and others from the university made regular trips to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to distribute the hats that were donated with the proceeds from purchased hats. They soon realized that they could do more by using revenue from hat sales to meet veterans' immediate needs, however, and today, about 10 percent of the profit from hat sales goes directly to veterans programs. Operation Hat Trick has contributed to employment-support programs for veterans with post-traumatic stress and helped a veteran pay about $2,000 in out-of-pocket costs for adopting a service dog. Through a partnership with Easter Seals, the program provides emergency financial assistance to veterans struggling to pay their rent or fuels costs. Hat sales helped build a cabin accessible to people with disabilities at the Veterans Family Camp in Belgrade, Maine, which welcomed its first families last year, and will donate to an annual scholarship there, Sheehan says. The program benefits UNH, too, with another 10 percent of sales profit coming back to the school as a licensing fee for other institutions' use of the OHT logo.

For the Hardys, who were featured in the Fall 2009 UNH Magazine, the program has become part of the legacy of their youngest son, a scrappy former lacrosse player. Nate's oldest brother, Josh, died of brain cancer when Nate was in eighth grade, and Stephen Hardy credits athletics with helping Nate to channel emotions around his brother's death. Becoming a Navy SEAL gave him a goal. Operation Hat Trick has connected the family to people all across the country who bought a hat and were touched by Nate's story, growing a little idea into a program with a big impact.

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