In the past two years the recognition and outpouring of well-deserved support for veterans has been outstanding, teams, leagues, brands in and out of sport have finally recognized not just that these young men and women are worthy of praise and support, but are also loyal and savvy consumers who stick with those who help them out. While some of the “tributes” may be over the top, they do raise funds and awareness, with the latest example coming this Saturday when Northwestern University will part with their usual white, purple and black for their game against Michigan and don pretty outrageous red, white and blue uniforms, all of which have already raised solid dollars for veterans through advance auctions. Some critics have said that instead of all the show and bluster, the organizations can make larger donations directly to a program, but the sustained time on broadcast, and the ancillary publicity may, just may, outweigh the brashness and seemingly one-upmanship that is going on to try and get the widest and loudest exposure for projects related to the military. Then again, without the noise, maybe the dollars raised aren’t the same.
One project which started small and has grown big is Operation Hat Trick, which has generated nearly $1.5 million in sales in just 18 months, a number expected to eclipse $2 million annually, particularly with mega-etailer Fanatics on board as OHT’s official e-commerce retailer. Other key retailers offering OHT product include Barnes and Noble, Follett, Lids, and Kohl’s and 100% of the proceeds brought into OHT are donated as directly as possible to programs assisting recovering warriors.
I don’t usually borrow directly, but my longtime friend Andrew Giangola offered up the story behind OHT from a piece he wrote for IMG’s internal publications…it is listed below and is a great example of how a simple idea can have a major impact:
It began in the fall of 2007 when University of New Hampshire (UNH) Senior AD Dot Sheehan heard a radio broadcast challenging listeners to guess the item soldiers with head injuries most often requested upon returning to the U.S. The answer was simple…hats.
Sheehan realized something could be done for wounded soldiers. Operation Hat Trick (OHT) was created. “My initial reaction was one of surprise that something so seemingly simple could have an unbelievable effect on those with head injuries,” said Sheehan who is now also founder and director of OHT. “And I was right. On our first trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2009, a seriously burned soldier said as I handed him a hat, ‘Ma’am, you almost make me feel normal again today.’ Since baseball caps are American culture, I knew we might be on to something.”
The program’s name was inspired by the initial focus on head injuries and its roots in a hockey-crazed part of the country. With players scoring three goals in a game notching a “hat trick” and UNH known for its nationally ranked men’s and women’s hockey teams, “Operation Hat Trick” was a natural fit. For every two hats sold, Sheehan made sure a third was donated to veterans’ hospitals.
The past three years UNH officials, athletic department staff, alumni, and students have traveled to military medical centers in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. to deliver to wounded soldiers OHT-UNH branded hats. More than 10,000 hats were distributed.
OHT is dedicated to the memory of two Navy SEALS with UNH ties. Nate Hardy of New Hampshire (the son of UNH professor Steve Hardy and his wife Donna), and Mike Koch were killed in action in Iraq in February 2008 and are now buried side-by-side in Arlington National Cemetery.
Since its humble beginnings, OHT has evolved into a national program. More than 220 colleges and universities across the country now participate.
“Our primary objective is to build support and funds for soldiers and veterans seeking medical treatment in VA medical centers,” Sheehan said “We are excited about the participation of so many institutions and believe that college fans will support our veterans by purchasing OHT co-branded caps.”
The Collegiate Licensing Company’s (CLC) has played an active role in envisioning and implementing the OHT program on a national level.
The officially licensed caps, which are branded with the OHT logos and the logo of the participating schools, are produced by ’47 Brand, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of premium quality headwear and apparel for more than 600 collegiate institutions.
Sheehan’s vision was to grow the OHT program beyond the University of New Hampshire. She’s thrilled the program has been so well received by universities interested in supporting military veterans and grateful to CLC for helping to bring this program to the national stage.
To learn more about OHT and the effort to help wounded soldiers, visit: www.operationhattrick.com.