New Oxbow Coach Gets Assist From Spouse
Donna Hatch, Oxbow High's first-year girls lacrosse coach, chats with her assistant and husband, Herb Hatch, on the sidelines before Wednesday's opener against visiting Stowe. The Olympians lost, 10-4. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Bradford, Vt. — Donna Hatch never saw herself as a high school sports coach, but there she was Wednesday, not only leading the Oxbow Union High girls lacrosse team, but coming in contact with her boisterous assistant during a disagreement on the sidelines.
“Coach, do we have enough on defense?” bellowed her husband, Herb Hatch. “Put Mikayla on the field!”
Donna’s reply left no doubt as to who was in charge. Turning sharply to face her spouse, the special education teacher placed both hands on his chest and gave the slightest of shoves.
“No, no, no,” Donna said. “You go do something else.”
Away down the sideline Herb stomped, whipping off his new, purple baseball cap, running a hand over his gray hair and exhaling loudly as he went. It’s clear the onetime football and lacrosse coach at Hanover High and lacrosse boss at Kearsarge hasn’t completely mellowed with age.
“She’s the head coach at home, too,” Herb, 59, had confided before the Olympians and Stowe staged their season opener, a 10-4 Oxbow loss. “So when she came in one night and said she was doing lacrosse, that was it.”
Donna Hatch, 10 years younger than her husband, had never played nor coached the sport, but her willingness to step into the breach fewer than three weeks before the start of practice last month likely saved the Olympians’ season. Athletic director Hank Van Orman had put out word in late winter that the program needed a leader, but to no avail. Hatch is only in her first year on campus, but she couldn’t stand the idea of so many girls potentially sitting idle, so she became the Olympians’ third coach is as many years.
“I’m glad someone stepped in, especially someone in the building,” said senior Lauren Tomlinson. “We were worried and some girls were thinking about trying to play at other schools. When you get a new coach every year, you’re skeptical, but it’s been really great.”
Oxbow was a Vermont Division II power as recently as 2012, when it went 16-3 and was ousted in the semifinals on a deciding goal that appeared to have been scored after time expired. That was the last contest for coach Brian Musty, who helped found the program in 2008. He was fired last year and recently pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a student he coached while she was living at his home during the late 1990s.
Jane Smith, a teacher at the technical center adjacent to Oxbow, guided the lacrosse team to an 8-7-2 mark last spring, but couldn’t return. Now it’s the Hatches’ chance, although Herb will be reducing his commitment in coming weeks when his workload as a boys referee in New Hampshire increases. Hannah Lawrie, 22 and the first-year nurse at Blue Mountain High, joined the staff this week and will pick up the slack.
Although Herb Hatch said Donna merely told him of her decision, she credits her husband with making the step seem possible.
“I told him that the team needed a coach and that I wished I could do that,” she said. “He told me that I could do that, that (the main strategies of lacrosse) were the same as basketball and soccer. He said he’d give me some guidance and so I said, what the heck.”
Donna Hatch, who previously taught in Thetford and Newport, had coached youth soccer, basketball and softball, but she wasn’t taking anything for granted. Van Orman found her some instructional books on lacrosse and she spent hours watching videos and reading articles online and attended some Dartmouth women’s games to deepen her knowledge.
“I didn’t have many questions about how the game was played, because I’d watched my husband’s (boys) games for so long,” she said. “But I needed to learn the strategies and positions in the girls game and the rules, because they’re somewhat different.
“I’m still learning. I have a little cheat sheet with people’s positions on them and I refer to it while they’re running down the field.”
Wednesday was a bit bumpy for the Oxbow coach even before her team took the field. Irritated with her team’s lack of attention during a pregame meeting, she slammed and broke her clipboard, bringing to an end a morning and afternoon full of pregame jitters.
“It was like I had (attention deficit disorder),” she said with a laugh. “I couldn’t focus on anything but lacrosse and my stomach was churning all day. I wanted to do right by these girls and I’m a competitor and I’m serious about this. I don’t want people to think I don’t know what I’m doing. Even though I kind of do and I kind of don’t.”
An unknowing observer could have been forgiven for thinking Herb Hatch was the head coach. Burly and bearded and clad in a New England Patriots sweatshirt, khaki pants and white sneakers, he paced back and forth in front of the Oxbow bench, clapping and shouting to his defense in a voice that could be heard all over the field.
Donna Hatch said she didn’t expect Herb to be quite so demonstrative, but that she had no problems with her husband’s intensity and passion.
“I thought he’d be a little quieter today, but honestly, he was on the down low compared to what I’ve seen before,” she said. “I see things differently that he does and he knows that. He helps me, but he’s very respectful. Sometimes I take his suggestions and other times, no.”
The Hatches, who live in Croydon, have coached their grandchildren’s soccer teams for three years, so this isn’t the first time they’ve shared a sideline. Tomlinson said she and her teammates sometimes chuckle at the back-and-forth between their coaches, but that the arrangement has gone well.
“Our newcomers were a bit taken aback by (Herb’s) style at first, but he’s just energetic and positive,” she said. “She’s more laid back but she’s strong-willed and funny and she’s the mom of our team. The two of them are pretty unstoppable.”
A looming factor could bring a halt to the program, however, coach or no coach: the Olympians have eight seniors but only one freshman. Tomlinson said the jayvee team had only four games last spring and that squad doesn’t exist this year, with fewer than 20 girls out for lacrosse.
There’s no feeder program in Bradford or the surrounding towns, although Van Orman, who’s also the Oxbow Middle School’s athletic director, said he’d be open to establishing a team there if community support for a younger-level youth program is demonstrated. By way of comparison, Stowe coach Jill Loughran, who doubles as president of her town’s youth lacrosse organization, said it includes 200 boys and girls from kindergarten through eighth grade.
For now, Donna Hatch sees herself as more than just a short-term substitute. With Herb set to retire as a Kearsarge special education teacher after this spring, he’ll have more time to help, perhaps focusing on the goaltenders while leaving the defense to Lawrie.
“I’d like to do it for a few years,” Donna Hatch said. “Hopefully, the program will grow, but even if we have to go back down to the JV level and build it back up, I see myself being here for a while.
“It’s nice to get this one out of the way, but I know I’ll be nervous before the next one, too.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.