Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hat Trick Hats Find New Home

From True/Slant on February 2, 2010:

Hat Tricks for Humanity, One Young Man Makes a Difference.

Did you know that you can fit about 40 baseball caps on a standard sized Ping Pong table? Well, you can. And I know this, because Mike Behme knows this.

Mike Behme learned this little bit of arcane data because, in addition to being a West Allegheny High School student, hockey player, hockey fan, and Eagle Scout, he has found a way to turn the most charming practice in sports — the hat toss following a hat trick (three goals scored by the same player in one game) — into a community service. He created “Hat Tricks 4 Humanity,” which, in the simplest terms, collects the hats gathered at Mellon Arena after a hat trick and then gets those hats to various missions who get them to the less fortunate. Hats corralled through “HT4H” now sit atop heads in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and various noggins all throughout Western Pennsylvania.

For years, I wondered what happened to all of those hats. Were they just abandoned like the island of misfit toys? I’m certainly not the first person to wonder about it, nor was Mike, but he was the first to think of re-purposing them. He was thinking of what to do for his Eagle Scout project when he came up with the idea, so he contacted the Penguins offices and eventually worked his way up the food chain until he reached Ross Miller, Penguins media guru. Between them, Ross and Mike worked out a system wherein the crew would gather up all the hats and save them so that Mike could come get them, clean them and re-distribute them. Miller laughs that he often finds a voicemail from Mike left within five minutes of a hat trick being scored.

Once the arrangements were made, the work started. The first lesson Mike learned was not to leave the hats in those bags for very long. As players skate, turn and stop, they create layers of snow on the ice; chances are that the hats will be covered in snow when they are gathered up and that the snow will melt in short order once they are removed from the ice. Leave a plastic bag of wet hats unattended too long, and you’re asking for a mess of stink and mildew. Which is how Mike Behme learned that you could fit about 40 on a ping pong table.

When I first contacted Mike find out more about “HT4H,” he invited me to his “wash party” at the Imperial Laudromat (about a 40 minute drive from Pittsburgh.) Well, who can resist such a tempting offer? Mike and his mom Susan were the first to arrive that early December morning and before reinforcements arrived in the form of Mike’s Scouting buddies, they had unloaded all 13 large plastic bags from the car, along with a few gargantuan boxes of Boraxo and laundry soap, because, after the cheers and flurry of flying celebratory chapeaus at Mellon Arena, and before those hats reach the heads of people in need, there’s a lot of schlepping and grunt work.

This particular wash party took place to clean Mike’s biggest haul, a bonanza of headgear netted after Sidney Crosby netted three goals against the New York Rangers a week earlier. The night of that particular Crosby magic also happened to have been a hat give-away at Mellon Arena, so nearly everybody in the building had a hat at hand. When the Penguin captain lit the scoring lamp for the third time, it’s an understatement to say there was a veritable blizzard of hats falling onto the ice. Mike’s total haul for that game was 1,382 hats.

About a dozen scouts and a couple parents chattered about their plans for the rest of the weekend and the West Allegheny football game the night before as they sorted the hats. Each had to be checked and washed, even though most were from the hat giveaway and were, in essence, brand new. Of the others, some needed special care to get clean and a few were altogether hopeless cases. Once sorted and washed, they could not be dried in the dryers or they would be damaged. Nearly 1,400 hats needed to air dry.

If a standard size ping pong table is 9 feet by 5 feet holds 40 hats, one would need the equivalent of 35 ping pong tables, or 315 feet by 175 feet. Considerably more square footage than a football field, actually. For the extraordinary haul, Mike had gotten permission from the recreation center down the street to use their space to lay the hats flat to dry, so once they were washed, he and his ad hoc crew laid them out, then eventually gathered them up for the missions and charities which would distribute them later.

He set his goal for his Eagle Scout project at 2,500 hats and after his first hat trick (courtesy of Chris Kunitz in March, 2009) amassed 168 hats, he realized how hard it would be to hit that goal. Still, after his 1,400 bonanza, he laughed, “If I knew then what I know now …”

When I met Mike, he was only a couple hundred hats shy of that goal, so on Monday night, when Crosby slammed his third goal of the night past Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and hats rained down onto the home ice at Mellon Arena, the first person I thought of was Mike Behme. Then I thought of Ross Miller at the Penguins offices, who surely had a message waiting for him.

UPDATE: Mike has in fact surpassed his goal. He also accepts hats which are donated. You can reach him at his website (

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