June 24, 2011 was a day of unmistakable tragedy. A mere 10 days after verbally committing to play for the Michigan Wolverines basketball team, standout Fort Wayne, IN native Austin Hatch was involved in a plane crash that took the lives of his father and his stepmother. His father, Dr. Stephen Hatch, was piloting the plane. Hatch was in a coma for just around eight weeks, and endured a traumatic brain injury. The athlete-turned-patient was forced to learn how to breathe again, how to eat again, and how to walk again. In other words, he needed to learn how to live again.
What’s particularly tragic and heartbreaking is that this was not the first time he dealt with major loss.
In 2003, eight years prior, Hatch’s mother Julie, his 11-year-old sister Lindsay, and his 5-year-old brother Ian were all killed in a similar plane crash near Fort Wayne, around the area that would be the site of the accident that took life of his father and stepmother eight years later. In the 2003 accident, his father was also the pilot, and Hatch was able to escape with minor injuries after his father threw him out of the burning plane at the last second.
Now doing his best to recover and regain the abilities he had before the second crash, he realizes he will not be the same person or the same player. He is determined to make his family proud, and signing with Michigan is yet another milestone for the 6-foot-6 19 year old. Wolverines coach John Beilein will welcome him in any role he can bring to the program, and has been in constant contact with Hatch throughout his recovery.
Although he realizes the emotional pain is never going to subside, Hatch has made it clear that he’s doing his best to turn his life around. After a long journey, this is a major victory for him in his road to recovery.
During his sophomore year of high school at Canterbury School in his hometown of Fort Wayne, he averaged 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
In his first press conference since the second crash on Wednesday, Hatch noted that, “Basketball has always been second for me, but basketball has given me something to shoot for.” Physically unable to play for his high school team yet this season, the dream of playing Big 10 basketball for Michigan is a dream and a goal that is immeasurable for the 19 year old. He, however, is expected to play this season for his high school team, a small Catholic school called Loyola in Los Angeles (as he is currently living with an uncle and his family) once he feels comfortable on the court. He cited that his brain injury makes him think about things he usually wouldn’t have to think about on the court.
In his words, “There were people who doubted me and I basically just said thank you for your opinion, but I’m going to prove you wrong.” He sure did.
It is a story of tragedy, triumph and redemption. Something tells me the story of Austin Hatch has not nearly reached a conclusion. It has only just begun.