It’s been called the old gym or the practice gym and soon, it will be Jim Hatch’s gym.
Cheney High School will honor the late, longtime teacher, coach and athletic director by naming the old gym after him Friday night during halftime of the boys’ varsity game. Hatch died Nov. 4, 2007. He was 80.
“Sometimes you still feel him in this gym,” said Jim Missel, assistant principal of activities and athletics at the school. Missel said the decision to name the old gym after Hatch and not the new gym was because the old gym was where Hatch spent his time at the school.
“This is his gym,” Missel said.
Hatch started his career at Cheney High School in 1964 as the football coach. His wife, Betty, said they came to Cheney after a couple of years in Huntington, Ore., and Harrington, Wash. Hatch earned his master’s degree at Eastern Washington University before the family moved to Carnation, Wash., where he taught for three years.
When they moved to Cheney they became a part of the community.
Betty Hatch said kids would often stop by their home in the summer to visit the coach. During mealtimes, there were often students at the house, especially when Jim and Betty’s kids were attending the school.
All four of their children, James, Jana Berg, Lori Wyborney and Krissann Hatch, were involved in sports at Cheney High School. The couple’s granddaughter, Jenna Hatch, plays on the varsity girls’ basketball team this year.
The two went to every game even after Jim retired in 1988. Betty said that she and her husband loved attending any game of any sport. Even when they traveled around the country, if they found out there was a game, they would often stop and watch. Even after Jim’s death, she still attends the games.
Betty said she always liked sports, too, since she grew up with eight older brothers. In fact, a couple of those brothers began hanging out with Jim when Betty was 4 and Jim was 10, shortly after Betty’s family moved to Coeur d’Alene from Canada. The two were married for 54 years.
“Not long enough,” Betty said.
As a coach and teacher, he made an impression on his students.
“He was very well liked,” Betty said. “He was fair. Vocal and volatile, but he was fair. He never held a grudge.”
Timm Shepherd was on the football team for three seasons, 1965 through 1967, as the starting running back. During that time, the team won 12 games in a row.
“He was tough, but fair. You always knew where he stood,” Shepherd said. “If he stopped yelling at us, then we should worry.”
Shepherd said the hardest he was hit in a practice was by the coach. Hatch told him to run at him as hard as Shepherd could. Shepherd said he was a little worried, since the coach wasn’t wearing any pads, but he did it anyway.
“All of a sudden I’m laying flat on my back,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said he and Hatch remained good friends, even after graduation.
“I think the world of him,” Shepherd said.
Bob Crabb was one of Shepherd’s teammates and also has fond memories of the coach.
“He cared about us, not only as football players,” Crabb said. “He’s just a great guy, one of the real old-time coaches.”
Crabb said that he remembers coach coming down to Walla Walla to see Crabb play his last college game at Whitman College.
He also remembers coach getting mad during one practice and heaving his clipboard full of plays up in the air. The clipboard went up and his papers rained down on him.
“It was all we could do not to laugh,” Crabb said. “He was so much fun and so genuine.”
Tom Whitfield is now a dentist in Cheney, but also remembers the coach fondly.
Whitfield remembers coming back to Cheney just out of dental school. One day he walked into the waiting room and Hatch was waiting for another dentist. Whitfield said the coach saw him and just shook his head.
“He said, ‘Tom, I sure hope you’re a better dentist than you were a football player,’” Whitfield said.
The former players all said that Hatch made an impact on their lives. In fact, Betty Hatch has heard from many former students.
“So many kids came back to see him,” she said.
Often, the couple would receive letters from them. One student – the Hatches were never sure who it was – sent a letter to them explaining that the student never had a lot of self-esteem and didn’t feel like he fit in at school. One day, the coach asked him to run to the coach’s house to get something for him and handed him the keys to his car.
“That made him feel so important,” Betty said. She added the former student is now a professor somewhere in the Midwest.
Another former student later sent a letter to the Hatches and told them she never felt safe at home.
“The only place she felt safe was in his classroom,” she said.
“He could see something good in everybody,” Betty said.
Betty said she will be going to the game Friday night with her kids and her granddaughter – in fact, she probably would have gone even if there wasn’t a ceremony honoring her late husband. Other speakers will include Principal Tom Gresch, Superintendent Larry Keller and Richard Mount of the school board.
Refreshments will follow the ceremony.