Jay Hatch has taught world history throughout much of his career at Rock Island Alleman High School.
However, his classroom has never been defined by four walls and a chalkboard.
At times, it has been as big as a football field and as wide open as the widest of fairways.
Frequently, lessons have been learned inside a warm gym on a cold winter night or between the lines on a softball diamond.
For more than a generation of Quad-City area high school athletes, Hatch has been a coach for all seasons.
More often than not, those seasons have been memorable.
During 14 seasons as the softball coach at Alleman, he led the Pioneers to three Illinois Class A state softball championships, four state championship game appearances and eight state tournament berths.
In girls basketball, he guided Alleman to its only three state tournament appearances and won an Illinois Class A state title in 2005.
He even coached the Pioneers to their only state tournament appearance as a team in girls golf and last summer in his first season as the softball coach at Bettendorf High School, his team came within an extra-inning loss in a regional final of earning an Iowa Class 5A state tourney berth.
“Good things tend to happen around him, and that’s not by chance,’’ said Mike Ebner, who has worked beside Hatch as a football, girls basketball and softball coach at Alleman.
“I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of good coaches during my time at Alleman and Jay has his teams as prepared for success as any of them.’’
That consistent level of success spread over a wide spectrum of sports is among the reasons Hatch was voted this year into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame.
“I was one of those kids who grew up playing sports in the neighborhood, but the season dictated what the sport was, football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the summer,’’ Hatch said.
Hatch grew up in West Des Moines, where he was a three-sport standout at Valley High School.
He carried that commitment to the collegiate level, one of the last athletes at Augustana College to letter in three sports and when he became a coach, it seemed natural to him to coach a team in every season.
“As much as anything, I think it scratches that competitive itch that I’ve always seemed to have,’’ Hatch said. “I think it keeps me young and I enjoy the challenge of it, building a team and seeing how it can develop and what it can become. That never changes.’’
Hatch’s appreciation for the value of the team was evident even when he was a high school athlete.
He played quarterback as a junior at Valley in 1982, but shifted to receiver as a senior to help lead a team into the Iowa Class 4A playoffs.
“We had a younger, athletic quarterback coming up to the varsity level and we felt like Jay could help us more as a receiver,’’ said Lee Crawford, a Davenport native and the coach at Valley at that time. “A lot of seniors wouldn’t be too happy about that, but Jay always had the ability to see and understand the big picture.’’
He also had the ability to catch the football.
“He was a good athlete. He didn’t have great speed, but he was a smart player who had a real knack for getting open and he became one of our leading receivers,’’ Crawford said.
He was also a leader on a talented basketball team at Valley, part of a lineup that included eventual Iowa player Matt Bullard, future Iowa State player Mike Born and future Iowa football player Grant Goodman.
The team was the first ever from the school to reach the Iowa boys state tournament, remaining undefeated until it lost to Cedar Rapids Kennedy in the state title game.
Hatch played baseball as well throughout his high school career and when it came time to make a college decision, he was eyeing the chance to continue to participate in multiple sports.
Initially, Hatch planned to attend Grinnell College but that changed when he got a call from Bob Reade, then the coach of an Augustana football program that had just won the first of four consecutive NCAA Division III national championships.
“It was fairly late in the process, probably April, but to be a part of something like that, a national championship-level program, it was pretty inviting,’’ Hatch said. “I visited and I was impressed with everything. It was where I wanted to be.’’
Reade learned about Hatch from a neighbor who happened to be Crawford's brother.
“We were always looking for good students and good all-round athletes to be part of our program,’’ Reade said. “He told me about Jay and I talked with Lee Crawford about him and he was typical of a lot of our recruits at that time. He was able to help us in a lot of ways.’’
Hatch played football for two years at Augustana and also was a two-year letterwinner in basketball and four-year letterwinner in baseball, earning first-team all-College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin honors as a catcher as a senior.
In football, Hatch was the holder on the Vikings’ 1984 and 1985 national championship teams and backed up at several other positions.
“We could only travel 48 players in the postseason and Jay picked things up pretty quickly, so we could have used him at a number of spots if needed in addition to holding for field goals,’’ Reade said.
Hatch learned more than that during his time at Augustana.
Initially a pre-med major, he dissected a desire to teach and coach early in college and changed his major to education and history.
“I think in the back of my mind, I knew that I always wanted to coach and stay involved in sports,’’ Hatch said. “The coaches I had been around growing up, going back to Dick Fazio as my Little League coach when I was eight years old, to my coaches in high school and college, they all had a great influence on me.’’
The two years he spent on the football team at Augustana proved invaluable.
“As a holder and backup, I had plenty of time to watch coach Reade work and his attention to detail, his belief in what he was doing and the way he went about teaching and leading, those were impactful,’’ Hatch said.
“The way that he had our teams prepared for anything in a game, the way that he had everyone ready to deal with whatever situation might come up, those are things I learned from him that have guided me with my own teams.’’
During his time at Augustana, Hatch was able to experience several coaching styles and it helped him to develop his own thoughts on what it took to organize and coach successful programs.
“That was a time in my life where I had a chance to grow up a bit, being around people from different backgrounds and experiencing different coaching styles,’’ Hatch said.
“That was so beneficial. I was part of some programs, but even being around others and having a chance to watch someone like Paul Olsen and see how he worked with his track and cross country teams, I learned a great deal.’’
Hatch’s first coaching opportunity came as a volunteer assistant at Valley. Crawford could sense then that Hatch would be successful as a coach and educator.
“He did a very good job that year of relating to the kids and working with them,’’ Crawford said. “He always set a good example and taught things in a way that the guys he was working with could comprehend and execute in a game. I knew he was going to be a good coach from watching him work that fall.’’
That opportunity led Hatch back to the Quad-Cities, a move he would make twice in a three-year span in the early 1990s.
He was hired by Al Gorgal and Colin Letendre at Alleman, putting his history major to use in the classroom and getting the chance to coach football, girls basketball and softball.
“To teach and coach, it was what I wanted to do,’’ Hatch said. “It was an opportunity in a place I wanted to be.’’
He applied to be the Pioneers’ head girls basketball coach prior to the 1991-92 season and athletic director Mike Tracey offered him that job with one catch.
“I had to take the softball job, too,’’ Hatch said. “I knew baseball, but I was a little apprehensive about softball. It was a different deal.’’
Building on what he had been taught, he spent the summer preparing.
“Youth softball in the area was so good and I went out to Campbell Complex in Rock Island a lot that summer,'' Hatch said. "I watched how people coached those teams and how they worked with their players and I figured out then that I could do it.''
Success came quickly. His first girls basketball team made it to the Illinois Class A supersectional during a 22-10 season. Several months later, the Pioneers gave their first-year softball coach the first of the four state championship trophies his teams have earned.
“I was fortunate. We had amazing sophomore class that year that was complemented by some good seniors,’’ Hatch said. “For a first-year coach, it was kind of a perfect storm.’’
Hatch left Alleman after that school year, returning to West Des Moines to be closer to family and coach girls basketball at Valley.
His stay there was short.
“I learned that year that this was home, the Quad-Cities was where I wanted to be and the next year I was fortunate enough that Alleman was willing to have me back and it’s been great teaching there ever since,’’ Hatch said. “I’ve had a chance to be around a lot of good kids and hopefully, I’ve taught them a thing or two along the way.’’
Alleman's softball team earned another state championship under Hatch in 1994. In total, the Pioneers competed in the state softball tourney eight times during his 14 seasons, earning a third state title in 1998 and finishing as the Class A state runner-up in 2000.
Hatch worked as an assistant boys basketball coach on Larry Schulte’s staff at Alleman that year as well before moving back into the role as the school’s girls basketball coach the following year.
Success on the basketball court did not come as easily. Hatch-coached Alleman teams enjoyed winning seasons in 18 of the 23 years he led the program and reached the Class A supersectionals three times before reaching Illinois’ elite eight for the first time in 2001.
“We had been so close to getting there several times and to get that done, it was a great accomplishment by the kids and a thrill for all of us,’’ Hatch said.
The Pioneers made three appearances in the state basketball tourney in a five-year span, finishing third in Class A in 2002 and winning a state championship in 2005.
“To get back there and eventually win a championship, it took a lot of hard work and fortunately, we’ve had players at Alleman who had the skill and who have been willing to put in the work to make it happen,’’ Hatch said.
“It’s never easy to win a state title and that’s a real credit to the players in the program who made it happen. It was a special time.’’
Plenty of help
Ebner was among Hatch’s assistants during that 2005 state championship basketball season, a familiar role.
Between coaching football, softball and girls basketball together, the pair have worked together for more than 50 sports seasons at Alleman.
“I’ve never been around a more prepared coach. He’s always on top of things and I think that shows in the amount of success he’s had over the years,’’ Ebner said.
“He’s a good family man, cares about his players and his assistants. At a small school like Alleman, those things are important. That’s all a part of how he was raised — it’s a family effort — and that is reflected in his approach to things.’’
Hatch doesn’t minimize those contributions.
“I’ve been fortunate to have so many good assistants along the way,’’ he said. “It takes a lot of time to coach a team and make it a good experience for the kids. Success is always a collective effort.’’
That effort starts at home. Hatch’s wife, Lori, coached Bettendorf to a state championship in girls basketball in 1994.
“Having a wife who understands coaching and having kids who enjoyed being around sports when they were little helps,’’ Hatch said. “It’s been a good thing for all of us.’’
The here and now
Hatch turned over the Alleman softball program to Ebner in 2007, although he returned to work as an assistant to his longtime assistant in 2014. He stepped away from the Pioneers’ basketball program in 2016.
He hasn’t stepped away from coaching. He became the softball coach at Bettendorf in 2016 and later last year worked as an assistant boys basketball coach at United Township.
At Bettendorf, Hatch has been able to coach a team that includes one of his two daughters, Erin.
“That was something I wanted to be a part of and that’s been a good experience,’’ he said. “We were able to win the MAC and we almost got to state. It was a different dynamic, coaching one my own kids, and it’s a good experience, too.’’
Hatch expects the experiences to continue.
“I don’t see myself out of coaching anytime soon,’’ he said. “The kids keep me young. I’m enjoying coaching at Bettendorf now and someday, I’d like to be a head coach of a basketball program again in the right situation. That possibility is something that is still out there and it’s something I’m interested in.’’