September 2014

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31 G ymnastics wasn't in the cards for former University of Iowa gymnast Don Hatch, but an honest mistake turned it into a Hall of Fame career. Hatch was one of six individuals inducted into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame on Aug. 29 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Convention Center along with Jon Reimer (track and field), Nate Kaeding (football), Bruce Kinseth (wrestling), Jeanne Kruckeberg (cross country/track and field) and former women's cross country/track and field head coach Jerry Hassard. "It is special to me to be part of the athletic legacy at the University of Iowa," said Hatch, who resides in Broomfield, Colorado. "I know it wouldn't take place if I wasn't on such a successful team, but to be mentioned with the team and university is special." Hatch wrestled as a middle schooler at Franklin Junior High School in Wheaton, Illinois. Aer finishing runner-up at an intramural tournament, he wanted to continue on with the sport at the varsity level. "ey had fall orientation night in the fall of 1961," said Hatch. "I went to the high school to go to the wrestling meeting room where the coach was making a presentation. e meeting was in room 248… I went to a room 148, and I ended up in the gymnastics meeting room." Hatch called himself a "shy little kid," so he didn't get up and walk out of the meeting when he realized the mix-up. Instead, he became intrigued. "It sounded like a lot of fun," he said. "My great uncle had been a champion rope climber and my father was a bantam boxer, and both were successful. It related to me as something I would want to do, so I went out for gymnastics." It was a worthwhile mistake. During his three-year prep career at Wheaton (Illinois) Central High School, Hatch starred in gymnastics on the still rings. A year aer beginning the sport, he was still rings champion at the Wheaton Sophomore Invitational before placing fih at the Illinois High School State Meet as a junior. As a senior, Hatch won every still rings competition, including the state meet, and finished in the top 10 in all-around. Hatch was drawn to the Hawkeye gymnastics program by Neil Schmitt, a gymnast from a neighboring community in Illinois. "We had a strong gymnastics in Illinois and a number of our best performers had been recruited by Iowa and Iowa State," he said. "Neil was a state champion the year before I was at Iowa. at drew me to the school, along with coach (Dick) Holzaepfel. "Coach Holzaepfel was a good recruiter and impressed my parents. ey had some influence on the decision, and I ended up at Iowa. I was glad we made that decision." Aer sitting out the 1966 season (at the time freshmen weren't allowed to compete per NCAA regulations), Hatch enjoyed a stellar three-year run with the Hawkeyes. He was a three-time Big Ten champion, three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, and three-time All-American. For all the accolades he garnered individually, Hatch's greatest memory came during his senior year in 1969 when Iowa won the NCAA title. at team was the first UI team in any sport to claim a national championship. "at was a pinnacle of our careers at Iowa," said Hatch. "It was a great team, and we were cohesive. In the NCAA Championships for the team event, we hit every single event. It was almost uncanny, and we were up against outstanding competition from Penn State and Iowa State. "One of the things I am most proud of is I personally had one of my best performances in that team competition. Because of that Iowa won the still rings and three other events." Aer earning his bachelor's degree in marketing from the UI in 1969, Hatch spent 37 years in retail management across the country before retiring in 2006. He is active in his retirement in Colorado, where he has skied eight runs and played an 18-hole round of golf… all in the same day. Gymnastics is no longer part of the equation, but Hatch looks back fondly on his junior-high miscue. "Everything in the sport worked out for me," he said. "I enjoyed it."

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