HATCH YEARS: Talking Trash, Scoring on the Hardwood in Pickup Games

Photography by Ken Bennett

Summer 2021


Nathan Hatch pulled the laces tight on his plain white tennis shoes. First the right, then the left.

“He has a pair of decade-old sneakers,” said Jim Dunn, CEO of Verger Capital Management and former assistant to Hatch. “They’re just white Nikes. They’re perfect; they’re orthotic; they’re worn in. And he’s worn the same pair for 15 years. His sneakers are consistent … like his jumper.”

Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch works in his office in Reynolda Hall.

On this Saturday at 7 a.m., prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hatch was the first to arrive at the gym, carrying water for the others who would join him shortly for the weekly pickup game.

Players began to trickle in, lacing up their shoes and gathering on the court. They passed around “good mornings” and small talk in between stretching, jogging and taking practice shots. The epic play of last week was revisited — like anglers regaling each other with tales of the big fish.

The men divided themselves into two teams, and the first game-to-7 of the morning began. Pick-and-roll plays, jumpers from behind the arc, the offensive rebound and putback, an occasional steal, light taunting, drives to the hoop, teamwork. All on display.

“He’s a sharpshooter and makes more shots than most everyone on the court,” said Andy Chan, vice president of innovation and personal and career development. “His teammates want him to take the final shot because he’s going to make it.”

“He’s got the best midrange jumper I’ve ever seen,” said University Trustee Jim O’Connell (’13). “Smooth as butter! It’s something to see.”

The first game was a tight match, but in the end, Hatch, a guard on his high school team, was smiling.

“Sometimes you forget he’s one of the world’s most renowned religious historians,” Dunn said. “We’ll take a break for water, and he’ll start talking about something in the Vatican II accord.”

Before muscles cooled down, the men returned to the hardwood. At 6-foot-2, Hatch can peek over most other players’ heads. From there, he has a clear view of the court.

“He’s a big man who can pass in ways that make his teammates better,” said Provost Rogan Kersh (’86). “He gets you the ball in a position to succeed. He will pass up his shot to give someone else chances, but as you get to crunch time,” Hatch is going to shoot.

And he’s going to talk trash.

“The best two smack talkers on the court are Nathan and Dr. Michael Sloan (associate professor of classical languages),” Dunn said. “Nathan will smack talk while he’s playing, and then while he’s watching. When I first got there, I didn’t foul the president, didn’t steal the ball from the president, didn’t block his shot. But he talks so much, sometimes you have to!”

“It’s part of the fun,” Hatch admitted, with a smile.

For the humility he exudes in his life, there are glimpses of his competitive side.

“Don’t let him fool you. He’s not that humble,” Dunn said. “He’s very competitive. If he loses two games in a row, he’s like, ‘We’re going to play a third game.’ ”

And that means breakfast is a little later that Saturday.

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NOTE: The article above is part of a larger feature celebrating Dr. Hatch’s tenure at Wake Forest. You can read the full story by clicking below:


Opening spread of the feature story shows Hatch looking out of a Reynolda Hall window

A Leader of Character

Embracing values, tradition and innovation, President Nathan O. Hatch challenged his team and Wake Foresters to make history.

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