When Sidney Crosby
scored his third career hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 28 there was one question that undoubtedly lingered in the minds of many hockey fans. What happens to the hats that are thrown onto the ice?
It’s a mystery that ranks right up there with Area 51 and Stonehenge. When it comes to the hats from a Pittsburgh Penguins’ hat trick, Mike Behme has the answer.
Behme, a Boy Scout and high-school freshman at West Allegheny High School, has been working with the Penguins since March in putting the hats on the heads of less fortunate children all around the world.
The charity operation is part of a project to help Behme attain the rank of Eagle Scout. He was inspired to choose this non-traditional activity by his curiosity.
“I like watching the Penguins. I’ve been a hockey fan for six years,” Behme said. “I knew about the hat tricks, and I know they throw a lot of hats down. I was wondering what they did with the hats that were thrown.
“So I thought to myself, why not collect them and put them to good use. I talked to some people and got the hats. It was all from watching the games and wondering where hat trick hats went.”
After a hat trick is scored at Mellon Arena, Behme drops by to pick up the hats. They are then cleaned during what Behme has dubbed “wash parties.”
Behme is a member of Boy Scout Troop 830 of Clinton, PA, Frontier District, and the “wash parties” get the whole troop involved.
“I have big plastic tubs. We fill two of them with hot water and two of them with cold water,” Behme said. “We have stain remover so that we can get out any stains. We do a hot-water wash with detergent, then we rinse them. Then we wash them again, then rinse them again. Then we hang them out on lines for about an hour and a half, and we take them, they’re still pretty wet, to a laundry mat and dry them there.”
After the hats are washed and dried, it’s time for Behme to distribute them. He has hooked up with several charity organizations that have helped him to send hats to Guatemala and Nicaragua. He has also donated hats to various charities within the US.
“I had a friend whose church mission trip went to Guatemala, and then another friend who went to Nicaragua,” Behme said. “Those are the two (countries) that I’ve donated to right now. And then there’s a food and clothing bank, Sunshine Ministries, that I’m donating to, as well as Youth and Family Services here in Pittsburgh, and a Catholic charity, which I’m still getting the contacts for.”
Behme feels one of the most exciting aspects of his work is to simply see children of other nations sporting Penguins hats. He has received plenty of positive feedback, as well as photos.
“They said that they really liked it,” Behme said. “It was really interesting. They sent me pictures and it’s really cool seeing these Guatemalans wearing Penguins hats.
“My favorite one was a little girl, probably about four or five years old, and she had a Crosby hat on and she was smiling. She was really happy. It was really something seeing that.”
Behme has gathered, cleaned and donated 886 hats so far. Most of them have come from hat tricks, but he also hits the streets to get his community to donate hats.
There are always some hats in the group that cannot be salvaged, but Behme is able to bring most of them back to life.
“Some of the ones with mesh on the back melt in the dryer, so those ones we can’t use,” Behme said. “It has to be really stained for us not to be able to salvage it. Most of the time we use stain remover and we can get them back to pretty good condition.”
Every part of Behme’s operation relies on donations. Even the detergent used to wash the hats is purchased with donated money. Behme works hard writing letters and knocking on doors to raise funds.
“The quota for the project to be complete would be 2500 hats,” Behme said. “That’s the goal that I’ve set it at. If I get more then I’ll donate them, but 2500 is the completion of the project. Then I’ll get my Eagle after that.”
Even after the project reaches its goal, Behme would like to carry on his good work.
“I would really like to continue with this. It’s such a good thing, helping other people,” Behme said. “It’s not that much work to get down here and pick them up. It’s good community service.”Mike Behme can be reached at email@example.com if you would like to donate to his cause, or know of a charity that would like to receive hats.