The University of Michigan has made it to the NCAA men's Final Four, which means the odds are good that fans will have another chance to about the stunning life story of Austin Hatch.
Again. With good cause.
Trust me, his story of suffering, loss and courage is almost unbelievable.
Watch the ESPN mini-documentary at the top of this post and you'll hear that the events of his life represent a journey of "biblical proportions." The fact that this young man is alive is one thing. That he is living a fairly normal life, including a bit of basketball, makes him a "walking miracle."
The question, of course, is whether the news coverage will mention the role that faith -- Christian, as opposed to generic -- has played in Hatch's life.
To grasp the context, here is the overture of a typical story, care of The Toledo Blade:
It’s a simple phrase and one that every sports team worldwide could use as a rallying cry. Athletics is the ultimate endurance test. Adversity is always lurking and how one responds often reveals what the end result will be.
For Michigan’s Austin Hatch, overcome it, which is stitched in maize and blue on the back of his shirt, carries an entirely different meaning.
The story’s been told countless times. Hatch, who starred as a freshman and sophomore at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, has survived two plane crashes. The first in 2003 claimed the lives of his mother, Julie; brother, Ian; and sister, Lindsay. Hatch lost his father, Stephen, and stepmother, Kimberly in the second crash -- and nearly his own life.
Just nine days after Hatch committed to Michigan in June, 2011 -- his dream school and the alma mater of his late mother -- the crash left him in a coma with numerous broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. He wouldn’t wake up for eight weeks, and prospects of a normal life were not good.
In your typical mainstream press story about Hatch, there will almost always be a passage resembling the following one somewhere deep in the text.
The basic question, of course, is this: What kept this young man going?
The arduous journey back to the basketball court culminated in January, 2014, when Hatch entered late in an 87-59 Loyola High School victory. The highlight of the evening wasn’t just that he played -- Hatch made a 3-pointer in his first shot attempt in nearly three years.
“Austin’s positivity, his faith, and always trying to get better is something I always admired,” Loyola coach Jamal Adams said. “He was steadfast in improving. He had his moments of difficulty and frustration, and those moments would be awfully emotional. But he would come back and lift his head up.”
That's the generic faith approach.
If you want to go a bit deeper, you can check out this profile at People magazine. The crucial new character here is Abby Cole, the Michigan volleyball player who has become his fiance.
Abby has helped with that transition and with coping with all the losses in his life, he says.
“She’s made me grow in my faith and made me a better man,” he says. “My faith has been tested a little bit … I don’t think God made it happen [the two crashes] but he let it happen … But it’s like, if he stopped every bad thing from happening, what would the world be like?”
Today, his dreams for the future are simple ones.
“Ultimately my goal in life is to be a great husband and a great father and provide for my family,” says Austin, who gives inspirational speeches about his ordeal.
There, you see, is the deeper question, the one often expressed this way: "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?"
This is a theological question there that leads to discussions of "theodicy" -- as in debates about why a loving God has allowed suffering and pain in His creation.
This is a question that shows up in news coverage of great tragedies and natural disasters. Hollywood has been known to ask the theodicy question, as well.( Click here for classic scene in "Time Bandits.")
So Hatch has lots of "faith" and he has, for understandable reasons, wrestled with big questions about God.
Is that it? Might there -- in the practical details of his life -- be some sort of specific faith that has helped him? Maybe there are spiritual advisors who could be interviewed?
At a University of Michigan fan site, there is a story that contains a few additional details. As it turns out, Hatch is a "professing Christian" who was "raised as a Catholic." That could mean that he is now a "spiritual, but not religious" man or it could mean that he is now a evangelical Protestant. It could mean lots of things.
However, it appears that one thing is certain. You can tell the Hatch story without asking some big, eternal, "why" questions. Here is how Hatch put it in the feature at the Michigan site:
"You say that people don't know where I've been -- nor do I expect them to," said Hatch. "The number of people who have been through what I've been through is a very small number. In fact I read in Dana O'Neil's (ESPN.com) article that according to an MIT statistician, Arnold Barnett, one of every 3.4 million people in the world will be involved in a plane crash that includes at least one fatality.
"And they haven't calculated the possibility that somebody survives two. So, I did the math and if one in 3.4 million survive one and one in 3.4 million survive another, that's one in 11 quadrillion, 560 trillion. So, that gives you an idea."
One quadrillion has 15 zeroes behind it.
"But I'm sure there's somebody somewhere," Hatch said, shaking his head. "But all I care about is that God had his hand on me. I think I'm here for a reason. I'm not sure why I'm here. But the fact of the matter is I've been given a third chance at life. So, I want to make the most of it."
So now, here comes the Final Four.
Hatch will not be in uniform, but he will be on the bench. It's an amazing story. Please pay close attention and let me know if the "why?" question makes it into the story, along with one or two faith details.