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Winning through loss: NKY boys find strength in football after father’s death

Trey and Ayden’s father died in a crash the night before their first game as teammates.
Updated: Dec. 1, 2020 at 10:35 PM EST
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BOONE COUNTY, Ky. (FOX19) - It’s winter on the gridiron and Walton-Verona is still playing football.

That’s good news for the Boone County high school because it means the Bearcats are in Kentucky’s regional championships.

It’s also good news for Trey and Ayden Hatmaker, whose season began with an unfathomable loss.

Trey is Walton-Verona’s star junior quarterback. Ayden is a freshman on the team. They are the youngest two of four Hatmaker boys, who say their father — Everett Eugene Hatmaker II — never missed an opportunity to watch them play.

“I don’t think he, like, ever missed a single one of our games,” Ayden said. “Even if it was not the most convenient, he would always make sure that he came.”

Trey calls his namesake father — Everett also went by Trey — “the nicest guy you could meet.” He was the sort of dad, Trey says, that took the boys on trips to the lake and enjoyed night games at the ballpark.

He was also thrilled by the prospect of seeing his boys on the same team for the first time, Ayden says.

Then came the night before Walton-Verona’s first game at Newport High School.

“I was already getting, like, a nauseous feeling, like, you know, ‘Something is wrong, he shouldn’t be taking this long,’” Trey recalled. “I hopped in the car just out of instinct and drove down the road and I saw the police car go by and, you know...”

Trey’s father would die that night in a motorcycle crash.

“I don’t think you can put it into words, really, you know?” Trey said. “I was completely shocked, you know? I didn’t know what to feel.”

Trey played the game anyway. It was his first game as a starting quarterback.

“I felt like I owed it to myself and my team, you know? I already promised them that I’d be there, and despite an awful night before, I felt like I was obligated,” he said. “I had to be there for my team.”

Trey adds he thought about his father a lot during the game.

“He loved coming to watch the games,” he said. “He knew everybody by their name. He was my biggest fan. So I think I just felt like he was there with me.”

Jeff Barth is Walton-Verona’s head football coach.

“You know, what those two young guys are going through, it’s a new reality for them,” Barth said. “You know, football, and that was one thing I tried to talk with both kids about is, you know when we come out here it can be that escape, it can be that release, it can be that separate space.”

Now Trey and Ayden are playing through loss — and snow, and whipping winds — with nothing but the next snap in mind.

Still, they miss sharing the moments with their father.

“When I think about what it was like to hug him and stuff like that, that’s when I really feel it the most,” Ayden said.

“His embrace, you know, after a game, he’d give me a hug and tell me, ‘Good job,’” Trey added. “I think a lot of people have had a lot worse, and I’m thankful that I got to have him as long as I did.”

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