The Fighting 'Lee' Men: State title continues Hatcher legacy

Published: Mar. 16, 2017 at 12:42 AM EDT
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When it comes to boys basketball in the Valley, the Hatchers are a household name.

Paul Hatcher's legacy with R.E. Lee high school will live on for decades. But last week, his son, Jarrett, revived the dynasty by winning a title of his own.

"At seasons' end, we talk about how all seasons end in tears. Every basketball season is sad when it's over. Some seasons end in tears of joy and some end in tears of sadness," current R.E. Lee head coach Jarrett Hatcher said.

"I don't know how to react with it ending in tears of joy in Richmond."

For the first time as a head coach, Jarrett Hatcher's season ended with a smile. An R.E. Lee state championship that was years in the making finally was his.

"I told them when they were freshman, we're going to win a state championship," Jarrett said. "So to see their labor is pretty humbling and surreal."

The victory brings a family's history full circle. Jarrett's dad, Paul, a legend in his own right, is the winningest head coach in VHSL history. He won 897 games and four state titles with the Leemen.

"I look back and say, 'Dang, that was something those teams accomplished,'" Paul said.

When Paul hung up the whistle in the fall of 2011, Jarrett was supposed to join him in retirement after assisting him for 18 seasons.

But Jarrett couldn't step away from the game.

"I was born in the summer and the first thing I did was go to a summer league game two weeks later," Jarrett said. "It's not just my professional life. It is my life."

After Jarrett took over the program, Paul stayed close to the team. He used the Leemen's practice time to take his daily walk around the gym, where he kept a close eye on the program.

"It was hard to watch, when the kids get beat on defense or take a shot they shouldn't have and things of that sort or didn't get a rebound, I'm pretty critical," Paul said.

While the Hatcher name continued with the program, the wins didn't follow. Through his first five years, Jarrett won just 55 percent of his games. Comparisons drawn between him and his dad only added pressure.

"The irony is it's not the shadow of who proceeded me, It's the pressure I put on myself," Jarrett said. "We're all dealing with parents, pressure, our own internal desires to win and trying to get high school kids to put SnapChat down long enough to be successful. And then on top of that, I happened to be trying to do it in a gym named after my father."

But a bright light of talent sat at the end of the tunnel. The graduating class Jarrett highlighted before taking the job was finally maturing. Senior Darius George and junior Jarvis Vaughan were budding stars.

And the chance to win a state title came on a Thursday night in Richmond.

"You gotta win. The criticism is, 'Wow, look how talented that group was,'" Jarrett said. "The joke all year was if we win the state tournament, (Paul was) going to get all the credit. But if we lose it, I'm going to get all the blame."

The Leemen faced Amelia County in the 2A championship, a team they beat by 20 back in December.

Lee led wire-to-wire and ended up winning 84-71.

"The faces, the tears of joy, watching the guys I've seen in the videos and the pictures in the paper," Jarrett said. "That's why you do what you do."

After the final buzzer sounded, Jarrett found his dad and gave him a hug.

"I told him when we hugged, 'That boy can coach,'" Paul said. "And he can."

After the game, Jarrett told the media in the postgame press conference the advice he received from his dad.

"My dad told me years ago after a loss, you never know when you're going to have another opportunity. When you get there win it. You're never guaranteed this," Jarrett said just minutes removed from the state title victory.

For the first time in his career, Jarrett doesn't have to defend his record. But for him, none of this was about silencing critics.

"So much of what I did and so much of my experience my dad has been there and lived through the good and the bad, the painful. So, I rely on my dad so heavily and I wanted to win a state title for him," Jarrett said. "I know how much it means to him and I know how proud he is of me."

In 1984, Paul Hatcher won his first of four state rings. Thirty-three years later, the Fighting "Lee" men struck again.