Findlay teen makes sure hats on ice are put to good use
Mike Behme, 15, distributes ball caps and hats to clients at the West Allegheny Food Bank in North Fayette for his Eagle Scout project. Behme collected hats tossed onto the ice after the Penguins' Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz scored hat tricks in games this year.
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When Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin slid the puck into the net for a third goal against the Ottawa Senators last month, hundreds of hockey fans tossed their hats onto the ice for the traditional celebration.
And 15-year-old Mike Behme, of Findlay, knew he'd have some work to do.
For nearly a year, the West Allegheny High School freshman -- with help from the Penguins' organization -- has been recovering the hats from the ice and donating them to local, national and international charitable causes.
So far, the hat tricks, along with other donations, have yielded nearly 3,700 hats for Mike's Hat Tricks 4 Humanity project.
"We really did not know what they did with the hats, and we wanted to find out," Mike said. "So through some well-asked, well-placed questions, we found out they just threw out the hats. I wanted to put the Penguins hats to good use."
Mike and fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 830 of Clinton distributed hats Jan. 13 to clients of the West Allegheny Food Pantry in North Fayette. They gave away about 40 hats and left 160 more for later distribution.
The head wear included assorted ball caps and some of the 1,400 Penguins souvenir caps that had been tossed to the ice in November when center Sidney Crosby scored a hat trick - supplying Mike with 11 large bags of hats.
Since the start of his project, Mike has collected more than 2,200 hats from five Penguins hat tricks - two by Mr. Malkin, two by Mr. Crosby and one by left winger Chris Kunitz.
About 1,500 additional hats have been donated by neighbors, students and other people who learned about Mike's project from an article on the Penguins' Web site.
Mostly, the collection has been ball caps, but tassel caps, skull caps and other head wear also have been thrown into the mix.
Mike said the three most unusual hats have been a pink cowboy hat, a red velvet "Christmas fedora" with fuzzy white trim, and a pink, black, white and gray plaid fedora.
"I've gotten ones that still have the tags on them to ones that are so bad we have to throw them out," Mike said. "The majority of them are in good condition, but they definitely needed to be washed."
To date, Mike has worked with nearly 20 charitable groups, including churches and clothing banks, to distribute about 2,600 of the hats to people locally and abroad.
Between the moment a hat lands on the ice and the time it lands on a new owner's head, Mike has a lot of work to do.
Five days after Mr. Malkin's Dec. 23 hat trick, Mike hopped in his mom's minivan and headed to Mellon Arena, where six large bags awaited him.
"It wasn't all hats," Mike recalled. "The giveaway that night was stockings as well, so I got 190 hats and 17 Santa hats, and we got 234 Penguins stockings."
A few days after Mike counted and sorted the apparel, he and his Scout troop held a washing party at a laundromat and spent about 180 quarters - $45 in donated cash - to clean the Malkin hats, as well as some of the 850 winter hats he had collected from a school hat drive.
In addition to being a Boy Scout, Mike follows professional hockey and plays on West Allegheny's freshman ice hockey team and junior varsity roller hockey team.
Hat Tricks 4 Humanity was born from Mike's interest in the sport combined with his need to lead a community service project to help obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. He still needs two other merit badges to achieve the title.
Mike has surpassed his original Scout goal of collecting and donating 2,500 hats, but he plans to continue his work as long as possible and highlight his achievements in his college applications.
"Now it's for the charity work," Mike said. "Knowing I can help people is a major reason I want to keep doing it."
More than 1,000 hats have been distributed to children and adults in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua via mission trips sponsored by churches in Robinson, Bethel Park, Mars and elsewhere.
Locally, hats have gone to social service programs for children; clothing banks such as Sonshine Community Ministries in McKeesport; and the Hunt Armory in Shadyside as a gesture of appreciation for 200 Pittsburgh soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan.
Other hats have been donated to care packages assembled by Union Presbyterian Church in Robinson and St. Columbkille Roman Catholic Church in Findlay.
A box of winter hats in the Western Allegheny Community Library, 8042 Steubenville Pike, North Fayette, welcomes visitors in need to choose a hat with a Penguins, Pirates or Steelers logo.
"We'd already given so many hats to foreign missions, we wanted to help people closer to home as well," Mike said.
Mike lives with his parents, Sue and Mike, his 13-year-old sister, Kristi, and 11-year-old brother, Mark.
Mrs. Behme said her son's project has garnered a lot of attention from print, television and Internet journalists.
"The way it's taken off has really been a thrill," she said.
Anyone who wants to donate to Hat Tricks 4 Humanity or suggest an organization to receive hats can reach Mike at HatTricks4Humanity@gmail.com.
A professional design company plans to donate a Web site to help Mike's cause.
"Everyone has just been so supportive," Mike said. "And it's so nice to know that people think I'm doing a good thing."
First Published January 21, 2010 12:00 am