By Matt Petras
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Jack Hatten, the 15-year-old face of the Crohn’s disease awareness group, Team Jackalope, has friends, family and peers who think he’s one special kid. Take Shaun Champlin, 22, an aspiring musician, who acted as a mentor for Hatten in boy scouts and admires his ability to play music alongside local professionals at Team Jackalope fundraiser concerts.
“He is just one heck of a kid,” Champlin said. “He has pushed through thick and thin and, my lord, through camp and scouting, the stuff that he could do. It was fun to watch him grow through it.
Scott Blasey of The Clarks along with Hatten and others performed to a room packed with people and positive vibes at a Team Jackalope fundraiser at Level 20 in Bethel Park last Wednesday evening.
Team Jackalope created the concert to raise money for the group, which does work like hosting local Take Steps walks to benefit those diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The large crowd plopped money in a donation jar and bought raffle tickets and t-shirts in support of the group while kicking back and watching the musicians play. Many showed up well before the concert began to say hello to Jack and hang.
Hatten, a quiet young man who consistently sports a smile, speaks softly and concisely. When I asked him if he was ready for the night, he simply said “I’m as ready as I can be.”
Hatten doesn’t want to act self-important.
“I don’t want this to be about me,” he said. “I want it to be about everyone suffering from Crohn’s disease.”
Folks really connect with Hatten, who embraces music to make the worst of Crohn’s disease more bearable, something to which Champlin can relate. Champlin has attention-deficit disorder and finds that music helps with concentration.
“I know where he comes from with music, how it helps him, because it helps me in my own ways, so it’s really neat to see someone else share that interest,” Champlin said.
The musicians who played echoed the notion of music helping folks cope with personal challenges. Music has helped Andrew Leahey, a rock artist from Nashville Tennessee who played at the concert.
“Playing music does us a lot of good, it calms us down,” he said. “So if our playing can help other people in any other way, then that’s great.”
Others connect with Hatten in ways that go beyond music. Jone Sherbak, an aunt of Hatten’s who has tirelessly helped organize Team Jackalope events, suffers from cancer. This has helped develop an extra layer of closeness between her and Hatten.
“We talk about some of the things that are hard,” she said. “You feel like you’re not normal, but yet you are. And he truly has come so far from the beginning where he felt isolated, and now he’s very open.”
Blasey has become a bit of a mentor for Hatten, and has been constantly heartened by his spirit and attitude. He’s learned a lot about Crohn’s disease throughout the process, too.
“I have a lot of special people who deal with it on a daily basis, and you don’t even really know because they’re strong people and they work hard at taking care of themselves,” Blasey said. “And I just have a respect for anybody who deals with hardships like that.”
Working with a young person has been a pleasure for Blasey.
“Jack, still being very much of a novice, has a lot of courage getting up there and doing it in front of people, and honestly, that’s how you get better faster,” Blasey said. “You can play every night in your bedroom, but when you get on stage, it’s a different dynamic. One night on stage may be worth five night in the bedroom. You learn a lot.”
It’s hard not to get the sense that the Hattens are the real deal. Jay Wiley, who heads the Pittsburgh band The Hawkeyes, greatly admires them.
“These are the people that you dream of when you’re out on the road,” Wiley said. “And you meet them everywhere in every town… but to have them right here in our own backyard is extra special.”