A heart like JJ’s
Remembering sophomore who passed from heart condition
March 10, 2023
He was only 2 years old when he began throwing things. It started in car rides with his mother – he would throw his bottle toward the dashboard. As the years progressed, the bottle became a football and a baseball. His mother would joke with him that he had always been an athlete because he had been throwing things all his life. He soon grew a passion for sports — a passion that burned strong until the end.
Sophomore Jason Dewayne Hatcher Jr. (JJ) passed away on Dec. 18. JJ was born with a heart condition known as the Anomalous Origin of a Coronary Artery, a rare condition where the coronary arteries of the heart are positioned on the same side, instead of opposites. His condition went undetected until he was sent into cardiac arrest at the age of 15.
“He was always asking what he could do to get better,” JJ’s mother Natasha Hatcher said. “One of the last texts he sent to his dad [was] ‘what could I do to be better?’ The thing is, he was always great. He was very humble and available to his peers, friends and teammates. He’s always been that person, doing great but helping others along with him.”
Head football coach John Towels said he was not afraid to lose this year’s seniors because he believed JJ was the future of their team. Their last conversation consisted of ideas of JJ taking the next step to become a team leader. Towels said he felt God gave them that moment for a reason, and nothing was left unsaid before his passing.
“It’s hard because it’s a tragedy any time a young person loses their life — even more so when you’ve been connected with them,” Towels said. “He hadn’t reached his full potential as far as what he was going to do and what he could [have] become. It’s hard to realize that we will never see that. We just have to know [that] in these types of situations, there’s a higher power and there’s more involved in this than just us. I can rest assured that he is in a far better place.”
JJ had also been playing baseball since he was a child and joined the school’s baseball team his freshman year. Head baseball coach Steve Stone said JJ excelled on the team as an athlete and a teammate, and would “come to life” while playing in a game.
“He could hit the ball farther, run faster [and] jump higher than just about everybody else,” Stone said. “[But] he was more than just a great athlete. People who didn’t get to know him didn’t know how good of a friend he was and how loyal he was to people. He wanted to see other people succeed around him.”
Sophomore Chase Harris became close friends with JJ through playing the same position on their childhood baseball team. Harris said he appreciated how JJ was outgoing toward everyone.
“The first time he scored [a] touchdown, I came up to him [and said], ‘good job, you did it’ and he [said] ‘now it’s your turn,’” Harris said. “He said this to [around] five other people after his touchdown. He was always [motivating and] uplifting — he’d rather see you do well than himself do well.”
JJ’s mother plans to start a foundation called “A Heart Like JJ’s,” which will work to get athletes proper screenings to detect heart conditions before being cleared to play. It will also aim to teach teenagers to follow in JJ’s footsteps by educating them on being a shoulder to lean on for their friends.
“I’m going to approach it from a mental health counseling side where we are teaching young people to be available to their peers and friends, and [to] have a heart, be a listener, give advice and help people,” Natasha said. “On the medical side, I plan to find a way to raise funds to help kids get the testing that they need to diagnose [heart conditions], especially [in] athletes. My hope is that another mother doesn’t have to go through the same things I’m going through.”
Natasha said that JJ would want to be remembered as a good friend. She wants everyone to know that, above all, he was a lover. She plans to carry his memory with her and their family by doing just as she believes JJ would — being a good person and always open to helping others.
“We are devastated and we’ll never be the same,” Natasha said. “We are a family of seven; we’re not weaker because we lost him, we’re stronger because we had him. I see so many strengths in all of us that we didn’t have before. We really just had to dig deep and be supportive of each other.”