While Greg Hatcher’s investment in his community – especially youth services – is wide, the depth of his involvement is what’s most impressive. Over the years, there have been thousands of children and young adults who have been party to his encouragement.

In addition to many community service posts, board memberships and accolades, Hatcher started the first wrestling programs in The Natural State. He founded the Arkansas Wrestling Association and purchased mats for 65 high schools and 13 colleges to help the new programs support more than 4,000 wrestlers. The Greg L. Hatcher Wrestling Center on the campus of UA Little Rock provides a state-of-the-art home for the Trojan wrestling program, considered one of the best in the nation.

The Mighty Bluebirds is a nonprofit organization he started that gives kids afterschool activities to foster character and confidence through competition. The organization includes talented coaches who can push kids to compete at the highest levels in soccer, wrestling, baseball, equestrian, basketball and tennis.

An athlete himself, Hatcher graduated from Alma College in Michigan where he was a decorated competitor and student, captain of the wrestling team, named First-Team All-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and helped the wrestling and baseball teams capture a total of six MIAA titles while also lettering in soccer.

Hatcher is CEO of The Hatcher Agency, and his company is the largest organically-grown employee benefits agency in the U.S. It’s known as “The Home of Outrageous Service,” and Hatcher’s book “55 Steps to Outrageous Service” details how the insurance agency got that way.

Inspiration from the Mat

“I played soccer, wrestling and baseball, and I went to college and got a degree like everybody else," Hatcher says. "But, if you take all that I learned in the classroom and fraternity or wherever, it was what I learned in sports competing that mattered – sometimes being the best, sometimes being the worst, sometimes being in between.

“If I'm hiring somebody and one person's an athlete and the other person's not, I'll take the athlete every time because I know they've been through adversity and are going to have to be disciplined. They have to run when they don't think they can run anymore, and wrestling is the toughest sport of them all. Anybody that’s ever wrestled before, they always say once you've wrestled, everything else is easy.”

Donning a wrestling singlet – the equivalent to wearing a one-piece women’s bathing suit with shorts – and going head-to-head with another wrestler in front of a crowd is intimidating, but it’s mind over matter that requires the most training.

“There’s no time outs, there’s no substitutions and there’s no excuses,” Hatcher says.

“You know, if you lose in football or basketball, you can blame the coach, the other players, the play calls. Here, there is nobody to blame. You're out there on this island and it’s sink or swim. Somebody's trying to rip your head off, and there's no way out.”

It’s not necessarily the toughest guys at school that take up wrestling. According to Hatcher, they “wouldn’t dare risk going out on the mat and getting embarrassed.” Sometimes it's the kid that's not very tough, but has great inner strength.

“So that’s what I love about wrestling," he says. "It’s that we've taken kids who are little, who most people don't think are very good athletes. They take the chance because they’ve got nothing to lose.

“They're not gonna ever be easily intimidated by anything. Nothing you could throw at them would seem too hard because, when you're out there wrestling, sometimes the guy is just kicking your tail and you can't just give up. You gotta hang in there and get to the finish line. And that's the way life is sometimes.”

Leading by Example

It's easy to see why, in 2004, the mission of Centers for Youth and Families was enough of a draw for Hatcher to get involved. Many of the people CFYF serves are those who have had to learn the hard way what it means to hang on and get to the finish line.

During his tenure as a volunteer, donor, board president and board member, the organization has worked to address typical family issues and concerns as well as serve socially and emotionally challenged and at-risk youth, children with learning differences, runaway and homeless youth, expecting and new parents, pregnant and parenting teens, young Hispanic parents, foster families and victims of human trafficking.

When Hatcher was board president, the organization introduced a new program that allowed young men to get involved and gave them a deeper understanding of philanthropy and community service. Champions of Hope is an opportunity for 11th and 12th grade boys to learn how to address issues like homelessness, depression, suicide prevention and human trafficking.

“We're getting young guys involved when they're in high school, when you're generally at your most selfish it's-all-about-me stage, and we’re helping them get started early in community service activities, just like a coach got me started early and I gave back later,” Hatcher says. “If we get these kids started early, we're training them and we're teaching them to be the future leaders in our communities.”

According to Melissa Hendricks, CFYF foundation director, Champions hear from speakers, work with each other to further community projects and commit to raising money for CFYF. The funds are used for needs like clothes, shoes, school supplies, birthday or holiday celebrations, books, games, arts and crafts or helping to be sure no child is turned away because he or she does not have insurance.

“[Hatcher] helped to create our Champions program," Hendricks says. "He's really exemplary of the whole thing – time, talents, treasure – and that continued commitment to making a difference to children in the community.

“We honor him as our Hero of Hope because of what he's done for CFYF over the years, but also because he has such a bigger impact beyond CFYF in the community with helping children through the Mighty Bluebirds program and through what he's done with wrestling all over the state. It's pretty incredible.”

The Evolve Gala

In addition to honoring Hatcher, the organization will recognize this year’s 46 Champions of Hope, highlight its mission and services for survivors of human trafficking and bring back “The Choice” show inspired by NBC’s "The Voice." Performers include Bijoux, MaryBeth Byrd, Joe Purvis, Haywood King and Christina Munoz Madsen.

Friday, April 16, 7 p.m.