Biological son of Bison football legend Paul Hatchett shares national championship pedigree
Thomas Moede, a teacher and coach in Atlanta, shared a similar running style to the NDSU running back.
FARGO — The running back who wore jersey No. 33 made the news when he helped Ellsworth Community College (Iowa) to a junior college national football championship in 1987, an undefeated team that produced multiple NCAA Division I players. It wasn’t the first time Thomas Moede made the newspaper.
That’s how he was first shown to the world and the headline from a Minneapolis publication probably says it all: “Baby Left in Entryway of Minneapolis Home.”
That was Thomas, in 1968, found on a porch of a duplex at 3021 18th Avenue South in Minneapolis. The article said he was listed in serious condition, although one resident, “Mrs. Gus Pohl,” said the baby was in a cold condition but appeared healthy because he “kept squirming around and making noises.”
These days, in Atlanta, Thomas Moede is making noises educating elementary students as a teacher and coaching high school students in basketball and track and field. In February, he discovered a game changer in his life.
His father was Paul Hatchett.
“I was getting ready for work and I was floored,” Moede said. “He looks just like me. I look just like him.”
Hatchett was the All-American running back at North Dakota State from 1967-69 who left the school with 14 single-season or career records. He was a standout athlete at Minneapolis Central who helped raise NDSU’s football profile from a doormat in the early 1960s to the Division I FCS power it is today.
What started as his half biological brother Jonathan Wright contracting with the Los Angeles firm of “BirthParentFinder.com” in a DNA search for biological parents has resulted in three brothers finding each other in the last few months.
Jonathan Wright, a teacher in the U.S. territory of Guam, and Jimmie Lee Bishop, who lives in the Twin Cities, share both biological parents and all three share Hatchett as their biological father.
All three didn’t have to look too hard to realize they have similar physical and verbal characteristics. But of the three, Moede is the most similar to his biological father in another respect.
Both were great running backs.
Both share the fact they were on national championship teams.
“Which is crazy,” Moede said. “When I saw that, it brought me to tears.”
Former high school teammates of Hatchett say Thomas and his father had similar running styles. Hatchett was 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds; his biological son 5-11 and 190. One of Moede’s two daughters created a photo of Thomas and Paul side-by-side that depicts a similar look.
Hatchett was the offensive cog on Bison national title teams in 1968 and 1969. Both squads are in the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame.
Moede was a regular in the backfield for the Ellsworth team that was inducted into the ECC Hall of Fame in 2017.
It was around then when he took an ancestry DNA test. His adoptive parents, Jonas and Mary Moede from Windom, Minn., had passed away and Thomas was curious about his biological father. Jonas and Mary’s family was featured in a 1971 Minneapolis Star Tribune article with the headline “Windom Family Adopts Happiness.”
Like Jonathan Wright’s adoptive parents in Mendota Heights, Minn., the Moedes were legendary in Windom for their love and caring of adoptive children. They adopted six children and had three of their own, a multiracial and nationality household that blended together to form a family.
Jonathan, ironically, was found on the steps of a Catholic church in Minneapolis. Thomas already knew about being left on the porch through his adoption agency. The article was the only thing in the file. In it, he saw that Clayton Houff, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, was the first to discover him, so Moede located Houff through an extensive search and got in touch with him.
They later reunited in Savannah, Ga., when Houff traveled to the state for a seminar. A Star Tribune article from 2006 said Moede’s first name for the first two months in foster care was “Clayton” in honor of Houff.
Houff died in 2019, forever known to Moede as his rescuer.
Through the DNA test, Moede discovered that Wright, who also took the test, was his brother. It wasn’t until Wright emailed him an article of Hatchett that a connection was made to the former Bison player.
“This is your father,” said Moede, quoting a sentence from Wright.
Moede sent the information to his adoptive siblings, with his sister taking the baton in finding more information. Through her, he got in contact with a couple of Hatchett’s former Minneapolis Central teammates.
He established a relationship with Laurel Hatchett, Paul’s sister, that is so strong they talk almost daily.
Thomas made his mark with football, getting recruiting looks from the University of South Dakota and St. Cloud State, among others. An intelligent kid, but admittedly not the best student, he enrolled at Ellsworth.
He likens Ellsworth at the time to the “Last Chance U” series on Netflix, a documentary that details junior colleges and players trying to forge their way in the world.
“Ellsworth was the Last Chance U of that time,” Moede said. “I was one of the slotbacks, we didn’t have starters because we were a juggernaut.”
He worked hard at the game, despite people saying he had God-given talent and wasn’t fully vested in athletics. That didn’t sit well with Moede.
"Yeah, they said, 'He got it from somewhere,'" he said.
It turns out he did, from one of NDSU’s greatest players.
“Later in life, I was 53 years old, to get that validation is a cool feeling,” Thomas said.
The athletic genes were passed on. Both of Thomas’ daughters are athletes. Jillah Moede played basketball at Division I Jacksonville University (Fla.) and was the point guard on the first Jacksonville team to make the NCAA tournament in 2016.
Jannah Moede is a senior sprinter on the track and field team at Division III Birmingham-Southern (Ala.). The girls’ babysitter when they were young was NBC sportscaster Maria Taylor, who Thomas coached and trained when she was in high school.
There’s still plenty left for Thomas to discover in his family gas tank. He would like to get in touch with former Bison teammates of Hatchett and hear about what kind of player he was. Hatchett died in 2013 of natural causes.
The plan over his spring break in March was to fly to Minneapolis and get together with family members. His flight got canceled and the trip didn’t happen. That’s been postponed until the last week of May.
Minneapolis, after all, is home.