By David A. F. Sweet
Lake Forest College alumnus Tim Rappleye – part of the 1977-78 Forester team that went to the NCAA Division II championship game — has carved out a nice career as a writer covering hockey.
From a book about Princeton University graduate and star hockey player Hobey Baker to his recently published A Miracle of Their Own about the gold-medal-winning 1998 U.S. women’s hockey team (with a foreword from Lake Forest native Hilary Knight), Rappleye has brought to life many stories about the sport.. He will be at Winnetka’s Book Stall on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 3 p.m. to talk about his latest work and to sign copies.
How did you get involved in writing?
I come from a family of writers and storytellers. My dad and brother were newspapermen, to be precise, and another brother was an on-air political reporter in Providence, Rhode Island, so storytelling and newsy stuff was often fodder at the dining-room table.
How did playing hockey spur your interest in writing about the sport?
I was both a player and a super fan. I went to the 1977 NCAA Frozen Four in Detroit with four other Foresters and nearly lost my mind. The next year, Lake Forest went to its own Frozen Four in Division II and became immersed in the mania.
I was not a terribly skilled player — something like a Clydesdale on defense. I didn’t carry the puck with my head up, and I always wished I could. So that made me curious/envious of those elite skill players and eager to tell their stories.
Tell me what it was like to cover the 1980 Olympics, which is best remembered for the U.S. win over the Soviet Union — the Miracle on Ice.
I was the official production assistant for bobsled and luge for ABC’s world feed, my first job of note out of college. ABC Sports staffer John Bessone arranged for me and two of my high-school hockey teammates to get venue credentials as runners and spotters for all the hockey games in Lake Placid. I do recall getting a sandwich for Ken Dryden, but the rest of the time I was just standing on call in ABC’s enormous TV press box high above the Olympic Center ice.
I recall the comeback against Finland, and Mark Johnson’s shorthanded goal early in the third period, as my favorite and most exciting moment. For some reason, beating the Soviets seemed like a fait accompli to me. I wasn’t nearly as excited as I should have been.
In what ways did Lake Forest College help get you interested in your career?
I met a Lake Forest College alum named Bob Verdi my senior year. Bob is probably Chicago’s greatest hockey writer; he covered the Blackhawks for two decades at the Chicago Tribune. I was so into sports and yakking about sports my entire four years at college that I figured I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do anything else. So the passion for sports was certainly kindled on old Sheridan Road.
What got you interested in the story of the 1998 U.S. women’s hockey team?
It was my writing partner Keith Gave who asked me if I wanted to team up with him on this book. Turns out he couldn’t have asked for a more versed partner because I had covered four Winter Olympic Games for NBC prior to that conversation. Keith had the vision; imagine him as the George Clooney from the Oceans 11 franchise. I happened to be the safecracker, the driver, the computer geek and some of the other specialists. I had a ton of working knowledge and relationships in this arena, but Keith had the vision, the art, and the mastery of Associated Press style. I cracked a lot of safes, however.
Is there a book you’d like to write but haven’t yet?
I wasn’t sure I had a book left in me until my conversation with Keith 16 months ago. I was a big fan of the legendary Frank McCourt and his book Teacher Man; I read that shortly after getting certified to teach public school in Connecticut. Teaching is super hard, and often hilarious. I substitute teach frequently in my new home of Traverse City.
I was thinking that if I gave up writing about hockey, maybe I could journal my adventures in middle school as a beleaguered sub teacher. It could be fun, and it might simplify my life as well. How long can one spend in the toy department of life after all?
What would you say is the biggest challenge you face as an author?
Those niggling typos. No matter how many times you read your stuff, something slips through the cracks. I’ve hired others, including my wife who is an excellent editor with a great eye, but they still slip through. Maddening.
What’s your favorite part about writing a book?
By far is the joy of someone actually reading, and enjoying, your work. I’ve written for a lot of online publications, and you’re never sure if anyone is reading your stuff. Sometimes touching a single reader makes it all worthwhile. Also, the camaraderie one enjoys with fellow writers is grand. Makes for great conversations.
What are some stories you can share about conducting interviews for a book?
I remember the poignant ones. I sometimes envision myself as a Barbara Walters, occasionally making my subjects leak tears. When I interviewed Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker about the father of one of his players, Seth Johnson, for Wiseguys, I was the one getting moist. Those Boston Irish, they can truly spin yarns. I think that’s why Wiseguys (the story of the 1977-78 Boston University national champions, who sent players to the 1980 Olympics) was so enjoyed; those fellas basically wrote it themselves.
The Sporting Life columnist David A. F. Sweet is the author of Three Seconds in Munich. You can reach him at email@example.com.