I still remember sitting at my computer and writing that email. It was August 11, 2008, and I had just signed up for the Yahoo Backyard Rink group. I introduced myself.
I just wanted to introduce myself. My name is Joe, I’m 28, and I
live in southern NH. I’m married with a two-year-old son. I’ve
played hockey since I was four, and now my son is as obsessed with
the sport as I was/am. We just bought him his first pair of Bauers
(they make a size six, who knew?) and he’s been skating twice at our
local rink in recent weeks.
I’ve recently become obsessed with building my own rink. We
purchased a horse property with a riding ring, and my first reaction
to seeing it three years ago was “that’s not a riding ring, it’s an
ice rink.” Hopefully this winter, it will be.
Is there anyone else from NH here? I know Falla is from Natick, but
does he still live there? I’d love to make the pilgrimage down to
see his work of art, if he still puts it together. I’m planning on
reading his book on the subject as well.
Nice to meet you all!
I hit ‘send’ at 10:30am. The first reply came 16 minutes later. It was Jack himself.
Hi, Joey…yes, I’m still in Natick, Mass. — 34 years and counting (only 25 years for rink).
Looking doubtful for rink this year. An age deal mainly. If that decision changes I’ll let you know. (The Granchildren’s Lobby is going full-court press). But, as of now, it wouldn’t be worth the trip.
Not trying to sell books — hey, take ‘em out of the library — but both HOME ICE and one of my earlier books, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED HOCKEY, have directions for building a backyard rink. The hopelessly outdated SI HOCKEY has drawings but HOME ICE is the better read. (Sequel to HOME ICE comes out Aug. 29 in Canada and shortly thereafter in USA…it’s up now on Amazon. Title is OPEN ICE (John Wiley & Sons, Toronto). No tech info in OPEN ICE however. Just essays.
Welcome aboard. If you’re like most of us you’ll find that a backyard rink is more addicting than tobacco, alcohol, or even bread sticks.
I called my wife. The conversation probably went something like this:
“Jack Falla just replied to me on a backyard rink mailing list!”
“That’s great honey. Who is Jack Falla?”
She’d survived dozens of her husband’s enthusiastic pursuits (the cycling, the rock climbing, the motorcycle), but this one was different. The fact that Jack was an active member of the mailing list sealed the deal. I was building a rink. I researched and read and asked questions and convinced the wife and questioned my sanity.
Then, on the morning of September 15th, 2008, the bombshell. I sat down in front of the computer and opened my inbox. My heart froze as I read the subject, written to the backyard rink list by a member from Massachusetts.
It read: “We will miss you Jack”
It couldn’t be. It was impossible. I’d just “met” him a month earlier, the legendary backyard rinkbuilder, author, and professor. He had replied to my email. There was no way he was gone.
But he was. I read on.
Jack Falla passed away yesterday of a heart attack. This just days after his new book was officially released.
I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but I have known of him and have read his books and articles. He was truly a legend in sports journalism and the backyard rink arena and I for one will miss his input to this group.
Rest in peace Jack!
I sat there. Stunned. Angry. I Googled his name. What popped up was one story after another, many written by former students, but some written by folks like me, hockey people who had never met him, but who had allowed his written words to move them. All said the same thing: he was sincere, he was intelligent, he was hysterical. He was one of a kind.
As it tends to do, the fall weather got colder. The day after Thanksgiving, my dad and I loaded his pickup truck with plywood and stakes, and we built my first backyard rink. A few days before Christmas, we filled it. After lunch on the 25th, my two-year-old made our first-ever backyard skate marks, his size 6 Bauers scraping the choppy surface as his beaming dad held him upright. One of the greatest days of my life.
Around that same time, wanting to capture our new backyard rink lifestyle, I started a blog. That blog was mostly for family and friends, a place where I could post pictures, talk about maintenance woes, and scold mother nature for her warm January. Periodically, I’d write openly about more personal topics, about my intense relationship with the game of hockey, and how it linked me with those I love. Sound familiar? It should.
Towards the end of the 2009-2010 season, our second as a backyard rink family, I bought the backyard-hockey.com domain name you’re staring at right now. I expanded the blog’s topics to include instructional posts and my pond hockey experiences, but never got away from the core values that I expressed in my first-ever post: hockey is a competitive sport, but it is also a vehicle that brings us memories, experiences, and relationships that will endure long beyond one’s playing days.
In a world of hockey machismo, speaking openly about ones feelings as they pertain to the sport seems counter-intuitive. But Jack taught us that it was acceptable, and while he never read anything I wrote on this blog, part of me feels like he would approve and relate. It’s this assumed posthumous approval that drives much of the content you’re reading.
Three years after his passing, my world is very different. We had twins five months ago today, and with a little luck, they’ll be scooting around the backyard rink in a couple years. Our oldest starts his second year of learn-to-skate with the same organization I played my youth hockey in, and it’s not at all lost on me that I tie his tiny skates in the same locker room where my dad tied mine. The days move a bit quicker, between work, and daycare pickups, soccer and hockey schedules, and the ambiguous “life” excuse that we all use when lamenting our collective lack of free time.
But every so often, I think of Jack, a man I never met in person. He emailed me but once, and that singular email has had more of an impact on my life than just about any other piece of digital communication I’ve ever received. It’s why I have a backyard rink. It’s why my love for the game of hockey has been re-ignited. It’s why you’re reading this blog.
For all of that, I thank you, Jack. I’d give up all the breadsticks in the world to tell you in person.
The Boston University College of Communication has established the Jack Falla Memorial Fund “to help future sports communicators and sports journalists at the College of Communication reach their goals.” For more information and to sign up for their email list, visit http://www.bu.edu/com/current-students/student-services/jack-falla-fund/