- Sponsorship -

‘No ordinary person’

Friend remembers hockey teammate, athletic trainer

For almost two decades now I have been part of a group that gathers at 6 a.m. twice a week for an hour of pick-up hockey. No refs, no fans, no face-offs. Just 60 minutes of skating, shooting, celebrating and enjoying what we consider to be the greatest game on earth.

In his book “Open Ice: Reflections and Confessions of a Hockey Lifer,” former Sports Illustrated hockey writer Jack Falla recounts telling a friend that he’d soon be headed to the National Hockey League draft. His friend wondered why. 

Falla replied: “I go to see my friends. Hockey is the only tribe I belong to.”

His descriptor is an apt one for our morning skate, a special place composed of fierce competitors and loyal friends.

Last fall, Dan Chappell, one of our long-time participants and a man who spent 35 years as an athletic trainer and teacher at East Kentwood High School, was going through chemotherapy. He couldn’t play for a period of several months. I emailed him and told him he’d be missed.

He replied: “I very much miss hockey. Not because of my stats but the group of guys. Please give everyone my best and it’s OK to tell anyone who asked about me. I am looking forward to playing as soon as possible.”

I went back and re-read that email on the day, August 14, that I found out Dan had passed away because of the cancer he so valiantly fought.

What jumped out at me on that re-read was Dan’s comment, “Not because of my stats but the group of guys.”

As Falla said: “I go to see my friends.”

Before Dan died, his hockey friends collected some thoughts and reflections for him.

One person wrote: “I appreciated talking about sports injuries, high school athletics and teaching. Mostly though I appreciated talking about our families. I consider you a great friend and confidant.”

Another reflected on Dan’s life and legacy at East Kentwood.

“I often see you at Kentwood Ice Arena when I officiate. Sometimes that’s in person … But even when you’re not there, I see you on the wall in the lobby where you’re photographed with dozens of teams over the years. Both make me think of all the kids you got to know over the years as an athletic trainer and teacher, the way you befriended and helped them, and the things you did that made a positive difference for students, players and coaches in many sports and settings.”

Dan Chappell

Many Memories and a Deep Sense of Loss

Such sentiments were also a recurring theme on Dan’s Facebook page as people tagged him in their memories of his life and their deep sense of loss at his passing.

One such example: “Tough day at Kentwood. We lost a great man today, Dan Chappell. As most of you know Chap was the trainer at EK. Trainers are special as they look after our kids when they are injured. How many Kentwood kids did he help over the years? Our community owes you for taking care of our kids.”

Another person wrote: “He taught me a lot of athletic training things, but he also taught me so much more … We worked our butts off and laughed the entire time with Chap. I think anyone who worked with him had the same sentiments. One of the great ones.”

C.S. Lewis once said: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry … This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Dan was no ordinary person, and many of us know how fortunate we were to have been able to play with him.

In Dan’s email reply to me last fall, he had concluded by saying: “Thanks for noticing my absence.”

He meant morning hockey of course. But now his words have a deeper pathos. Indeed, across West Michigan, Dan’s absence is being felt, in deep and visceral ways, and will be for many years to come.

As one of our hockey group members said: “My hockey brother, thank you for being you. Thank you for your constant presence in the hockey group. It is not the same without you. Your absence is felt every week. We love you and promise to think of you often.”

And so shall it be. RIP friend.

- Sponsorship -
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and also is a general assignment reporter and the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children.  Read Phil's full bio or email Phil.


Fourth-grade hockey fan gets a magical hour on ice: ‘I made the shot!’

Raised as a Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins hockey fan, Jackson Solow lights up while skating on an ice rink wearing his favorite hockey jersey...

‘This time it is continued learning’

One school’s switch from in-person to virtual education last week was nearly seamless, especially when compared with the forced school closure in March...

Foundation grants $28,285 in fall funding requests

Virtual phys ed and art experiences, materials to improve classroom focus and books on social issues aimed at middle-schoolers are among the grants approved this fall...

Latest school closings expand on state-ordered high school mandate

More Kent County districts continue to announce temporary school building closures, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Superintendent announces retirement after 33 years serving Kentwood community

Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff this week announced he will retire at the end of the school year, June 30...

Schools in nine districts announce closures as COVID cases spike

New temporary school building closures were announced by nine school districts in Kent ISD this week, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU