The last time I was in Plattsburgh, New York was April 2006.
On the drive North on I-87 I had an idea.: I’m going to do an informal survey with active SUNY Plattsburgh students regarding their colleges’ history.
The first day on campus at SUNY Plattsburgh I walked the breezeway that splits the Feinberg Library and the Angell College Center. Along the way, I stopped students and asked three questions:
- Are you a student at Plattsburgh State?
- What class?
- Do you know who Steve Hoar is?
I asked the same questions 12 times the first day and 12 more times the next day. In all, two dozen responses, 15 male, nine female, seven seniors, five juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen, all Plattsburgh State students and not a single student knew who Steve Hoar was. Zero. It was a scary reality for a budding author who was writing a book centered on the former hockey head coach who led the university to its first-ever NCAA championship.
I left Plattsburgh thinking how in the world am I going to write a book about a subject matter that even its core audience can’t relate to? I was already fighting a massive uphill climb with publishers. No one bought the idea, unless I was selling to my family. As soon as I mentioned the word hockey to a publisher the next thing I heard was a dial tone.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of baseball books. There is also an audience for football and basketball, but hockey, no way. Let’s do another informal poll:
- How many great hockey books have you read?
- Name one, just one hockey best-seller (past or present)?
Now that we’re all on the same page, throw in a little-known freelance writer trying to get his first book deal and what are the chances of making this work? It might be less than zero.
But, that may be the very reason you’re reading this. I was already convinced that I was being underestimated by an industry that didn’t know me, my passion, my energy or my vision for this book.
This is not a book about hockey. It’s a book about the people. It’s a book about college students, a local community, college athletics and a college university.
The characters in this book are real, not fiction. This is a true story. This is a piece of Plattsburgh history. These events shaped the philosophy of today’s athletic program, angered the local community and forever changed the lives of those involved.
For years, I researched, interviewed and wrote about this story. Current and former administrators, student-athletes, local community boosters shared their stories and provided important details for this book. These events changed their lives forever and, for some of them, this experience still haunts them today.
Steve Hoar resigned as head coach of the Plattsburgh State Cardinals men’s ice hockey program on October 25, 1989. Within days he left Plattsburgh and has never returned. Not for financial or physical reasons, he is forbidden by something much more powerful: his emotions.
In January 2003, after visiting Plattsburgh and having multiple phone conversations with him, I wrote him a letter inviting him to spend a couple days in Plattsburgh — all-expense paid.
The letter read:
I want to thank you for your time and participation. As I continue to compile this story, new doors opening. The paper trail of documents and the personal narratives from those involved, shed new light on people who – until now – have remained in the dark recesses of the event as a whole.
As you know the choices made by those involved before, during and after are critical to the foundation of this book. That includes your story. To really compile a solid story, a story with substance, I need your help. I need to know what you’re feeling, both then and now. I understand this will not be an easy thing for you to do. The one thing I clearly remember from our initial phone conversation is your feeling of “bitterness.” I need to get a perspective on what that means, when you say you’re “bitter.”
We need to revisit Plattsburgh. You need to talk to me about YOU. Paper facts will provide credibility to the story but your emotions – before, during and after – will help bring this book to life, give it substance and a human emotion. Anything less is not even worth the effort to write.
I have a factual story to tell with a timeline, inside interviews and a complete media history. But that’s not going to get me published and it’s not going to sell this idea to publisher. At the core of these events are a handful of humans, people who struggled emotionally. Anger, joy, sadness, disappointment, happiness, depression, whatever … emotion is the secret ingredient, the intangible that will make or break this book.
So, I ask you, can you help me? That’s something you need to ask yourself. Forget about the paper facts that have been compiled, those documents only provide a compass, directing the reader from start to finish on a defined timeline. The personal stories and shared emotions are what will draw the reader in. You need to decide if you want and can make the commitment to give me YOUR story – the good, the bad and the ugly, in its entirety.
I will be making a return trip to Plattburgh before the Spring 2003 semester is over (in February or early March). I think you need to be there for a day or two. Whether that means we meet there or I detour to Arlington on my way through and we make the trek together. I will not pressure you to do this if you are uncomfortable with returning to Plattsburgh or if there are personal circumstances that prohibit you.
The goal of this letter is to remind you that only YOU can define your persona for this story and the way people will connect is through a common bond, a similar experience or emotional feeling – good or bad. You have waited 14 years to express yourself regarding these events, now is the time. The only person who can stop you, is you.
Hoar declined the invitation.
He wasn’t the only one who didn’t talk. Joe Ferras, his first recruit and all-time leading scorer in Plattsburgh history, also refused multiple invitations to participate. Other included: Brian Riley (former assistant coach to Steve Hoar), Dr. Charles O. Warren (former SUNY Plattsburgh president), Leith Bardon, Chris Waterbury (Plattsburgh coach), Janet Hoar (Steve Hoar’s ex-wife) and Bob Goetz (Plattsburgh Press Republican).
Brad Graves and Mark Christiansen agreed, by phone, to meet in the days before my second trip to Plattsburgh State. We scheduled a tentative date and time to meet at the arena.
The following day, Graves called my mobile phone to inquire what the interview was about.
I told him I wanted to talk to them about the 1986-87 championship season – and the following years the university and ice hockey program was under investigation.
Graves replied, “That’s water under the bridge.” He told me he would not be available to meet.
I asked if he had spoken to Peter Luguri recently.
Graves replied, “Yes, I talked to him last night at a Plattsburgh soccer game.”
I replied, “I thought so.”
Graves snapped back and quickly ended the call.