For years Mike Sielski has been writing masterpieces, just under deadline for Calkins Media’s family of newspapers. But now, Sielski has decided to try something new—writing a book.
After spending years covering the Central Bucks East vs. Central Bucks West rivalry, Sielski discovered two players, two rivals, and two stars, who would later become teammates. Teammates far away from the Doylestown, Pa., gridirons where they spent much of their youth. In fact, their team involved no footballs or goal posts, rather guns, ammunition, and heroism.
Yes, these two high school football stars would later become teammates on America’s front-lines, protecting the country they love.
But I think Sielski himself tells the story just a bit better, because after all, it’s his. In Sielski’s first book Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to Fields of Honor he tells this story as only he can. And he was kind enough to talk with us about the book, which is available now, wherever books are sold.
SHAY RODDY: Could you give us a brief summary of the book?
MIKE SIELSKI: The book is a non-fiction narrative about the lives of Colby Umbrell, who played football at Central Bucks High School East and eventually became an Army Ranger, and Bryan Buckley, who played at CB West and became a Marine. Even though they weren’t close friends, these two men grew up in the same small town (Doylestown) and took similar paths into the military and actually ended up serving in Iraq at the same time. Unfortunately, one was killed in action.
SR: I understand you spent some time covering the Central Bucks West vs. Central Bucks East rivalry for the Inteligencer, back in the beginning of your career. At what point did you come across these two characters (Colby Umbrell and Bryan Buckley) and realize what a successful book the story could make?
MS: I was the Intelligencer’s East-West beat writer for more than four years, starting in 1998–Colby’s and Bryan’s senior season. I knew them fairly well that year, but once they graduated, I lost touch with them. Once I learned what each of them had done since they had graduated from high school, I realized that combining their stories could make for a good book. Their lives and experiences had the necessary archetypes and dramatic elements: war, high school football, small-town America, etc.
SR: At what point did you begin writing the story?
MS: I wrote a series of articles about Colby in December 2007. Those articles became the starting point for the book. I got the book contract in July ‘08 and began writing the rest of the manuscript then. I finished on Friday, Feb. 27, 2009–not that the date stays in my mind or anything.
SR: What additional reporting/research did you have to do for the book?
MS: I had to interview dozens of family members and friends of Colby and Bryan, collect documents and e-mails and letters, and read everything I could about Iraq and the war. Plus, because Doylestown was such an integral part of the story, I had to research its history and development, too.
SR: Where/ when can we get the thing?
MS: It should be available in just about any bookstore in the country. I know you can order it on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, among other places.
SR: You’ve spent most of your career in newspapers. What made you decide to write the book?
MS: I love long-form narrative writing, and it’s rare anymore to have the space and the time to pursue those kinds of stories in newspapers. I’m a big fan of books such as “The Devil and the White City” and “They Marched into Sunlight”—historical narratives that put a compelling true story into the context of its times. I wanted to try to do something similar—tell a sports-related story that was simultaneously universal and unique.
SR: Did you enjoy it?
MS: Loved it. It was very liberating to be able to write as much as I wanted in the way I wanted. It was exhausting because I was still writing my column regularly and because I spent the fall teaching part-time at La Salle University, but it was worth it.
SR: What can we expect from you in the future?
MS: I’m still columnizing for Calkins Media. As far as the next book project goes, I’m trying to find the right subject or topic.
Special Thanks to friend of Phillie Phanantics Mike Sielski for, as always, so graciously and quickly doing this interview.