To Jack Trice, with love

17 Sep

The story of John Arends and the story of Jack Trice are very much interconnected.

Of course, the Trice story is well known to those of us familiar with Iowa State University history. But John’s story is no less passionate and dramatic: It’s a behind-the-scenes push to tell the Trice story to a broader audience.

Let’s start where the stories begin to overlap.

John was an undergraduate at Iowa State in the 1970s when a debate began on campus and in the local media about whether to name the new football stadium in honor of Jack Trice. Despite strong support by students to name it Jack Trice Stadium, university officials stayed with the name Cyclone Stadium.

John says he was “just a spectator” in the Trice naming controversy during those years. But later, as a graduate student at Iowa State in the 1980s, he attempted to write a play about the Trice story for his master’s thesis.

He never finished the play. However, he did write a guest editorial for the Des Moines Register just as the campus was again debating the stadium name (this time, he said, the university “cut the baby in half” by naming the stadium “Cyclone Stadium” and the field “Jack Trice Field.”) It was 1983, the 60th anniversary of Jack’s death. John’s editorial caught the attention of Newsweek, and the magazine’s Midwest bureau chief wrote an article about Jack Trice titled “Once upon a time in Iowa.”

About that time, a Hollywood producer called John and the two discussed turning the Jack Trice story into a movie. But nothing ever came of it.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Iowa State’s football stadium is now, finally, named Jack Trice Stadium. John (who graduated with a degree in journalism in 1977) and his wife, Anne (’78 physical education & dance), have raised three children (all of whom attended Iowa State). John is the president and CEO of ARENDS, a communications and marketing agency in Batavia, Ill.

And then John turned 50 and it hit him: He still wanted to write a screenplay to tell the Jack Trice story.

“I didn’t want to do the ‘what if?’” he says. So he studied the craft. He wrote two unrelated screenplays (one of which won a writing contest).

It was time to write about Jack Trice.

Now the story comes full circle. As I sat with John at his Batavia office, located in a 1870s windmill factory situated on the banks of the Fox River, I could feel the emotion in John’s voice as the words began pouring out:

“It’s such a great story,” he says. “It’s a coming of age story: taking a stand as a young man on the football field. So many Iowa State students – hundreds, thousands – have embraced this story. It would not go away. Jack died, and it was a horrific thing, but the university has honored him with [the stadium] name.”

John’s treatment of the story could best be called historical fiction. It’s based on the events of Jack Trice’s life, but it’s been embellished.

“It’s inspired by true events,” John explains, “but no one could know what was in Jack’s heart. No one could know what his coach felt.”

John invented a mentor for Jack who was African American. (“There’s always a white protagonist that saves the day. I wasn’t going to do that.”) There’s also a dual love story between Jack and his wife and Jack his mother.

The finished product is Trice, an original screenplay by John Arends.

Getting Trice produced as a major motion picture is another thing entirely. John says it will be too expensive. It will probably never get made.

But then Chicago ScriptWorks chose John’s story to be performed as a staged screenplay reading. John was paired with a director and professional actors. They found a small, off-Loop theater in Chicago, and on Sept. 15, 2010 Trice was performed.

The production was more than a common readers’ theatre. It employed stage lighting and projections. Actors, dressed in black, read from the script but also acted out the football scene, the funeral scene, and more.

Katherine Hallenbeck (’02 MIS/finance) saw the show.

“It took close to 30 years to see John’s work come alive on stage, but it only took me 90 minutes and a talented cast of 15 to fall in love with the Iowa State legend and our football stadium’s namesake,” she said.

What’s next? John is encouraged by the response to the show. He still hopes to be able to tell the Jack Trice story to a broader audience and a new generation of Iowa Staters through film or stage.

“It’s Jack’s story,” he says, smiling sadly. “It has power.”

2 Responses to “To Jack Trice, with love”

  1. George Trice September 18, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    John, if you ever need more input, I will give what I can. I am a first cousin of Jack and a graduate of ISU

    • John Arends September 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

      George – I’d love the opportunity to learn more, especially from a member of the Trice clan. If you’re a member of Facebook, you can go to this link — — and then send me a private message with your e-mail address or contact info. If not, feel free to contact me through our agency website at

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