By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
In 1972, at age 9, Lake Forest native David Sweet nearly drowned—inside an Atlanta Braves bat-boy uniform. Picture a slim boy wearing a pop-up tent tucked inside a pair of billowy baseball pants.
“The uniform was at least three sizes too big,” recalls a smiling Sweet, who was told his late parents, Philip and Nancy, had won the bat-boy opportunity at auction.
A moment beside Atlanta’s Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron for a photo capped off Sweet’s unforgettable day at Wrigley Field, where the Braves played the Chicago Cubs. “I also remember feeling conflicted all day, because I was a Cubs fan,” the 60-year-old Sweet says.
Aaron, a prodigious slugger, would end his Hall of Fame career with 755 home runs—a Major League Baseball record at the time— in 1976. Sweet, a prolific writer, keeps hammerin’ away as a polished content producer. Currently a senior writer at Northbrookbased Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., an engineering consultant, Sweet has written books, newspaper and magazine features, editorials, columns, blogs, newsletters, a company’s e-book, and marketing pieces.
But the potent pairing of Sweet and a pen began well before he fetched bats at Clark and Addison. It kicked off in an era when penmanship was an art form and a heartfelt way of communicating.
“My mother taught me the importance of writing thank-you notes,” says Sweet, whose strengths as a writer include the ability to distill complex topics into engaging, informative, and easy-to-understand copy. “Today I enjoy the entire process of writing as a journalist or as an author, from researching to interviewing to figuring out what’s the most interesting information.
“My goal in every piece I write is to be compelling, clear, and concise. I respect the reader.”
Sweet has written for, among a slew of other outlets, Glendale (California) News- Press, The Wall Street Journal, Pioneer Press newspapers, MSNBC.com, Classic Chicago magazine, and JWC Media publications, including The North Shore Weekend. His host of professional titles after earning a Master of Arts in Journalism at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, includes executive sports reporter, columnist/ reporter, managing editor, editor in chief, editorial copywriter, and senior communications strategist.
Topics he has written about include two girls who attempted to make a boys’ high school football team in 1991 (for which he won a California newspaper award); lottery winners; Black Friday; ex-Chicago Bear William “The Refrigerator” Perry; the “Miracle on Ice” men’s hockey game that he attended with his father at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York; the City of Lake Forest’s budget process; author Scott Turow; the web retailer Toysmart; and engineers who examined buildings after earthquakes shook Turkey in February.
“I’m still writing a ton of stories on subjects that interest me,” says Sweet, who wrote his first book, Lamar Hunt: The Gentle Giant Who Revolutionized Professional Sports, in 2010, and penned Three Seconds in Munich: The Controversial 1972 Olympic Basketball Final in 2019. “I always learn so much as a writer. There’s a lot to do, but I don’t feel busy because I love what I’m doing.”
The best and most inspiring instructor Sweet ever learned from was his sophomore English teacher at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. The man was an eccentric disciplinarian who had no time for tardy students—he’d lock his classroom door the minute each class started—and often referred to William Shakespeare as “Billy.”
“I always looked forward to his class,” says Sweet, a Lake Forest Country Day School graduate. “He had a great sense of humor, was always entertaining while teaching, and he fostered my love for writing. He also was a part of a bid to purchase the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And I loved his assignments—from reading Julius Caesar and other great books to writing a research paper on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”
Sweet earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. His favorite English teacher at the liberal arts school was Paul Bennett, whose favorite phrase, according to Sweet, was, “Right on!”
But what occurred on the left coast—inside and outside the classroom during his graduate-school years at USC—cemented Sweet’s decision to pursue a career in writing.
“The training I got from strong teachers— in media law, magazine writing, investigative journalism, and more—set me on the path I’m still on today. For the first time, I worked at professional organizations—interning at Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times—and wrote about topics that interested me, such as a man who played piano for silent movies in the 1990s.”
Sweet married Connecticut native and College of the Holy Cross graduate Tricia Shields in 2001. She’s the facilities director at Gorton Center in Lake Forest. David and Tricia live in Lake Forest and have three children: Hannah, 21, a University of Dayton senior psychology major; David Jr., 19, a sophomore economics major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; and Ford, 16, a junior golfer/hockey player at Lake Forest Academy.
“They’re fantastic kids,” the father says. “They’re respectful and kind and empathetic, and they’re all doing what they’re interested in doing. It’s been a thrill watching them in various stages of life.”
A lifelong sports fan, Sweet enjoys playing squash, golf, and tennis, when he’s not reading a biography or a nonfiction book. A young David Sweet biked to the Chicago Bears’ training facility in Lake Forest decades ago and snapped a Polaroid camera at a future Hall of Famer. Seconds later, Walter Payton signed the photograph.
But Sweet’s favorite story is a love story, not a sports story. It features siblings Bill and Rita Harding, New York shut-ins who had interacted regularly, and separately, with a social worker from the Burden Center for the Aging and a volunteer from St. James’ Church in New York City. Bill and Rita urged the social worker and the volunteer to go on a blind date. The couple dined at Mustang.
The social worker was Tricia Shields.
The volunteer was David Sweet.
“Every year on the day we met (August 4, 1998), we have lunch starting at the same time we met all those years ago at Mustang in New York,” Sweet says. “I’m so glad we met the way we did—helping others.
“The best day of my life was meeting Tricia. Her smile and blue eyes and friendliness were unforgettable.” How sweet.
To read David Sweet’s portfolio of work, visit davidsweet.contently.com.