RIP, Steve Tappa – talented wordsmith, generous friend

Steven Michael Tappa, Feb. 5, 1966 — June 18, 2024. CREDIT TODD MIZENER

Since word of Steve Tappa’s Tuesday, June 18, death began to spread, fellow journalists, schools, teams, coaches and athletes have been mourning the loss of a talented and influential wordsmith and generous friend.

Many of them will gather this weekend to say goodbye to a soft-spoken gentle giant of a man who elevated the people around him and whatever sport or cause he turned his attention to.

Funeral services and Mass of Christian Burial for Mr. Tappa are at noon Monday, June 24, 2024, at Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University, Davenport. Burial will be in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Davenport. Visitation is 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at the Halligan-McCabe-DeVries Funeral Home, Davenport, and at Christ the King Chapel on Monday from 10 a.m. until time of services. 

Mr. Tappa is a homegrown talent who graduated from Bettendorf High School and St. Ambrose University. For many years he covered sports for The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus. Also, long before it was a thing, Mr. Tappa lived and thrived in a gig economy. His many side jobs included working at WQAD and MC22 TV, as broadcasting director for the St. Ambrose TV station from 1991-95, and KALA radio, and writing for the St. Ambrose Alumni Publications, the Illinois Press Association and other publications. 

He also has been contributing his talents to the Quad Cities Regional Business journal since shortly after its launch on Dec. 1, 2021.

“Steve was a valuable member of our QCBJ team, and a longtime friend to some of our news team,” QCBJ Editor Jennifer DeWitt said. “While he was best known for his sports coverage, his thorough, detailed reporting style made him an excellent business reporter.”

Living on Tappa Time

Ms. DeWitt added “As an editor, I had to learn to manage ‘Tappa Time’ and his idea of deadlines. But I am so proud and thankful to have had him along with us in this new venture and as a dear friend.”

He made up for his propensity for pushing a deadline with his dedication. Consider that just hours before his death, he completed and turned in a John Deere Classic Birdies for Charity story for the journal’s June 24 edition.

“Even in his part-time role with us, he left his mark exploring various business topics such as the expansion of rural broadband, the impact and growth of sports tourism including the John Deere Classic, and Major League Baseball’s then new training partnership with TBK Sports Complex which garnered him top state and national journalism awards,” she said.

Andrew Lehman, John Deere Classic Tournament director and a youth baseball coach, is among Mr. Tappa’s legion of fans and friends. “We are devastated to learn about the passing of Steve Tappa. Taps was a friend to many and will be greatly missed,” he told the QCBJ. 

“I always enjoyed our chats, whether about our families, the John Deere Classic, youth baseball and our painful discussions about the Cubs,” he said. “Rest easy, my friend. Gone too soon but not forgotten.”

In an industry in which being first is more important than being kind, Mr. Tappa also stood out.

Kindness stood out

 “When I first got into Quad Cities sports media nearly 25 years ago, I was like a fish out of water,” WQAD Sports Director Matt Randazzo said. “Steve Tappa was one of the first media members to embrace me, help me, and make me feel like I belonged. He just had a way of making you feel important.”

He called Mr. Tappa “one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. From Quad City high school football power polls to college signing days to appearances on The Score Sunday, Stevie put everything he had into everything he did.”

He was always ready to help a friend.

“I’ll never forget Sept. 27, 2009. Steve and my good friend Marc Nesseler had to pinch hit and host the Sunday show on WQAD when we welcomed our first born into the world. They both did a way better job than I would’ve done,” he said.

Todd Mizener, former Dispatch-Argus chief photographer, told the QCBJ “One of my lasting memories of Stevie is that whenever we finished taping the Press Box – the Dispatch/Argus sports department’s YouTube show – he was the only one who ever stayed to help me wrap up the mic cords and break down the lights and cameras.”

He added  “He knew how to handle the equipment from his days in radio and TV and always rolled up the cables with love and care. It seemed like such a little thing at the time, but it epitomized who he was: a kind and gentle soul. His passing leaves a huge hole in our journalism community that is impossible to fill. I will miss him dearly.” 

Every moment a treasure

John Marx, the retired Dispatch-Rock Island Argus sportswriter and longtime columnist for the publications, is among those who knew Mr. Tappa best.

“Stevie was one of my dearest friends long before he allowed me to date, fall in love with and marry his sister, whom he protected with every fiber of his being. We worked together – long days covering sports – and when I was promoted to columnist – he took over my spot in sports. We shared TV, radio and print worlds together, and I treasured every moment,” he said.

“He was compassionate, he was caring, loving and he had a flair for the written word. Mind you,  my brother-in-law had no sense of time. I’m sure his funeral will start 15 minutes late,” Mr. Marx said.

 That he needed to cram as much into every day seems fitting somehow for a man who remained optimistic, outgoing and giving, despite serious health challenges that had plagued him until his death at age 58.

“He wanted the world, not often a happy place, to be a happy place,” Mr. Marx told the QCBJ. “It was the way he lived each day, taking things as they came, but with a smile in his heart and a kind word from his mouth. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone to say a harsh word about Stevie.”

He added “He was at his best, though, as a father. His boys knew they were loved and were easily the apple of their father’s eye.” 

BPV honors commissioner

So much so he not only coached sons Michael and AJ’s Bettendorf-Pleasant Valley (BPV) Youth Baseball team he was commissioner of the league. His aim, Mr. Marx said, was to “provide a safe haven for kids to play a game, but more importantly have a place where they can have fun, be appreciated and maybe find some footing in life.”

The program paid homage to Mr. Tappa on its Facebook page after his death. “If you have been around BPV baseball for any length of time, you probably saw Steve around as he worked all hours to make sure this league was running every day. He never had anyone who he wouldn’t stop and talk to and give his full attention. Taps will certainly be missed!”

In his honor, BPV baseball is hosting a pair of memorial games beginning at 5:30 p.m. today at Devils Glen Park. Players will wear special jerseys with “TAPPA 63” (Mr. Tappa’s high school football number) on the back, and 100 pins with the same phrase will be available for players and crowd members. Volunteers will also be collecting donations to help cover expenses for Mr. Tappa’s family.

High school sports programs also are paying homage to Mr. Tappa, including the Moline High School Football Program which posted this on X: “The sports coverage in our area was second to none because of reporters like Steve Tappa. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”

Geneseo High School also said on X: “R.I.P. Steve Tappa. Thank you for all your years of covering Geneseo Athletics and Quad City Athletics.”

In addition to school sports, Mr. Tappa helped grow events. 

Sports were his passion

Joe Moreno, director of the TBK Bank Quad Cities Marathon and East Moline’s Firecracker and Freedom Run called Mr. Tappa “a true ambassador of our local running scene. He sincerely cared about the events as he reported on them. It wasn’t just a job or a story to write for him, it was a passion.”

He added “As race director of several local road races I found that out first hand. He and I shared so much info on the subject, he genuinely saw and experienced the race director’s view and the runner’s perspective through my eyes with his inquisitive questioning. I am forever grateful to him and his never ending support of this sport.”

Runner Holly Sparkman said, “When I organized the Steve’s Old Time Tap Spring Chaser 5K (2007-2017) each year he would make sure to put a nice note in his column a week ahead of time to help us do a push for registration.

“The great part about him is that he always wanted to help and all you had to do is ask. The other thing I loved about him was that he always responded – even if it was a quick ‘thanks for the information, I will be on it’ sort of thing. He never left anyone hanging and was a great soul.”

His stories also had a lasting impact on the people he covered. “He counted his successes in the world by the number of notes he received from people whose lives he touched in some way, and he touched thousands,” Mr. Marx said.

One of them is Laurel Darren. The owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides, called Mr. Tappa “one of the greatest humans I ever had the chance to be friends with. Over the years we shared some extremely fun moments and laughs. The best and greatest is when I forced him to do the 5k at the QC marathon as a way for him to get his health better and feel the feels of a race he covered over the years.”

She told the QCBJ in an email, “When it came to race day we had so many people walking with us and shirts that said “running on Tappa time.'”

Mr. Tappa was also “instrumental in my website for my business” in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ms. Darren added. “He did all my copy and all my blogging and we finally were ranked BI,1 SEO with specific key word searches. I’ll miss him telling me ‘Love ya Kiddo’ and I am 48 years old–10 years younger then him. LOL.”

Those left to honor Mr. Tappa’s memory include sons Michael and AJ Tappa; former wife Martha Garcia-Tappa; parents James and Cheryl Tappa; brothers Robert (Theresa) Tappa, James Tappa Jr; sister Tonya (John) Marx all of Bettendorf; and nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his grandparents Orlyn and Fern Quick and Bernard and Lorraine Tappa. 

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