I’ll never forget what Roy Rolison taught me

By JOHN E. BIALAS
Broadmoor Bureau Chief

For the past seven days, I’ve spent considerable time remembering Roy Rolison, my teacher and my friend who passed away on Aug. 26 at the age of 67.

Roy was the sports editor at The South Mississippi Sun in Gulfport from 1973 to 1982, and I was a rookie sportswriter at The Daily Herald in Gulfport in 1973.

The Sun was a new morning newspaper that year and The Herald, where Roy had been a sportswriter, was a traditional afternoon newspaper. Both were owned by the same company and both operated in the same building.

The Herald newsroom was near the front of the building and The Sun newsroom was in the back, and though we worked different hours, I became friends with Roy and in 1978 he hired me as a sportswriter at The Sun.

I was just 21 when I started at the Herald and Roy was only two years older than me, though he seemed to have 200 more years of knowledge, newspaper experience and talent than I had.

His knowledge included the Gulfport-Biloxi night life. Without him, I would have never known Spider’s, T.O.’s, The Sports Page and The Fiesta. Hanging out with him kept me from being a monk.

Ham sandwiches

 My late-night memories include a 2 a.m. phone call I answered about a year after Patty and I got married. Roy called. He was across the street with some guys at Mike Tonos’ house. Tonos was a city editor at The Sun.

Roy asked for ham sandwiches and said Patty and I could bring them to Tonos’ house. I didn’t think that was funny. The call woke me up and put me in a foul mood. I said something rude to Roy and slammed the phone.

I’m surprised I wasn’t fired the next day because Roy was my boss.

Roy taught me through observational learning, even when I was at The Herald. I watched how he worked.

I read his column, Sunny Side Up. I would try to emulate his inspired writing style. One or two times, I stole a phrase from his column because it was so good.

I was also influenced by his headline writing and the way The Sun sports pages were designed.

‘Rip ‘Em Rolison and Kick ‘Em Kirkland’

When I was at The Sun, I worked with Cliff Kirkland, my longest-running friend to this day. Roy hired Cliff as a sportswriter around 1975, and Cliff became sports editor after Roy left the paper.

Roy and Cliff were the writers I wanted to be. As columnists, they were provocateurs. They would tell it like it is, to borrow from Howard Cosell, and would get a rise out of readers who disagreed with their opinions.

They became known as “Rip ‘Em Rolison” and “Kick ‘Em Kirkland.”

Scoops

Roy loved to get scoops, and he helped me get my own.

My most memorable was when I found out the name of the new Gulfport High football coach well in advance of the athletic director’s announcement of the hiring. This was in 1978.

The AD would not confirm the name, but Roy told me to go with the story with the name of the new coach.

We were right and the AD did not like that we broke his news.

At a press conference to announce the hiring, the AD said to me, “John, would you like some coffee? It’s not poison.”

Picks

We lived for covering high school and college football and the New Orleans Saints.

Pigskin Picks was one of The Sun’s most creative football features. Each week during the season, the sports staff and a guest picker would make predictions accompanied by a story that was like a comedy piece. It poked fun at the guest picker.

Tonos, who looked like Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes, was the guest one week and two pictures ran with the story. One showed Lopes laughing and the other showed Tonos imitating Lopes laughing. I believe this was Roy’s idea and it worked to perfection.

When I started at The Herald, I gave up my pursuit of a journalism degree because I had the job I wanted and Roy Rolison was among people who would educate me.

He was the main one. I’m forever thankful.

Editor’s note: The picture with this post shows Roy in a print ad for The Sun in November 1973. Years later, The Sun and The Herald merged to become the Sun Herald, a morning daily. I retired from the Sun Herald in March. One of my retirement gifts was a picture showing me with Roy and Cliff covering a basketball game. Cliff presented me with the picture.

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