Ryan Bisesi Column: Remembering Ronnie Gallagher
My preconceived notion of Ronnie Gallagher didn’t meet the actual Ronnie Gallagher.
On Dec. 21, 2010, I sat at the front of the newsroom for my interview in a suit, tie and dress pants at 1 in the afternoon. For a sports section that was as hailed as the Salisbury Post’s, new clothes had to be purchased and all the stops were pulled out.
It wasn’t until 1:30 p.m. that a man showed up in a t-shirt and gym shorts and greeted me informally.
“You look too good to work here,” Ronnie Gallagher joked.
For once, he had been upstaged. But for the last 18 years no one in the area cared more about high school sports in the area. The Post tries to be a throwback to an era where high school athletes scour the section looking for their name, or if they’re lucky, a picture. Many say that part of American lore is rapidly disappearing, but Ronnie took great pride in making the Post sports section a must-see in the athletic scene.
As far as the interview, it only got more unorthodox. We went to Jeter’s Deli. We drove around to some of the county high schools. He took me to his house and showed me the family’s “sports room” complete with big-screen TV and paintings of Tim Duncan and Christian Laettner on the wall. In the garage were multiple stacks of papers he claimed were from the past 15 years he’d been there. He showed me around Salisbury, which I considered a big town after growing up in a one-stoplight burg in the eastern part of the state.
That exchange probably seems weird to some. We sportswriters are innately eccentric fraternity. Mike London stays in the newsroom into the wee hours of the morning, sometimes compiling stats, sometimes scouring eBay for old Sports Illustrated covers. I carry the dubious honor of being Rowan County’s biggest Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns fan.
Ronnie was a happy-go-lucky guy whose zest for life wasn’t lost, even on someone 30 years younger than him.
Ronnie referred to himself as a 17-year old in a 57-year old’s body. His zeal for sports was unparalleled. The weight on the newspaper industry the in the last decade or so, the long hours, the shrinking circulations, never showed on Ronnie. He loved to show off the section to those in the business, be it at National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association weekend or a state championship press conference. Scribes across the state marveled at the depth of coverage the Post was able to provide. That’s a credit to Ronnie.
Ronnie was a unique guy with a specific vision for how high school sports should be covered. He showed me the archives from all the special moments of the last few years. West Rowan’s football championships, signing days, Salisbury’s tennis titles, K.P. Parks breaking the national rushing record and the like. I was taken aback by the monstrous headlines and tons of pictures that lined the pages. “Blow it up, baby!” was a common phrase when he wanted to illustrate how big a story was. The coaches, parents and fans loved it and fed off it, Maybe the players even reflected it in their performance.
Was there a correlation between the success of the Rowan teams and the prominent coverage they received in the Post? Maybe not, but the athletic community’s lives have been enriched by the coverage they’ve received since 1995.
He joked about his short stature all the time, ironic considering his son Jack stands over six feet tall and has gone on to play football at Methodist.
Like in sports, we move on to the next play regardless of the previous one’s result. We will grieve and pay tribute to Ronnie as schools throughout the county did Friday night. Mike London, David Shaw, Marny Hendrick and I will do our best to cover the area this fall. We’ll try to do it like Ronnie, a man synonymous with the Post an inspiration to young people throughout the county.
So while I mourn his untimely death, I give thanks to the ol’ sports editor for bringing me to Salisbury. He was quirky, but passionate and kind to those around him. I’m indebted to Ronnie for making me part of something special. The best way to honor him would be covering area sports with the same zeal he did.
Because if there’s a Post in heaven, he’ll be checking the sports section every day.