Roone Arledge
1931 - 2002

Creator of Wide World of Sports

Without primetime sports coverage, there would be little need for sports technology, and without Roone Arledge, there would be no primetime sports coverage. Life magazine named him one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century, but in the sports world, Arledge is in the top 10.

Roone Pinckney Arledge Jr. crafted the modern link between sports and entertainment, transforming ABC Sports from a financial disaster to the world's go-to destination for athletics entertainment. As vice president from 1960 to '68 and president from '68 to '86, Arledge moved sporting events from weekend programming to primetime television, using unheard-of technical innovations to make the Olympics some of the most important programming on television and creating a staple of modern American sports, Monday Night Football.

"Roone was surely the only television executive of his time who would have dared to put sports in primetime." Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports Chairman, 2002

One year after joining ABC, Arledge created ABC's Wide World of Sports, which became the most successful sports program of all time. The show covered every event imaginable, from baseball to luge, and made announcer Jim McKay's voice as common a household fixture as his keystone phrases "spanning the globe" and "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Arledge was one of the first producers to bring live international events to an American audience via the Atlantic satellite, but that was only the beginning.

Introducing such techniques as slow motion, freeze frame, instant replay and split screen, Arledge turned sporting events into dramas. He added "up close and personal" athlete features to complement the games, transforming once obscure international athletes into instant celebrities.

"What we set out to do was get the audience involved emotionally," Arledge told Sports Illustrated in 1966. "If they didn't give a damn about the game, they might still enjoy the program."

"In short," Arledge once said, "we are going to add show business to sports."

In 1970, he created Monday Night Football and, with it, a new national pastime. Arledge had to fight to sell affiliates and advertisers on the idea of primetime football, but he believed in his vision of sports as entertainment.

"I thought there was something special about football," he said in a 1999 interview, "because there are so few games and relatively few teams. Also, there is something about the look of a night game, with the lights bouncing off the helmets."

The innovations he used on Wide World worked wonders for MNF. Hand-held cameras, end-zone cameras, and cameras on cranes helped Monday Night Football, in Arledge's words, "change the habits of the nation."

The step into primetime also paved the way for other sports. In 1971, one game of the baseball World Series tested the primetime waters, and a few seasons later, all World Series games were cashing in on primetime viewership and advertising revenue that did not exist before Arledge recognized their potential.

The producer of 10 Olympic Games, he won one of his 32 Emmy Awards for his coverage of 1972 Munich Games, was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame, and was the first television executive to receive the Medal of Olympic Order.

Upon Arledge's death in 2002, McKay gave a concise summary of the innovator's work: "He was the very best at what he did that there ever was."
American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Roone Arledge and Sprig Gardner

Standing: Coach Gardner, J. Lemyre, Erdody, Caperna, Snyder, R. Mahoney, Arledge.
Middle row: Sheffield, Gill, Bury, Feuerbach, Tschirhart, Caulfield.
First row: R. Lemyre, Metzger, Svenson, H. Mahoney, Helf.

From Long Island Wrestling 2003, The Missing Mentor, pointing to a New York Times article 12/06/03:

… But where did his intense interest in sports with the attendant sacrifices athletes make in their quest for victory come from? Although obituaries referred to growing up in Merrick, they neglected to mention that he graduated from Mepham High School where he fell under the aegis of Sprig Gardner while serving as manager of the wrestling team. This was not a trivial relationship as their association continued long after high school. At Columbia Roone continued his work as wrestling manager and even participating in intramural wrestling. He never hesitated to confer, then and after graduation, with his high school mentor, "Sprig."

The Roone Arledge/Sprig Gardner connection deserves mention for another reason. Sucess in wrestling just is not in the cards for every young man, especially when the competition comes from LI teams in the '40s and the Ivy League in the '50s. Wrestling, however, gratefully accepts support from whoever is willing to give it even though the individual may not have been a great athlete or coach. Testimony to this truth comes from none other than the National Wrestling Hall of Fame which in 1992 inducted Roone into the Hall as part of a group of "Great Americans" with wrestling in their backgrounds who have used the discipline of wrestling to launch successful careers.

Remembering Roone

From Scuttlebutt 2003

Roone Arledge '48 entered Mepham's "Who's Who" in 1967 for Television Production. Remembrances of his time at Mepham were invited, and here are some of their thoughts:

Joan Heise Spring '48, Roone's first wife, wrote: "Although Roone says in his new biography, 'in high school we hadn't so much as shared a soda together,' he could describe in detail what I was wearing the first day he met me in Miss Wilkinson's English class. The fall after graduating from Columbia, he called inviting me to go to the Ballet. Within a month I was wearing his Phi Gamma Delta pin. We were engaged on Valentine's Day. He was drafted in March; we married [St Francis de Chantal, Wantagh] when he was on furlough Dec. 27, 1953. After a 3-day honeymoon, Roone returned to [camp] in MD and I to my job at RCA as one of General Sarnoff's secretaries. In 1958 our first child, Elizabeth Ann, was born. Susan Lee in '61, Patricia Lu in '62, and Roone Pinckney Jr in '64. One evening, while feeding baby Betsey, I vividly remember a telephone call Roone was having with Ed Scherick, who had hired him to produce NCAA Football. Roone said he would like to go around the world buying up the rights to various sports events and naming the show Wide World of Sports. The rest is history!

"While his career skyrocketed, he was still the same old lovable but frustrating Roone we all knew in high school — always late if arriving at all! I still remember Miss Olivo at play rehearsals threatening to take his part away from him if he continued to be tardy.

"For 18 years of marriage it was the Wide World of Roone. I am very proud of what he accomplished in his lifetime and cherish many wonderful memories of the boy whom I met at Mepham".

Phil Livingston '47 remembers doubledating with Phillys (who became his wife) and Roone and Joan Heise (who bacame Roone's) at Rahn's ice cream store in Merrick which had a real soda fountain — "the good ole days."

Gladys Berger '47 remembers him as a loner, walking the halls of Mepham alone; a jaunty step, a little plump, red hair, glasses, "and forgive me, appeared somewhat 'nerdy.' Nevertheless, he did not seem to be uncomfortable in this role. Now I realize he had 'bigger fish to fry' in his mind, and all who were 'popular' did not interest him. I tried to befriend him, feeling a bit out of step myself, and always said hello to him. In a way I liked him. He was an original — very self assured in that time of adolescence… When I found out what he had become… I was flabbergasted; then remembered he was the sports editor of the paper; certainly not an athlete, but obviously a media person… May Roone, and his red hair rest in peace."

David Thomas '47 was on the staff of the Buccaneer with Roone. "He was — what else? — a sports editor and in Skull and Bones. Roone played Ernest Stanley whose home was taken over by Sheridan Whiteside after a fall in The Man Who Came to Dinner. I played Whiteside with a broad English accent. When I said 'Harriet Sedley took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks' Roone would invariably go off in gales of laughter… Roone's inscription in my '47 yearbook was 'Dave, stop making me laugh when you say Harriet Sedley.'"

Colette (Biegler) Inez '48 recalls being his first girlfriend: "He made me get on my knees to salaam Mel Ott, whose photograph was placed in a tent in Roone's back yard.

Barbara Silverman Biggs '48 has memories of after school snacks, long philosophical discussions, his beautiful red-haired mother, and kissing games during air raid drills. "He was a great kisser!"

Margaret Knubel Lorenzen '48: "I was a member of the band, and in those days we would play at every football game. When we woud come off the field, I would always see Roone on the telephone with the newspapers, telling them how the game went. We all found that interesting."

Carol Foster Hedges '48 sent a photo with Jeannie Eldert and Roone, taken at the '47 Junior Prom.

Betty Schreiber Ries '49 played Roone's daughter in January Thaw; "rehearsals were an absolute hoot! a couple of times he gave me a ride home after rehearsal in his old Ford; once I kicked in a whole quarter (!) towards gas. Once it rained; you got wetter in the rumble seat than if you'd walked. Roone was one flamboyant guy."

Dolores Dose Gruenewald '52 sent a picture, taken in the '40s, probably of her brother Dickie's birthday, taken in their backyard and wrote: "The Arledge family lived on Kenny Ave., later moving two blocks away to Hewlett Ave…At the end of Kenny Ave. we had an empty lot where we played baseball all summer long. I remember being the only girl along with my brother Dickie, Roone, and Jerry Arledge, and the O'Sullivan boys. What fun we had!"

In the photo: Back: Dolores Dose, Roone Arledge, Eddie Sullivan Middle: Kevin O'Sullivan, Jerry Arledge, Dickie Dose Front: Billie Grillo, Patty Ladley, Marilyn Dose, ?

Jay Pitti '52 recalls playing football and baseball in a sandlot between Kenney and Bayview Avenues: "Roone was a chubby kid. He was always picked first for football because it would take two or three boys to bring him down.

Frank Gobetz '54 lived near the Arledge's. A bunch of kids would meet at a vacant lot and play pick- up baseball, Roone about 15 at the time, most much younger. "Roone had a great love for the game and liked to organize us into teams and then criticize our play. The truth was Roone wasn't a lot better player than the rest of us… but we took is advice because he seemed to be knowledgeable about the game. In fact Roone loved all games and was knowledgeable about them… It was no surprise to me his career involved spectator sports and that he was very good at what he did.

One summer afternoon Roone invited some of us to go sailing in his sailboat (about 5 of us, including Roone and his brother Jerry. There was a light breeze to start with, but when we cleared the channel the wind changed both speed and direction. Apparently Roone was about as good at sailing as he was at baseball because whatever maneuver he tried, it resulted in the mast breaking off about 2 feet above the deck. Pandemonium ensued. In his excitement Roone let go of the tiller and issued numerous orders to his "crew." We finally fished the sail out of the water and limped home. It was a day I will never forget.

Roone Arledge's career is a testament to the proposition that you can love sports even if you don't have the innate talent to play competitively. I remember him fondly.