Back in the day, whenever my Long Beach Wilson water polo team played (and usually beat, by the way) a high school from Newport-Mesa, early the next morning I'd drive down to Orange County to pick up the Daily Pilot.
This newspaper covered (and still does) the minor sport of prep water polo like it was Major League Baseball, which was quite thrilling to a 17-year-old who longed to see his name in type. I'm sure my mom still has the yellowed, musty clips somewhere in her garage.
More often than not, the byline on the water polo articles read, Roger Carlson. And I noticed he didn't just write about water polo. Each time I paged through the Pilot's sports pages, his byline seemed to be on every other story.
I remember thinking, "This guy is something else."
For almost 40 years, Carlson chronicled the Newport-Mesa prep scene for the Daily Pilot, first as a reporter and later as an editor. His labor of love had a positive impact on literally tens of thousands of high school athletes who, like me, are forever grateful for having achievements from their glory days published in the Pilot.
In 2003, Carlson quietly retired from his position as sports editor of the Pilot and slipped away with his wife Dorothea to San Juan Capistrano. Not one to like the spotlight, this suited Carlson just fine. No going-away parties, no honors, no fuss.
The Newport-Mesa sports community — the former athletes, their parents, families, coaches, administrators and fans — owe Carlson at least a great big thank you for the service he provided them.
And I can think of no better way to say thank you than to name the press box at Newport Harbor High's Davidson Field after him.
"The Roger Carlson Press Box" — it just sounds right.
"I'd feel very honored," said Carlson, now 74, when I told him about the idea. "The press box was like my home for a long, long time. I'd be very proud of that."
For those of you who don't know the local legend, here are the Cliff's Notes on Roger Carlson's life.
Carlson, raised in Monrovia, joined the Marines in 1954 as a 17-year-old fresh out of high school. After rising to the rank of sergeant, he left the service three years later and found work at an electrical wholesaler.
And then he received a fateful call from a childhood friend, Glenn White, who was the sports editor of the Pilot. White encouraged Carlson to become a reporter.
"I had no experience, and English was my worst subject in school," Carlson said. "But Glenn said he would teach me."
In 1964, Carlson started stringing for the Pilot, reporting on sports events in his off-hours and soaking up every lesson he could from White. A few years later, he was hired full-time and worked for the next 25 years as a sports writer.
"I covered at least 750 high school football games during that time," Carlson said. "And for the majority of them, I was in the press box at Davidson Field."
In 1988, Carlson was promoted to sports editor. I worked with him for a decade, and always considered him the classic newspaperman. He didn't care much for nonsense, expected his crew to love the job as much as he did (translation: work long hours without complaint), and demanded the Pilot get any local sports scoop.
Though a tough former Marine, Carlson had a soft spot when it came to the student-athletes of Newport-Mesa. It's why he worked 70-plus hours, seven days a week for decades. He wanted to make sure each athlete got his or her fair share of ink.
And he made sure no one was ever embarrassed. In Carlson's world, no teenager ever threw an interception. He'd insist the play be reported from the positive perspective — from the player who made the interception.