A very special friend of mine passed away recently.
Larry Ciko, known to hundreds—probably thousands—in St. Tammany Parish for his journalism career, died at his home a couple of weeks ago at the age of 74.
I remember Larry from my earliest days beginning in the newspaper business around 1973.
I was a young hippie kid, 20 years old, and had quit college. My mother was a reporter for the former Slidell Daily Times and got me a job as a typist. It started my career that quickly got me working in sports there, later to become the sports editor at the Slidell Sentry-News.
My boss in sports was a man named Don Howze and as I began to learn the ropes, and have more questions about local sports history, he quickly led me to Larry, the former sports editor at the Times who had gone to what we all considered to be the “big time” at the New Orleans Times Picayune. Seen as a key figure in Slidell, the paper hired Larry as a columnist, which led to a career as a news reporter.
As I worked in sports and needed historical information on the local high school teams Don always told me to call Larry. And man did Larry know his stuff. He was truly THE sports historian for Slidell teams, particularly Slidell High which was the longtime, original high school in the community.
Larry knew everything about the old teams—how long since a baseball team had been in the state playoffs, when the Slidell High football team ever won a state championship, the series scores between Covington and Slidell, which players in local sports history ever made it to the professional sports level. And perhaps more incredibly, he usually rattled it off the top of his head without having to look up anything! I later learned that Larry had kept incredible records at his house of all these teams. It was something that inspired me to start my own high school sports record books.
I worked on those books for years and eventually had every sports team in the history of Slidell, their record and whatever they did to make the playoffs. I considered them to be my prized possession at the paper and I kept them up for as long as I was at the Sentry—all because Larry made me know how important it was.
As I ran the sports scene in Slidell, and later became a news reporter, Larry was moving up the journalism ranks himself. He worked at the Times Picayune for 20 years and covered all kinds of big news events for the paper, including the years when Edwin Edwards was governor. As I later did, he transitioned easily from sports to news and was a great writer in everything he put his hand to.
He was hired in the late 80s by St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain to become the first Public Information Officer in the history of that department, and actually set a precedent of governmental agencies having a P.I.O. In the years to come I saw the School Board, parish presidents, city councils and other agencies all hire a Public Information Officer, and I truly believe it was largely because Larry showed them the value of having a real journalist in charge of the information their agency released to the public.
I know Larry dealt with a lot of health issues as he got older and after he officially retired he still saw me all over town. But for Larry, it was always back to his first, true love in sports. Anytime I was at a local sporting event Larry was there. He wasn’t really working for anyone at the time, but he still strolled up to the front desk and flashed his note pad and headed on in. For a guy who covered as much sports as he did in his life, and wrote thousands of stories about local kids, I think he deserved the lifetime pass.
We re-hired Larry to work as a sportswriter at the Sentry for a number of years and to me it was an honor that our paper got a veteran of his caliber to work there.
Larry and I remained good friends for many years after he showed me the ropes of high school sports. I always respected him as a true journalist throughout all of my career and I know he was a big reason I always tried to do everything I could to give prep sports great coverage.
I understood from his daughter Lisa Ponti that even in recent years Larry had one true love—sports. He loved LSU and the Saints, as well as the Atlanta Braves, and might have even been watching an LSU game when he left this world, she said.
I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for a man who set the standard in Slidell for sports and news coverage, and helped me to a successful career in the business myself. I’ll always appreciate him for that.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.