There is no lack of love and admiration between Roland’s community and his native son Gary Thompson: a sign welcoming motorists in town recounts the achievements of “The Roland Rocket”, a giant replica of his signature is displayed on the ground from the college gymnasium, a film about him was shown during the community’s 150th anniversary celebration in July, and Thompson and his wife Jan were honored as marshals in the 150th anniversary parade.
In the latter case, the Thompson’s were recently invited to cut the ribbon on the renovated basketball and tennis courts at Roland Park, a project that received a donation of $ 80,000 from them.
“We thank you very much for having contributed to the realization of this wonderful project. It’s the icing on the cake for everyone in Roland, ”Mayor Andy Webb told the Thompson.
The project was built by Sport Court, which uses a shock absorbing tile grid on the courts. Patented surfaces reduce the risk of short-term and long-term injury, according to the company’s website.
“I hope that a Roland girl or boy will eventually play on this field and become a starter for the Roland-Story Norsemen,” said Gary Thompson. “I had the opportunity to play on the tennis court when I was young, and we exhausted it whether it was winter or summer.”
Thompson was referring to a tennis and basketball court, located behind the school. These early practices helped him grow to be one of Iowa State’s greatest basketball players.
He was the first Cyclone with over 1,000 career points and the first to score 40 in a single game. He was an AAU All-American in 1958, 1959, and 1962; the Big Seven Player of the Year in 1957 and also named All-American by the Associated Press that year; and was a member of the All-Big Seven’s first team in 1956 and 1957. His No. 20 jersey was retired by Iowa State.
In 1957, Thompson was selected in the fifth round of the NBA Draft by the Minneapolis Lakers, the 35th overall pick. After his playing career, he was a nationally recognized commentator on college basketball television coverage for over 30 years.
Gary Thompson says the community is “Roland Nice”
Thompson said Roland is a prime example of Iowa Nice. He told the story of his trip to town with Jan after the new sign was installed in Britson Park.
“We had a hard time trying to take pictures and we were trying to get selfies,” he said. “Jerry Balmer lives across the street, and all of a sudden he comes across.”
Balmer offered to help with the photos.
“It was the first time I met him. So I sent him a note and said, ‘This is Roland Nice,’ ”said Thompson. “People make the city of Roland what it is. They did it when I was a kid and they still do it today. We are dandy.
Thompson spoke of the gymnasium floor he played on when he was in school. The gymnasium was a WPA project during the Great Depression, and it was remodeled five years ago to its former glory, with Thompson’s signing along the border.
“It was the best soil, probably in all of Iowa,” he said. “Everything was in maple. It was far better than Iowa State at the time.
Thompson was the first Iowa State player to play two sports: basketball and baseball.
“When I was a kid, every town in Story County had a baseball team,” he said. “Everyone played on Sunday afternoon. My mom used to say that if you went to church on Sunday morning, you could play baseball in the afternoon.
His father played baseball until he was 40 and led Roland’s team for several years.
“We had all the baseball bats and catcher’s gear in our garage,” said Thompson. “My dad would tie up those bats when they were cracked and tape them up. And balls, we would tape them and reuse them. It was another time. “
In the old days, Thompson said, kids got a dime if they brought back a foul ball.
“I was going to hunt them in a cornfield, slipping in there after them,” he said. “And then I would come home and tell my mom I made 10 cents, and she would say, ‘Yeah, but you ruined a pair of $ 2 jeans!’ “”
At the end of the August 27 event, Planning and Zoning Board member Denny Posegate told Thompson, “Thank you for all you do for us. “
“I’m grateful for what Roland has done for me,” Thompson replied. “You invited me to come back for a lot of things. It is a special place.