John Polich, a champion hockey player of the 1930s and 1940s who was the innovative sports director of pioneering television station KTLA-TV Channel 5 for 32 years, has died. He was 85.
Polich, who directed the first live coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade in 1947, died Sunday at his home in Alhambra.
Growing up in Hibbing, Minn., Polich excelled in track, football and especially hockey. He won All-Range in football in 1934 and in hockey in 1934-35, earning a scholarship at Loyola University of Los Angeles to play both sports.
At Loyola, he lettered in football and earned All-Pacific Coast honors.
But he became something of a Southern California cult hero on the ice rink. In an era when Loyola's hockey team regularly duked it out with USC before sold-out crowds, Polich led Loyola to the Pacific Coast hockey championship an unprecedented four years in a row. He was named All-Conference in 1937, 1938 and 1939.
Offered opportunities to play professional football or hockey, the collegiate star opted to join the New York Rangers. He played for the Rangers for two years under Lester Patrick.
Then he returned to Los Angeles to make more hockey history in 1942 as player-coach of the newly created Los Angeles Monarchs. The team was named after his Hibbing High School Monarchs, and wore the colors--red, white and blue--of his New York Rangers.
One of the West Coast's most colorful players, Polich led the Monarchs to the Pacific Coast Hockey League championship in 1946-47 and the Southern Division title the following season.
As Pacific Coast champions, the Monarchs traveled east to play the Boston Olympics for the championship of the American Hockey Assn.
"We had to play all seven games in Boston because the travel was so impossible then," Polich told The Times in 1989. "To get there it took a day and a half by plane. We stopped in San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Atlanta and Pittsburgh before we got to Boston." And the Monarchs lost.
A friend of Klaus Landsberg of KTLA (originally experimental station W6XYZ), Polich had already begun dabbling in television, notably with the Rose Parade of 1947. That first broadcast reached no more than 300 TV sets because that was all there were in Los Angeles at the time. To televise the parade twice, Polich had to set up in two locations, with one camera at each end of the parade. When the final float passed the first camera on Orange Grove Boulevard, Polich hurried to the second set-up several miles east at Sierra Madre Boulevard.
"We had a police escort waiting for us, and we raced out where the parade was winding up," Polich told a reporter for The Times some years ago.
He also recalled that little planning went into televising the parade.
"We would do New Year's Eve on Hollywood and Vine and stay there until 1 o'clock, then sign off and go to Pasadena, where 5 o'clock that morning we would be setting up cameras."
He went on to direct broadcasting of boxing, wrestling, baseball, UCLA and Laker basketball and any other sports event that attracted viewers. He retired in 1980.
Polich is survived by his wife, Ann; four daughters, Veronica Nikcevic of Brentwood, Jo Ann Philbrick of Bishop, Georgia George of Chatsworth and Virginia Polich of Martinez, Calif.; one sister, Violet Buretz; one brother, Victor Polich; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled for 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday, with rosary to be said at 7 p.m. at Risher Montebello Mortuary. Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at the Sacred Heart Chapel at Loyola Marymount University.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the John Polich Athletic Scholarship Fund at Loyola Marymount, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90045.