By PAUL PETERSON
For the Gazette
L'ANSE - Go to just about any L'Anse High School athletic event in the last four decades and you were likely find Jerry Bugni nearby.
Paul Peterson photo
Longtime L'Anse High School coach Jerry Bugni surveys the new football field in L'Anse. Bugni coached multiple sports for 46 years at LHS before retiring this season.
Bugni, who has coached multiple sports at LHS for the past 46 years, officially retired as the JV football coach this year.
But he admits the decision wasn't an easy one.
"It was about 51 percent (to retire) and 49 percent not to," he laughed. "It's kind of tough not to be coaching."
When Bugni moved to L'Anse in 1967 to teach math - and coach varsity football - after graduating from Northern Michigan University, he had plenty of athletic experience behind him.
A standout athlete in several sports at Wakefield High School, he had the chance to learn under some legendary coaches.
"Roman Yatchak was one of the very best football coaches ever in the Upper Peninsula," he said. "He believed in toughness and being prepared."
In basketball, Bugni learned under another coaching legend in Jim Daniels.
"He (Daniels) was another no-nonsense kind of coach," Bugni recalled. "You learned the fundamentals before you played."
During his long tenure, Bugni has coached Purple Hornets football, basketball and track teams.
His former players are just about unanimous in their assessment of him.
Mark Leaf, the current LHS football coach, was the L'Anse quarterback in the early 1990s. He said Bugni stressed fundamentals above everything else.
"He believed in getting everything right," Leaf said. "That was the most important thing ... the teaching part of the job. That emphasis on details is the thing I carried over from my time with him."
Don Michaelson was Bugni's first All-State player, gaining that honor after the 1970 season that saw the Hornets capture the Barber Trophy (symbolic of U.P. large school supremacy).
"Jerry (Bugni) was a tough coach, but he was a fair one," Michaelson said. "If you did the work, you were going to play."
And the 1970 football championship team are not the only fond memories the old skipper takes with him into retirement.
"I coached basketball just as many years as I did football," he said. "And I coached the track team for a time."
Some of the names, besides Michaelson, who stand out in Bugni's memory include Dan White and Bob Tollefson from the 1976 football team; Josh Cleary and Darrin Voskuhl from the 1994 football team; Brad Tonkin and Mike Nordstrom from the 1972 basketball team; and Fred Teddy from the 1972 track team.
"We won the U.P. title that year, that was special," he said. "And Fred Teddy turned out to be one of the most prominent long distance runners ever in the U.P."
But he's quick to point out that there were many other athletes who stood out in his career.
"I can remember a lot of them, but you're bound to miss a few," he said. "I don't want to slight anyone ... they were all good kids."
When it was apparent the Hornets' home Meadowbrook Field had seen better days, Jerry spearheaded a grass roots committee a few years ago to build a new one.
The field, which includes a track and a jogging path, will be finished in time for the Aug. 28 home opener versus Houghton.
Leaf, for one, credits Bugni for completion of the $1 million project that received a grant from the MDNR.
"I don't believe it would have gotten done if Jerry hadn't pushed hard for it," the L'Anse coach said. "But a lot of people pitched in and got it accomplished."
Bugni gave most of the credit to local contractors who donated their equipment, labor and expertise.
"Those contractors, (and) the work they did prior to getting the grant, was critical to getting this done. I can't give them enough credit."
Jerry and his wife, Joan, raised two sons and a daughter. Both sons had the opportunity to play sports for their father. His wife and daughter also put in long hours to aid the athletic program.
Bugni said he never expected to spent his entire teaching career in one place.
"No, I really didn't think I would be here this long," he said. "But the L'Anse community has been a great place to live in and raise a family. I have no complaints."