Legends: Warner raised LL-H to prominence
LAKE LINDEN — When Ron Warner came to Lake Linden High School in 1972 as a teacher, he was also given the chance to coach football.
“I really didn’t have a clue what I was getting into,” Warner said in a 1995 interview. “I knew that our (player) numbers weren’t high. But Russ Laurin had established a solid foundation here and we took it from there.
“And we had great support from the community, they always backed us to the hilt.”
After a shaky start, Warner and Laurin became one of the most successful coaching combinations in the state of Michigan.
Warner compiled a 229-53-1 (.812) record in 29 years at Lake Linden-Hubbell. That was enough to be named the state Class D Coach of the year five times, and a selection to the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame four years before he retired in 2004.
Warner was a standout athlete at Norway High School and was the starting quarterback for the Knights for two seasons. He was also a basketball standout.
Developing quarterbacks proved to be one of his trademarks.
His very first quarterback was Dan Short, who developed into an All-U.P. quarterback after a starting four seasons.
“Those four seasons were very educational,” said Short, who later became a coach. “Ron knew so much about quarterbacking, it had to have an effect on you.”
With Warner running the offense and Laurin taking care of the defense, it wasn’t long before the Lakes started to win games — and 16 conference championships from 1972 to 2000.
But getting past perennial powerhouse Forest Park was another task.
LL-H broke through against the Trojans in 1989 and held their own against Forest Park after that.
“Beating them was a big hurdle,” Warner said. “You have to beat the team that’s just ahead of you if you hope to surpass them.”
After some close shaves in the playoffs (they made it to the state finals two times) the Lakes broke through in 1992.
That LL-H team, which downed Sand Creek in the Class DD title game, outscored foes by a whopping 517-56 advantage in going 13-0.
They repeated five years later in the Class D championship with a 30-8 win over Portland St. Patrick. That 12-0 team held an impressive 518-89 scoring margin.
“Those two teams were among the very best I had here,” Warner said. “But there were a couple of others who ranked with them, but never got the chance to be in the playoffs.”
Lake Linden-Hubbell also took part in a 1984 game against unbeaten Hancock that is still considered one of the finest ever played locally.
Hancock, on the way to a 8-0 season, rallied from a 17-7 halftime deficit to pull out a 28-24 win.
Hancock coach Rich Salani said it was one of the best games he ever coached in.
“You had two evenly matched football teams going at each other hard the entire game,” Salani said. “You just won’t find that very often.”
Warner, who moved back to Norway after his final season, has kept close track of his old team.
He praised the effort by the Andy Crouch-coached Lakes last season.
“The team had to go without their starting quarterback (Carter Crouch) much of the season and they almost got to the state quarterfinals,” Warner said. “Andy did a great coaching job.”
Incidentally, Crouch was one of Warner’s quarterback proteges.
Laurin was named to the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1989.