By Ron Holt
Stillwater News Press
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Coaching is a family affair for former Stillwater Lady Pioneer basketball player Leslie Warner, the coach of Heritage Hall High's girls’ program in Oklahoma City.
Warner, a 2000 graduate of SHS, guided the Lady Chargers to the Class 3A State Tournament where they play Tahlequah-Sequoyah at 7 p.m. Thursday in a first round game at Southern Nazarene University.
It’s the first trip to state for Heritage Hall under Warner, who is in her fifth season as the Lady Chargers' coach. The team went to state once during Warner's four-year stint as an assistant coach.
“Honestly, it was a complete blur. I had to go back and watch the game to see what happened,” Warner said of the two-point win over second-ranked Alva which secured the state berth. “You are just into the moment. It’s something you want for your players. This group of seniors had this as a goal since they were freshmen. They fought for it and the rest of the team joined them.”
Warner, who is assisted by her older sister Courtney Ellingson, understands the challenges of reaching state. She was a senior leader on the 2000 Lady Pioneer team, coached by Rhonda Fields, which played in the state tournament.
The Lady Pioneer all-stater played women's basketball at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. After college, she wasn't sure coaching would be in her future.
“I didn't think it was something I wanted to do until I helped Ron Anderson, who was my assistant coach at Stillwater, in his summer camps at Norman North. Then a job opportunity came along to be an assistant coach at Heritage Hall and I decided to take it,” said Warner, the daughter of Rod Warner and Cathey Jo Warner.
She was well acquainted with Heritage Hall's athletic director who is her dad Rod, also an SHS graduate. Rod started on the Pioneers' 1967 state championship football team and was SHS's football coach for one season.
He was the football coach at Heritage Hall before becoming athletic director. He coached the Chargers to the 1998 Class 2A State Championship, the school's first football state title. That team was led by a versatile athlete named Wes Welker.
“He didn't really want me to go into coaching,” Warner said of her dad. “As a dad he wasn't sure because he knew of the emotional investment, the time it takes and the ups and downs that come with being a coach. I'm glad I did it. I'm so happy and can't see myself doing anything else.
“I'm very fortunate to be working for my dad, who is one of the best in his profession. I talk to him a lot. When we won at Area he came down to congratulate us. I think he had some tears of joy,” she added.
Ron Holt is a columnist for The Stillwater News Press. Holt was a sports editor for The News Press for nearly 30 years and still resides in Stillwater.