'A heart of gold'

Ron Lemon

The gruff, gravely pipes belied the kind spirit of Ron Lemon, a football coach who understood the big picture beyond the Xs and Os.

"He had a "Grinch" voice, but he had a heart of gold," Phil Freese said of the former Rogers coach who died Tuesday. "Ron sounded like someone who was going to take the shirt off your back, but he was someone who would give you his."

The longest-tenured grid coach in Rogers history at 22 years, Lemon took over the Raiders in 1973 and remained until the school consolidated with Elston in 1995.

"We didn't have great records, but as you get older and go in life, you realize it's not just wins and losses, it's what you end up as a person," Rich Lenard, Lemon's defensive coordinator for most of his Rogers years, said. "The kids were always respectful. Ron got that across to the kids. We had a mixture of cultures, but he made it feel like they were all a family. Everybody felt like they were a part of it."

According to a 2012 News-Dispatch article on Lemon's induction into the Michigan City High School Sports Hall of Fame, he estimated having 160 players who continued their football careers in college across 28 states.

"He was all for the kids," said Freese, an assistant for roughly half of Lemon's stint. "He worked to get them into post-high school. He was really diligent about that. You're not going to play football all your life, you're going to be working a lot of it, so Ron really pushed academics. He put an emphasis on grades."

That philosophy started at home for Lemon, an East Chicago Roosevelt graduate who had five sons with his wife Andrea, all of them strong students. The older three, twins Tom and Terry, and Danny, played for their dad during his time at Rogers. He has grandsons who graduated from Michigan City and Nick Lemon, a football and baseball player, is going into his sophomore year there.

"Ron did a lot for many kids in Michigan City, got them opportunities to go on to school, to have better lives," Lenard said. "He fought hard to get them into schools. Their sons are very bright, outstanding citizens. That's a testament to him and his wife. They were good role models. Ron was an amazing family man."

Rogers went 74-140 under Lemon, often fighting an uphill battle as a smaller school in the growing Duneland Athletic Conference, but he managed to keep his players motivated. He did fare well in rivalries, going 14-9 versus Elston and 12-9 against La Porte.

"Sure, it would have been fun to win more games, but there was a lot of talent in the DAC," Freese said. "Numbers are a part of the game, and Elston and Rogers, the numbers were not great. We were pretty competitive. He enjoyed it with the kids. Ron had a fun side and a serious side. He was quite a character."

Leonard recalled more than once being on the receiving end of Lemon's sneak-attack pinches on the side.

"It was a little hard at times," Lenard said with a laugh. "He had a good sense of humor. He made it fun for the kids."

By coincidence, Lenard's father and Lemon spent time in the same care facility in recent years, and developed a friendship.

"One thing he didn't do that a lot of coaches do is micromanage," Lenard said. "He gave you latitude. He trusted you as a coach. He allowed you to have the freedom to do things you want to do. A lot of coaches try manipulate things too much. Ron was confident in me and allowed me to do what I thought was best for the program."

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