One of most prolific basketball scorers in the history of Elyria passed away last week.
Bobby Warden, the scoring whiz from Elyria Catholic, died of cardiac arrest in his home in Carlsbad, Calif. He was 56.
Warden was inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
“I had tears in my eyes when I heard it,” Elyria Catholic longtime coach Bob Guinta said. “I’m a very sensitive Italian. That’s the way I am. I was that way with the kids.”
Guinta knows his former players pretty well. He won 329 games at EC in 22 seasons and 433 overall. He retired from coaching in 1988.
“Absolutely,” Guinta said when asked if Warden was one of the best to ever play for him. “He could play with anybody. He could score and he could play defense.”
Warden started for Elyria High as a sophomore — scoring 213 points and averaging 11.2 points per game for the Pioneers. He decided to enroll at Elyria Catholic during the summer of 1979 with the blessing of his parents.
Ironically, he and Elyria High’s Tom Underman were named Co-Mr. Basketball for Lorain County in 1981. The two had played with and against each other through the Elyria Schools system up to the point Warden transferred to Elyria Catholic.
“Getting that award with Bobby, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Underman said. “To me personally, I think it was the way it was meant to be. If I got the award alone, it wouldn’t have meant as much because Bobby was that good.
“I can’t speak for Bobby, but I can tell you that we were both thrilled to get that award together.”
The two competed against each other in junior high — Warden at Northwood and Underman at Eastern Heights.
“We got to be friends and I’d pedal my bike over to play,” Underman said. “I’d stay overnight. It was like being at a basketball camp.”
Had Warden stayed at Elyria High, obviously sharing the award wouldn’t have happened. Both had talked to each other growing up wanting the opportunity to earn college scholarships.
“He came over here,” Guinta said of Warden’s enrollment at EC. “He wanted to go to Elyria Catholic. He was best buddies (with Underman). I couldn’t believe he wanted to come over.”
Warden didn’t fit in immediately. Elyria Catholic had a seasoned team led by seniors Billy Jo Williams and Kevin Ziegman — two more Elyria Sports Hall of Fame inductees. The Panthers made it to two regional tournaments with Warden.
“Bobby Warden, when he came over, Billy Jo and the rest of the guys never passed him the ball,” Guinta said. “I called time out — ‘Listen, this guy can play as well as anybody. He’s going to play and he’s going to start.’ They started getting better and better. (Warden) could handle the ball.”
Williams agreed that it took some time to begin to work together but eventually, the team began to gel.
“He kind of came in walking lightly,” Williams said of Warden. “He didn’t come in with a big chest. He was really humble about it. I would say it didn’t last all season. He found his groove.
“You start at Elyria High as a sophomore, obviously you have to have some talent. Elyria High isn’t going to start a guy who can’t play. He had some good background already (when he came over).”
Warden ended up scoring 320 points for the Panthers his junior year. Billy Jo Williams had set the single-season and career marks for EC with 586 points for the year and 1,039 for his career. Warden was first in free throw percentage (76 percent) and second in assists (66). Ziegman, known more for his football accolades, led the team with 153 assists.
His senior season, Warden led the area in scoring by setting an Elyria Catholic single-season mark with 673 points (26.9 per game), the first time any Elyria athlete had exceeded 600 points in a season.
“He was an opportunist, like most scorers are,” Williams said. “He wasn’t just a jump shooter. He got a lot of things — he got put-backs, he got back doors, he could hit the mid-range jumpers. He was all-around. He knew the game. His brother (Mike) was a good player and that helped him.”
Warden’s Elyria Catholic career total was 993 points in 48 games (20.7 per game). The Panthers won 42 of the 48 games Warden played. He scored 1,206 points in his three-year high school career. At the time, it was the career mark for the city and it came prior to the 3-point line being incorporated in 1987.
In his final game with the Panthers, Warden scored 32 of EC’s 57 points in a loss to the state’s top-ranked team — Willard — in the regional semifinals. Warden outscored Willard’s All-Ohio guard Tony Augspurger, 32-29. Warden was named All-Ohio his senior year and runner-up as Ohio’s Player of the Year in his class.
“He had a really high basketball IQ,” Underman said. “He could really see the floor. He could play all five positions.”
“He was very effective even though he wasn’t super athletic,” Williams said. “That was Bobby’s gift. You don’t have to be extremely talented and muscular, jumping out the gym type of guy to make an impact. He’d always do his thing.”
Both Warden and Underman wanted to earn scholarships to play in college and both did. Warden went on to play at Sheridan (Wyo.) Junior College and eventually at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Underman went on to play at Robert Morris University where he was the first student-athlete to finish his career with over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. Underman was the youngest of three brothers. Both Jay and Mike are enshrined in the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame, also.
Warden is survived by his parents — Steve and Libby Warden of Elyria — brother Mike (Debbie) of Elyria, sister Teri Warden (David) Bickmore of Midland, Mich., and his daughter — Dr. Ashley Aiden of Indio, Calif.
Warden’s father Steve was a longtime teacher in Elyria and well known on the softball fields and basketball courts in the area. Mike Warden was a key member of Elyria High’s state tournament team in 1977 and Teri Warden was the defensive player of the year for Elyria High’s volleyball team in 1978.