The city’s 21st recipient of the Great Brooksvillian award is the late Tom Varn. Thomas Leland Varn, born November 14,1921 contributed to Brooksville’s greatness as a popular coach, City Council member and Mayor.
Born and raised in Brooksville, Mr. Varn in his youth was known for always having his bat and glove, seeking a pickup game of baseball around town.
He attended Hernando High School, where he was the Quarterback of the football team from 1941 – 1942. In 1942, he was named one of three top athletes for Hernando High. Varn and his fellow athletes went on to represent Hernando in a nationwide yearbook called Athletes of America.
Following his graduation in 1942, Tom joined the Navy, and served as a Gunner on a torpedo bomber during World War II. He was on three planes that were shot down. The third time he found himself floating in a rubber raft for seven days. He prayed that if God would save him, he would move back to Brooksville and dedicate his life to helping young people of Hernando County.
“Clearly, both sides kept their end of the bargain,” Scott Nash said, as he recounted the coach’s accomplishments. Nash with Coach Varn’s family assembled the years of facts and memories to nominate the coach for the Great Brooksvillian recognition.
Following his time with the Navy, he attended the University of Florida. He began summer youth programs and started Brooksville’s first Little League team.
His name synonymous with sports, Varn began coaching in 1948, and is considered the most successful coach in Hernando County history. His Hernando High School baseball team won the Florida State Championship in 1967. He retired in 1973, but stayed on to continue teaching Physical Education.
At the reception held on October 10, 2022, some of Varn’s students remembered him fondly as “Cotton Top,” since he sported striking white hair for most of his career. Local Attorney Bruce Snow joked that either marriage or children brought about the hair color change, possibly at age 30.
Nash, who was very young when he first met Coach Varn recalled, “I just knew him from my youth, and I knew that he had this white hair, and I thought that he was like 100 years old.”
In 1941, Varn won the Brooksville City Championship in tennis. He went on to play softball, basketball and baseball, football, and tennis.
Attorney Snow remembered the coach as iconic. “I don’t think I ever saw him wearing anything other than his coaching shorts, he always had a coaching whistle around his neck.”
Snow praised Varn’s coaching prowess that led him to the Florida High School Coaches Hall of Fame. “But there’s another Hall of Fame that he is in, and that’s in the hearts of those that knew him, who respected him with love too.”
Coach Varn is also remembered for organizing youth spiritual revivals on the courthouse lawn and large hunting gatherings in Rattlesnake Swamp every fall.
Tom Varn Park as we know it today, was dedicated on July 25, 1970, the same year he was named the National High School Baseball Coach of the Year for the Southeastern region. It is the same field where he coached Little League.
Tom entered politics in 1970 as a City Council member, serving as Brooksville’s Mayor in 1983. He remained on the City Council for 15 years.
He was the Athletic Director for Brooksville Junior High School in 1974.
In 1982 he was inducted into the Florida High School Coaches Hall of Fame, which he considered his greatest honor.
Before that, in 1979, he was asked by Hernando High School’s principal to start a girls softball team. Then, in 1984, he propelled Hernando High’s Lady Leopards to the state softball championship. Varn ultimately was honored as Softball Coach of the Year by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. He is the only coach in Florida history to win a state title in both baseball and softball.
Though he announced his retirement in May of 1985, he wasn’t done. Seeing that a girls softball tournament did not yet exist, the coach assembled a team, and the Florida All-Star Tournament was held for several years. At a banquet at the close of each season, Coach Varn would end his speeches by saying, “When you die and go to heaven, you’re in Brooksville.”
He also formed a summertime golf tournament.
Varn’s children, Bubba, Lorraine and Brenda all went on to become educators in Hernando County.
Gene Bell, father of current Council Member Blake Bell recalls Coach Varn loading up a bus full of kids for a trip to Weeki Wachee Springs. “The purpose of that was twofold,” Bell said to the audience of family and friends. “The first was to teach us how to swim … but he wanted to keep everybody active during the summer, because if you’re not active doing good things, you’re probably active doing bad things and he was concerned about the youth. He wanted to make sure that we did things that would cause us to move on in life a little bit further.”
Bell remembers Varn best for the love of his family. His nephew, Jake Varn spoke of fond memories of life with his uncle, all centered around family, sports and the local youth whose lives he touched.
Coach Varn passed away on June 26, 1993. His wife Myra threw the opening pitch on March 4, 1997, when Tom Varn Stadium was dedicated at the park of the same namesake.