When he was a baby, Tommy Varner suffered an illness that caused him to lose much of his hearing.
His parents, Tom and Jerry Varner of Stillwater, were proactive after the initial diagnosis, helping their son cope with the hearing loss.
“I was born in Germany while my dad was in the Army. When I was four months old, my mom and I flew back to Oklahoma and I became very sick. I was in the hospital for nine days and was diagnosed with spinal meningitis,” Varner said. “I lost most of my hearing as a two-year-old.
“My parents quickly put me in speech therapy to learn how to lip read and talk with the residual hearing I had left. As I’ve gotten older my hearing has digressed.”
Varner attended Stillwater schools before going to Tulsa Edison his junior and senior years. He played baseball at East Central University for two years before attending the University of Science and Arts in Chickasha, earning a deaf education and mathematics degree.
He wanted to assist deaf students as a teacher and coach in a deaf school and has been successful in both areas during his career in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
His first job was as a middle school teacher and assistant basketball coach at the Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock in 1995. That’s where he met wife KaAnn and the two were married in 1996.
They moved to the Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur for 18 years where Varner was a teacher and coach. KaAnn was a teacher and administrator at OSD. Varner coached football, boys’ basketball and track while being athletic director and math teacher.
They returned to the Arkansas School for the Deaf in 2016. Varner is head football coach, girls’ basketball coach and math teacher. His wife is an elementary principal.
“I like to think I have had an impact on student-athletes. Growing up, I had a lot of coaches that I looked up to. My coaches and my parents impacted me to help me be where I am today,” Varner said. “I’ve had several success stories with my students that still give me goosebumps.”
Varner’s son Caleb graduated from Maumelle, Arkansas High School in 2017 and currently attends University of Central Arkansas. His daughter Shannon graduated from the Arkansas School for the Deaf in 2019. She also attends UCA, studying psychology in the honors program.
In Stillwater, Varner played summer baseball with Hanner-Sharp’s American Legion Majors baseball team. He was the starting first baseman on the 1989 Legion team that won the program’s only Majors State Championship.
On the 30th anniversary of that impressive accomplishment – remembered annually at the upcoming Brad Holt Memorial Tournament – Varner remains proud.
“Our team clicked and got hot at the right time,” Varner said. “Many of us on that team had played on the same team since we were 12 or 13 years old. We all knew each other very well. We had to work very hard for it … it meant a lot to me.
“I still have my jersey and my ring. I bring them to my classroom to show my students and athletes. I tell them if you want this bad enough you have to work hard for it just like we did in the summer of ‘89,” Varner said.