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BY MIKE AVITT
Omer Clay “Pop” Varner is shown here with two trophies. I know one is the 1926 Ringgold County Basketball Tournament for first place and I’m guessing the other one is what was called a “traveling trophy,” which was passed on to each year’s winner.
This week’s photo comes courtesy of Max Varner, son of Alvin Varner, and grandson of O. C. Varner. I’ll be sharing more photos soon but my research time is going to be extremely limited in the next three weeks. Thanks again to Max for the great photo album.
O. C. Varner’ career at Diagonal and Mount Ayr is well documented because both towns had newspapers; Delphos did not. We will focus on Varner’s career at Delphos and what I have so far.
Omer Clay Varner was born in Ohio on February 8, 1884 and moved to Ringgold County as a child. He began teaching in rural schools about 1904, married Nina Stephens on April 5, 2008, and became principal of Delphos High School in 1915. A new, brick high school was dedicated in April 1917 at Delphos, and, of course, it was equipped with a basketball gymnasium.
The Ringgold County Basketball Tournament was established in 1919 with Ellston winning the tournament in its inaugural year. The tournaments were held in Mount Ayr at this time. Delphos won in 1920, but not one, single name of a coach or player was given in the account of the event by the Record-News. So, who was the coach for Delphos?
Delphos won the county crown again in 1924. Again, no names were given in the paper but we know from other accounts, Varner was the coach.
Delphos captured the Ringgold County title again in 1926 and 1927. That’s four championships in nine years! Geiger and Sefrit are mentioned as the stars for Delphos, who then lost to Blockton in the Sectional Tournament finals. Also, box scores appeared for the first time in the Record-News.
1927 saw the tournament move to Diagonal and their new, large gymnasium. Varner is mentioned in the newspaper as “Dad” Varner. This was either an error or the beginning of Varner’s sobriquet, “Pop.” Of course, Varner was a dad to sons Charles, John, Alvin, Paul, and Clay.
Diagonal’s new gym could hold 1,400 people including standing room. Delphos, sporting their red and white colors, topped Beaconsfield for the 1927 championship which drew the largest crowds and took in the greatest gate receipts of any previous tournament.
O. C. Varner’s career would take a turn for the better when he signed a contract with the Diagonal High School in 1930. We’ll look at some of those years when I get some time to do research.