Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vara resigns as Hopatcong AD for job in Florida

It will be extremely hard to think of Hopatcong High School without Tom Vara.

But after 22 years, the longtime athletic director and former wrestling coach at the Sussex County school is leaving for a new opportunity in Sarasota, Fla.

"My resignation was accepted by the school board [Tuesday] night and this all came about in the last couple of weeks," Vara said on Wednesday. "The high school is Sarasota Military Academy, but I'm taking a [physical education] position at a brand new middle school facility. We'll be the first people in the building on Aug. 1."

It's the second big loss for Hopatcong in a month as baseball coach Chris Buglovsky stepped down after the season to take the AD job at Belvidere.

Vara, 49, who will continue as Hopatcong's AD until the end of July and has held that post for 15 years, is a lifer in the area having grown up in Morris County and graduating from Mount Olive High School where he was a standout wrestler, placing third in the state at 122 pounds his senior season in 1983. From there, Vara, who was a two-time runner-up when it was District 16 at Phillipsburg before winning a title in District 15 as a senior, continued his education and wrestling career at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University.

Vara said leaving Hopatcong and New Jersey was an extremely tough decision.

"Except for the four years in college, I've lived in this area my whole life," said Vara, who taught at Parsippany High School for three years before moving on to Hopatcong. "This had been in the works, but it was kind of a perfect storm. It happened that quick, within the last few weeks. Once you find a place [to live in Florida] and you start that process it kind of takes on a life of its own. New Jersey winters [are awful] and with Jersey education, I didn't like the road its going down on certain things.

"But [New Jersey] is all I know. You build many relationships. I probably know at least one person at every high school in the tri-county area."

During his tenure at Hopatcong, Vara oversaw a number of successful athletic programs, including the school's resurgence in football. The Chiefs were mired in a long losing streak before turning into a winner behind tremendous coaches such as Bill Roca, Todd Van Orden, Paul Reduzzi and now Jerry Venturino.

"I was a part of two football [sectional] championships. When I got here, football was really a doormat," Vara said. "I think they were 0-and-40-something at one point. I'm a wrestling guy, but football drives the bus. You have to have solid football coaches and I was blessed to have those guys. Also, we have a tremendous track program with Mike Juskus [former Hopatcong star and javelin competitor in the 1984 Olympic trials] who's been here since he went here."

As a coach, Vara enjoyed his own success in guiding the Chiefs' wrestling program to its only sectional title in 1997 -- beating Kittatinny in the North 1 Group 2 final. Vara's teams went 80-43 overall in seven seasons from 1992-99 and he coached some of the best wrestlers to come out of the school, including four-time district champion and region champ Anthony Bunnicant and region champions Justin Lijo and Jim Berringer, now an assistant coach at Hackettstown. Anthony Petrock, another former wrestler and district champ under Vara, is the head coach at Ramsey.

"Every year, we lost to Kittatinny or High Point [in the section], so to beat a real high-quality program for our only sectional title was special," Vara said. "We had great kids when I was there."

Sticking with his wrestling roots, Vara, along with fellow ADs Kurt Weaver of Newton and John Simonetti of North Warren, has helped oversee the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament since its inception in 2010. Vara isn't sure of the tournament's future at Hopatcong, which rotates as the host semiannually with Hunterdon Central, but he feels it's in good hands with Weaver and Simonetti.

"For this year, it will have to [stay at Hopatcong]," Vara said. "For the new guy it will be a trial by fire. He will just have to take care of the facility. The seeding and everything else will be done."

Vara is now set to pursue another challenge by getting back to his teaching roots.

"This may be a dream job," said Vara, who has a daughter and son -- ages 12 and 10, respectively -- with his wife, Vicki. "I've typically gotten along with kids and everybody at Hopatcong was good to me."

Personally, it will be sad to see Vara, who I have known since his coaching days, leave the area. I saw first hand as part of the seeding process how much he cared about wrestling and the HWS. Hopefully, the new AD has that same passion and attention to detail.

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