By Rob Patrick
When Tom Farmer and his wife Cheryl decided they needed a bigger house as their three[more] sons Tadd, Josh and Ben began to grow, Tom decided he’d add on and that he would do it himself. Somebody asked him if he knew how, he said, ‘No yet. But if that guy can do it,’ he continued referring to no one in particular, “so can I.”
So he set out to learn and got it done.
And that has been indicative of Tom Farmer, who is serving his final month as athletic director for the Bryant School District. He will continue as transportation director and begin work with Bob Padgett in the maintenance department for the district.
Though rumors have made the rounds that he was fired, demoted, ill or even dying, the truth is that the move to give up one of his jobs or the other has been something he’s been lobbying for over the last few years. The circumstances have finally developed where it could be accomplished.
Former Van Buren head football coach Mike Lee will officially take over as athletic director on July 1.
“I’m excited about Coach Lee coming in and taking over the program,” Farmer said. “I think he can take it to the next level. He’ll be able to concentrate on it fully.
“I’m looking forward to working with Mr. Padgett,” he added. “He has so much wisdom and knowledge of all the Bryant school campuses. He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. I’ll still have the challenges of the buses. It’s going to be an exciting new phase. I’m looking forward to it.”
And that’s not all he’s looking forward to.
“I missed a lot of my own little boys stuff but I’ve got grandkids and I’m looking forward to going and watching them do whatever they do, whether it’s a dance recital or playing softball or whatever it is. And I’ve probably got to go somewhere and figure out how to date again so I can take my wife out.
“I am looking forward to being home some at nights and weekends,” Farmer allowed. “I’m not going to miss being up here on Saturdays, I’ll be honest. I might do a little fishing and a little hunting. I’ve got a boat that hasn’t been in the water years.
“I’ll still be at ballgames because I still want to see these kids be successful,” he mentioned. “Sitting in the stands and watching athletics and no one saying, Coach Farmer, we need this or we need that. Just enjoying the games a little bit more. People probably don’t realize it but, if you’re at a ballgame, you’re on call. And there’s always a little something that needs to be handled or taken care of whether it’s the band truck being parked in the wrong place blocking a driveway that you need to get moved, or there’s an injured kid on the field whose parent isn’t there so you need to ride to the hospital, just to make sure there’s an adult there with them.”
Farmer came to Bryant to be the head football coach in 1990 after a successful stint as the Benton freshman coach — a stint he finished with a four-year run going 24-8-4 with two conference championships including an unbeaten season in 1989.
“When they hired me that was all I was, the head football coach,” he recalled recently. “When I got here, they said, ‘By the way, you’re also the athletic director.’ I said, ‘Well, that sounds like a fun thing to be, I guess.’
“I coached three years then it got to be so much that I couldn’t even run off-season (football workouts) because I was gone all during the spring,” he continued. “The school district was nice enough to let me be the athletic director and we hired a football coach.
“I did one year of just athletics then the following year, Mr. Kelly, who was the transportation director, came to me and said, ‘You’re going to be the next transportation director.’ I said, ‘Does that mean the buses.” and he goes, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about buses.’ He said, ‘Well, I didn’t either until I took over.’ The next thing I knew I was transportation director and athletic director.”
He’s held both spots for the last 18 years and, as with the addition to the house and any number of other things, Farmer taught himself how to do both jobs and do them well, making calls, asking questions and through trial and error. In many ways, he’s a self-made success story.
“It’s been tiresome at times,” he admitted. “I get here at 6 in the morning to deal with the buses and talk to drivers. Then, evenings, at 5 o’clock buses are done and I get to go watch athletic events. You know, being an athletic director is every little boy’s dream job because you get to go to every athletic event and watch them all.”
As with most things for Farmer, the proverbial glass is always half full instead of half empty as he’s guided the burgeoning Bryant programs.
“It’s been a good 21 years as athletic director,” he stated. “I’ve had a chance to serve with a lot of great coaches. I got a chance to watch the programs grow around here. You know, when I first got here — we didn’t have middle schools at that time. We had one junior high football team which included seventh, eighth and ninth grade. We had girls and boys basketball and we had girls and boys track and that was it. In high school, we had football, basketball, volleyball and track and baseball. That was all.
“I’ve watched programs be added since I’ve got here. We had an unofficial cross country team at that time. Joe Treat was the coach, so to speak, but coach (Dan) Westbrook was actually taking them to the meets and doing things. So we officially added cross country. We came along and we added a little slow pitch softball then we added ninth grade volleyball. We added soccer, then went fast-pitch (softball). We went to two middle schools and there’s five coaches at each middle school that have volleyball, track, cross country, football and basketball. So, you can see my athletic program kind of doubled in size over the last 21 years.
“That made it very challenging,” Farmer allowed. “The biggest challenge right now is funding. We just put in the turf (at the football field), which was a great accomplishment and I thank the administration and the board for that. That was challenging, to raise the money, $325,000, and I appreciate everyone out there that helped us. We’re very fortunate in Bryant that we have a community that supports the schools and the athletics as well as they do. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out into the community and asked for something for the kids where they didn’t just say, ‘Hey, if it’s for the kids, let’s do it.’”
Speaking of the kids, he added, “Our coaches make my job easy because they’re going to treat kids right too. They’re going to coach them well and they’re always going to do the right thing.”
Of course, he played a key role in hiring almost all of the coaches in the district now.
“I’ve got to give the school board credit,” he said, deflecting any credit for himself. “And the administration, they’ve backed me up on my recommendations and my decisions. Things have worked out well. Look at our football program. We got Daryl Patton and he had success then left us and went to Fayetteville then Paul Calley slid right in there and what a great job he’s done.
“I can honestly say, we’re in a State tournament in every sport we offer,” he noted. “Our soccer programs have gone out of this world. They did a great job this year. And, of course, our softball program has won two state titles back to back and is probably going to win a third. Our baseball program — you just can’t say enough good things. And it’s all due to those great coaches. And I do take a lot of pride in it.”
And now, Farmer’s the one other A.D.’s are calling for advice.
“It’s funny, people from around the state, will call me and say, ‘Hey, what do you do about this?’ I’m thinking, ‘Man, I don’t know. We just kind of do this and that.’
“What we’re going to do is what’s right by kids,” he emphasized. “And we’re going to try to teach them more than a sport. We’re going to try to teach them how to be a positive part of society. And people say that but my coaches actually do that. They take great pride in making sure that when these kids leave the sports program, they’re going to be successful in life. And that’s what it’s all about because maybe only 10 percent go on to play college sports. The other 90 percent have got to function in the real world.
“You know, athletics is a privilege and it needs to be something that teaches kids how to be successful when they get through. And I’m proud to say that, the coaches we have do that and do it whole-heartedly. They take their jobs very seriously. Winning is part of it but molding these young people is what it’s all about.”
There are more sports, more coaches and more kids and parents involved and Farmer admits it can get complicated.
“Am I going to tell you there’s not been any headaches? No. There’s been some headaches along the line. When you’ve got that many people — we’ve got a little more than 1,500 kids involved in athletics right now — there’s going to be little controversies here or there but it’s nothing you can’t sit down and work out. And, as long as you keep the same thing in mind — we’re going to do what’s right by the kids, everything else takes care of itself.”
Along with growing the athletic program, Farmer’s most visible accomplishment is the phenomenon known as the Salt Bowl.
“That’s been a baby of mine that’s turned into a giant,” he acknowledged. “I can’t fully take credit for the idea. I took the idea and ran with it. (Former Bryant Hornet football player) T.J. Sivewright came to me and said, ‘You know, Arkansas and Louisiana State, they play for a Boot (trophy). We need something for Benton and Bryant to play for, a big trophy.’ He said, ‘I’ll buy the trophy and you take care of the rest.’
“We came up with the idea of the Salt Bowl and it’s been financially good for both schools,” Farmer related. “To see 26,000 people at a high school football game in Arkansas is amazing. There were 25-something at the playoff game when Mitch Mustain played for Springdale which was pretty amazing. That was the record in Arkansas. Then we just have a season-opening game and get 26,000. To see the tailgate party, the people, to watch the kids and see the excitement in their eyes, that’s exciting.”