Larry Birleffi, veteran sports writer, wrote, “There were those who said the timid kid out of the Reliance coal mines wouldn’t be assertive enough to handle kids in their wildest years, and through it Varras has emerged as the state’s number one basketball coach.”
Spiro Varras was born and raised in the small coal mining camp of Reliance, Wyoming. He developed his love of sports by being involved in every sport offered. His favorite sports were basketball and baseball, and summer evenings found him on the tennis court playing under the lights.
In 1949, regardless of size, all high schools competed in the same state basketball tournament. Reliance, one of the smallest high schools in the state, had 105 students in grades 9 – 12. They stunned the Wyoming basketball community by beating Cheyenne High School in a semifinal game. Cheyenne was the largest school in the state. Reliance reached the state championship but was beaten by Casper Natrona. This Reliance team was the Cinderella Team of 1949 that has been remembered for years. Spiro (No. 00), a senior on that team, was named to the All-State team. He was the first athlete from Reliance to be named to an All-State team.
Spiro enrolled at the University of Wyoming in 1949 and graduated in 1953 with a major in mathematics.
His first teaching position was in Kemmerer for one year and then he moved on to Superior for two years. At both schools, he assisted in all sports. Rock Springs Junior High was the next stop for three years, teaching mathematics and coaching basketball. He next accepted a position at Rock Springs High School teaching mathematics and assisting in track and basketball. After coaching 13 years on the junior high level, in 1965 Spiro was named head basketball coach.
After taking over the Tigers’ basketball program from Stan Kouris, Varras-coached teams wrapped up eight west conference championships. The Tigers reeled off seven straight conference titles during their power-packed years as league kingpins. Varras’s Tigers also added seven regional championships during this era. The Tigers won four AA State Championships and swept three consecutive crowns in 1971, 1972, and 1973. In 1976 a fourth title was added. In 1971 the Tigers won the all classes state championship. This was the only time that involved a playoff with all the state champions. Over 14 years his record was 261 wins and 68 losses. During this period, the Tigers won 20 championships.
Respected by other Wyoming prep coaches, Spiro won the coveted Wyoming Coach of the Year honors for an unprecedented four years—1971, 1973, 1975 and 1976. In 1977 he was named finalist for the National High School Basketball Coach of the Year. In 1984 Spiro was inducted in the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame.
Chuck Harkins of the Casper Star Tribune wrote, “Spiro Varras has been called the “Johnny Wooden” of Wyoming high school basketball for his ability to establish a number of winning streaks and for playing in the state championship games in six of seven years.”
A summer evening open gym for the public was available during his tenure as basketball coach. Basketball clinics for youth were also held. Spiro also compiled a manual containing fundamentals of offense and defense with drills for assistant coaches and church league coaches.
Respected by his students, the RSHS annual was dedicated to Spiro in 1972 and he was selected Teacher of the Year by his peers in 1979.
Spiro retired from coaching in 1979 and from teaching in 1991.