BROOKSVILLE — The tradition of Hernando baseball is long and intimate.
The community has thrived on the success of the Leopards through the years, and this season is no exception.
Making its 10th region final appearance, Hernando (25-5) has an opportunity to make the state semifinals for the first time since winning the state championship in 1967.
There is no better man to coach the team than Tim Sims, a former Hernando player who knows Brooksville fans as well as anyone.
His ties run deep in the community as his family moved to the area in the 1960s and opened Sims Furniture.
“You do what you do in life because you enjoy it and you want to do it,” he said. “For as tough as an economic time as the country is going through right now, Brooksville is still a good place to raise a family.
“It’s a strong, prideful, athletic community. It’s always been that way and always will be.”
Sims has coached the Leopards 16 total seasons with a two-year hiatus from 2006-08. This is his fourth time leading the team to the region final, including an 11-0 loss last year to Dunnellon.
In the 1980s, Sims played for former Hernando coach Ernie Chatman, who led the team to the region finals on multiple occasions as well. But Chatman’s best coaching job might have come in 1982. On a team that included Sims, future major-leaguer Mike Walker and future NFL Pro Bowl player Jerome Brown, the Leopards went 30-2 before losing the district championship to Tampa Catholic.
“It’s seasons like that folks use to motivate their kids growing up,” Sims said. “Because I grew up in that type of community, it means so much to me to still be part of it.”
At the time, Hernando was ranked No. 1 in the state by the FACA, but the Crusaders had future MLB pitchers Rich Monteleone and Lance McCullers. Chatman still coaches, heading up the softball program at Hernando Christian.
The legacy of coaches was passed to Chatman by Tom Varn, the man on the bench for Hernando County’s lone baseball title in 1967. Chatman was attending Hernando at the time, but didn’t make the roster that year. Varn’s name now graces the town’s softball stadium.
Like Varn and Chatman before him, Sims takes the honor of coaching at his alma mater very seriously. His staff is made up former players like Monty Ketchum and Bert Snow.
As for his place in Hernando history, it’s not something Sims is thinking about right now. He has only one thing on his mind: beating North Marion.
“You don’t think about that,” he said. “It’s something I’ll look back on after the fact, to be honest with you. You can’t let those types of aspects take you off of what’s important right now.”
With the buzz around Brooksville, there should be no shortage of support for the Leopards at Emerson Field on Friday night. The dominoes are seemingly falling into place perfectly everywhere else as well.
Because the Colts were district runnerup, the Leopards will host their third consecutive playoff game, a rarity. The week off between the region semifinal and final will also have the entire roster rested and healthy for the first time this season.
There will be no excuses, just the way Sims wants it.
“There will be no trap here,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn from the chess matches we’ve played with opposing coaches so far.”
Class 4A region final
Friday at 7 p.m. Admission is $6.
North Marion at Hernando