Tom Kerns spent years on area golf courses, first watching his daughter, Lesa, play for Franklin County High School and later watching her in tournaments at Juniper Hill.
When Lesa Kerns Hodge became the girls golf coach at Western Hills and FCHS, Tom was there again, serving as an assistant coach for his daughter.
The two teams played the same schedule, and when they were in the same tournament, Lesa would coach one team and Tom the other, and they would trade teams at the next tournament.
Tom passed away on June 25, leaving behind his wife, Dora, Lesa and her husband, Jimmy, his son, Will, and four grandsons.
“Tom always supported me in all my decisions as a coach for his daughter, Lesa,” said Joan Johnston, former FCHS girls golf coach. “He was willing to help the other girls as well. I am not sure how many fairways he has walked with Lesa and other members of the team, but he was a great cheerleader for all of us."
In addition to his family, Kerns also left behind a group of grateful golfers who appreciate the role he played in developing their golf games and love of the sport.
“Great coaches have the gift to unlock what is bound up in others,” said Natalie Thomas, who graduated from WHHS in 2018. “Tom had this ability. It is what enabled him to make golf more than a sport. He was able to pull out your full potential, all the while encouraging and pushing you. Tom Kerns was a great man and a great coach.”
“When I started playing golf in the sixth grade I had no idea what I was doing, but I had two amazing coaches who helped me learn the game and love it,” Christine McGaughey, a 2019 WHHS graduate, said.
“Tom always knew what to say when I was struggling with my game or getting distracted on the course. He was a great coach and an even better person. I know that to this day if I needed Tom’s help he would be there. He will be greatly missed by the Western Hills and Franklin County golf families.”
Hodge’s last year to coach at FCHS was 2018, and while rising senior Jordan Harris didn’t have Hodge and Kerns as coaches for her entire career, Kerns made an impression.
“Tom was a calm voice and major support to me during my first few years on the FCHS golf team,” Harris said. “Knowing he was going to be there during the round for support gave me much needed confidence.
“We greatly appreciate the time he gave up with family and friends to help coach our team. He cared about us, the school, and most importantly, his family. He was a mentor to us all, and he will be missed.”
Sidney Cobb, a 2015 WHHS graduate, said Kerns’ ability to know just what a player needed was one of his best qualities.
“Tom was not only an incredible assistant coach, but an amazing person who truly valued each team member and helped us to be our very best,” she said.
“Tom knew when we needed to be pushed to grow, or when we just needed a kind word, and he always came to practice with his full heart in coaching. He will be very deeply missed.”
Reagan Toothaker, a 2019 graduate of FCHS, concurred.
“There were times when I wanted to quit or would get frustrated and he would be there to cheer me on,” Toothaker said. “When I would walk off the green after a good hole he would be there to give me a fist bump as well as some snacks to keep me going, usually cookies, he knew those were my favorite. He helped give me a love for the game, and I’m very blessed to be able to call him coach.”
Ally Harrod, a 2017 graduate of WHHS, appreciated how Kerns gave his players some leeway.
“I was lucky enough to be coached by Tom, and to this day I still follow advice that he gave me over the years,” she said. “Not only was Tom my coach he was also a good friend. When it came to golf Tom let us play our own game; he always had faith in us as players and knew that we would learn from making our own decisions.
“He was dedicated to us as players, experienced as a golfer and always had a smile on his face. Tom was loved by all who met him. A great coach has the ability to motivate and inspire athletes, Coach Tom truly made an impact on my life. I was honored to have Tom as one of my golf coaches and mentors.”
For 2019 WHHS graduate Emilie Hill, Kerns taught her to love the game.
"I don’t think that I would have ever made it through high school golf without Tom Kerns as one of my coaches," Hill said. "He taught me to have a passion for a sport that I barely knew how to play. He pushed me to be the best I could be even though at times I would get discouraged.
"During a tournament you could always count on seeing his smiling face, and he would instantly make any bad day much better. I am so thankful that I was able to have him as a coach."