Coach “Tom” Gannarelli: St Cloud’s MVP

First Generation American

Thomas “Tom” Joseph Gannarelli was the son of Italian immigrants Domenic and Anna Gannarelli. Tom was born on August 23, 1913, the youngest of four children in Keewatin, Minnesota. He played football for his high school and was an outstanding fullback for Hibbing Junior College near his hometown. After two years at Hibbing, Stetson University coach Herb McQullan heard of Tom’s abilities in Florida and enticed him to transfer to Stetson. He played for Stetson until his graduation in 1936, then returned to Keewatin.  

The Beginning of a Career

Stetson University 1938 Yearbook

In 1937, St. Cloud High School needed a football coach, so they turned to Stetson for possible candidates. Tom was highly recommended and offered the job; he accepted and headed back to Florida. The St. Cloud Bulldogs had experienced many lean years on the football field, and with only fourteen boys on the squad, Tom’s first year was a challenging one. But 1938 was a winning season, with the Bulldogs also taking the Florida Conference championship. The team won the championship again in 1939. Between the 1940 and 1941 season, the Bulldogs lost only three games.

Newspaper clipping of Coach Tom, his daughter Evadne, and wife Jesna

Wedding Bells and a War

Miss Jesna Godwin, a St. Cloud teacher, caught the eye of Tom, and they married on July 14, 1940, in Keewatin. Also, in 1940, Tom purchased 6000 acres of land in Osceola County to start a cattle ranch. In March of 1942, Tom was sidelined when he answered the call of Uncle Sam and enlisted in the US Navy as a Chief Petty Officer. He completed his tour of duty in November 1945 as a Lieutenant Junior Grade, serving as an athletic officer at a naval supply depot in Algiers for most of those years. In 1950, Tom and Jesna became the parents of a daughter, Evadne.

Back in the Game

Once again, Coach Gannarelli was on a winning streak with more undefeated seasons in his future and bringing home conference championship trophies for the Bulldogs. He still found time for civic organizations as a member of the Kissimmee Elks Lodge, St. Cloud Lions Club, Silver Spurs Riding Club, and Florida Cattlemen’s Association. Although he retired from coaching in 1962, Tom continued as a teacher and administrator for the school system until retiring in 1976. Tom was inducted into the Stetson Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, the Florida Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1982, and chosen as the Silver Spurs Coca Cola Cowboy in 1989. Jesna passed away in 1964; Coach Thomas J. Gannarelli died on September 16, 1991.

Newspaper clipping of Coach Gannarelli standing in front of is many awards.

Written by Anza Bast