In sports, athletes and coaches are judged by wins and losses. They are subjected to ridicule for making a mistake and they are praised a game-winning performance or a clutch call that preserves a victory. However, it’s easy to overlook that athletes are human beings. They are someone’s father, someone’s son, someone’s brother and someone’s sister.
The Northwest community received a cruel reminder Friday that life trumps sports as long-time football assistant coach and first-year women’s assistant basketball coach Steve Sparks passed away at the age of 42.
A 1991 graduate of Northwest High School, Sparks spent his entire life in McDermott. He was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball. Even though he was a talented player, Mohawks Athletic Direct Dave Frantz knew Sparks was destined for more.
“I remember my first year of coaching football out here as an assistant he was a sophomore,” Frantz said. “He and I got along real well. You always have those kids where you think, ‘this kid could be a coach one day.’ He was one of those kids.”
A couple of years after his high-school career had concluded, Sparks showed back up in McDermott has an assistant coach on the football team.
However, despite coaching high school, Sparks became more involved in the community be coaching the youth leagues in McDermott known has biddy ball.
Frantz believes Sparks had found his niche.
“Steve was one of these truthful guys. Some coaches just try to tip-toe around issues but Steve was very direct. As a player, that’s someone you want. To me, I’d rather someone tell me the truth then beat around the bush,” Frantz said. “Steve cared about Northwest and he cared about the kids. He didn’t just do it for the notoriety, he just did it because he liked the kids, he liked being around the kids. The kids responded to him well.”
When Sparks wasn’t coaching at Northwest, he became a prison guard. Frantz believed and still believes he was have made a terrific Intervention Specialist, working with special needs kids.
While Sparks never traveled that road, Frantz continued to cling to the idea and eventually convinced Sparks to following his true calling.
“I convinced him that it’s never too late to start a career,” Frantz said.” So, he was looking at going back to school real soon. He was ready to get a teaching degree, and teach and coach the rest of his life.”
Frantz believes Sparks had the right personality and character traits to work with kids.
“He had a caring, compassionate personality,” Frantz said. “At the same time, he could be real direct and he wasn’t a push over. He demanded the best out of you without being to harsh on you. I knew he could be a good teacher and a good coach.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.