November 22nd, 2012

Thanksgiving Hyland's Heroes: John Sparks

Kay Whelan

Staff Writer

Thanksgiving Hyland's Heroes: John Sparks
photo from John Sparks

Legendary St. Francis of Assisi basketball coach featured 

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero”? Send your recommendation to

The Catholic School Athletic Association basketball season is just about to begin and a very familiar face around the program is John Sparks, long-time coach of St. Francis of Assisi. John also serves on the Basketball Board of Directors with the CSAA. No one is more familiar with the “Cougars” then John, who also attended St. Francis as a youngster. As a high school student at St. Xavier, John participated in track and cross country.

Now married to Carolyn, they are parents to Jeff, Ryan, Kevin and Leanne, all young, active adults who have played numerous sports throughout their “over 20” years. From basketball, track and cross country to football, wrestling and bowling – John and Carolyn Sparks have certainly been committed to their church, family and school activities.

When and how did you get your start with the CSAA? Why so?

My first year volunteering to coach Basketball was 1974/75. The AD at St Francis saw me helping my brother-in-law coach a team in 1973 over at Our Lady Of Lourdes and he asked why I was not helping at SFA, the next year we needed a 6-A coach and I have stayed involved ever since.

Who asked you to contribute or what got you involved?

I was involved with St Francis through my teen years by participating in the CSAA intermediate basketball program and the scouting program as a Jr. Assistant Scoutmaster. The AD at St. Francis was Lee Schaefer and he asked if I would take a team, in my third season we won a city championship in sudden death overtime and I was hooked.

What sports did you coach and for how long?

I have coached a variety of the sports: Basketball (39 years & counting), Track (10+ years), Cross Country (10+years) and Baseball (5 years) – all at St Francis. I have also served as the past Director of Cross County for the CSAA and I have been on the CSAA Basketball Board since the early 1990’s.

What's the connection with your faith and giving your time to these young student athletes? 

Along with being a coach, I have also served twice on the Parish Counsel and had been constantly involved with our Booster club.  I have always believed that children need to stay active and by being involved they learn how to meet and work with others, handle adversity, communicate, learn how to lose and appreciate winning.

Who was the most influential person on your coaching career? Why?

I have had a love for sports since I was a child.  My wife Carolyn and 2 guys that have helped out over the years, my brother Joe and my friend Paul Fetter, have all been instrumental in developing my coaching style and philosophy over the years.  We challenge the players to work hard on the fundamentals and once they see their own improvement, they take ownership and pride in their own achievements.   I have learned a lot from my prior coaches as well; Frank Cooper, who was my cross-county coach at St. X, used his dry wit and sarcasm to get his point across, yet he coached with great passion and never seemed to mind the long hours.   I believe he truly loved the sport and those he coached.


What are your major themes/principles as a coach?  

Fundamentals! Working as team and having fun while doing it.  We try to develop those who may have God given ability to be prepared for high school.  Encouraging all players to work hard, be responsible and not to be afraid of a challenge.

What does coaching bring to you, your family?

I was fortunate to coach all of my children in one sport or another.    Two of my children are currently coaching teams themselves and we still talk about coaching situations that periodically arise.


What are the fondest experiences or memories you have of coaching? 

I have been very fortunate and blessed to coach eight championship basketball teams and four championship cross country teams. I especially enjoy seeing improvement of the players from the beginning of the season to the end and for those who are talented enough, watching them go forward with their athletic careers in high school and college. I have always had a feeling of satisfaction in seeing one of our less athletic teams stay competitive & compete due to extraordinary team or individual efforts.  I still enjoy the older players introducing me as “Coach Sparks” to their own children.


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