BY AARON SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
It’s perfectly clear the kind of respect Sam Sparks has earned within area sports circles.
Fellow athletic directors were quick to congratulate Russell’s AD after he picked up an esteemed honor on Thursday in Louisville.
Boyd County AD Pete Fraley was one of the first to snap a photo of Sparks and post it on Twitter.
Said Ashland’s Mark Swift: “Sam Sparks is the gold standard by which we in this profession are all measured. He’s an incredible colleague and an even better friend.”
The KHSADA (Kentucky HIgh School Athletic Directors Association) named Sparks the Athletic Director of the Year, evidence that his impactful work is more far-reaching that he’s comfortable acknowledging.
“When you’re recognized by your peers, it’s very humbling,” said Sparks over the phone as he watched a Red Devils baseball game unfold. “It’s a reflection of everybody here at Russell. I just happen to be the face of a team of people here and for everybody involved.”
Sparks is in his 17th year as Russell’s AD. He’s been the 16th Region AD of the Year before, but he’d not previously achieved this latest honor. By Wednesday, he knew he was one of five finalists. The 200-plus ADs present at the conference voted on the award.
“I’m not huge on individual awards,” Sparks said. “It’s just not one of my traits to be comfortable with that. It’s not that much about me, it’s about the team.”
And about his wife, Cynthia. She’s typically one of the first faces a spectator will see at any Russell sporting event.
“Honestly, it starts and ends with my wife,” Sparks said.
Sparks is nearing the finish line of a 31-year marathon in education.
He’s been at Lawrence County and Russell. His retirement will become official in October. He said he expects Russell to name his successor by mid-May.
“I know I’m going to miss it, but there’s a lot of other things I want to do and enjoy,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll stay involved in some way.”
One of Sparks’ favorite lines is “I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
“My wife gets tired of me saying that,” he said with a laugh. “But if you enjoy what you’re doing, it never gets old.” According to Sparks, student-athletes haven’t changed much over the years. Environmental variables have.
“Everybody says kids are different, but kids are the same now as 31 years ago when I first started,” Sparks said.
“Social media and technology has probably made things a little different, but kids are kids.”
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