Memories shared with Ken Sparks

Carson Newman coach's legacy lives on through the lives he touched

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (WATE) – It’s mid-April. Burke-Tarr Stadium is quiet, save for the cheers in the distance for the Carson-Newman baseball team.

On a field he’s seen with a birds-eye view for the past 17 seasons, public address announcer Alden Starnes gestures toward the Ken Sparks Athletic Complex.

“He was a wonderful person to play for. Essentially, you’re standing in that fact,” said Starnes.

Related: Friends and family gather to remember Ken Sparks

Alden Starns, Carson-Newman football PA announcer

“When I came here on the faculty in 2001, I knew who he was, but never knew if he knew who I was,” the Carson-Newman alumnus and current math professor, reflected. “Whether he knew me or not, he sure acted like he knew me. When I waved and said hello he said hey, good to see you back… and I thought, really, you know me?”

Starnes is one of many touched personally by the late Carson-Newman football coach.

“If he was questioning something you did, you probably missed it,” South Atlantic Conference referee Matt Hollifield admitted with a grin. “I had a guy the other day tell me he didn’t like working for Coach Sparks because it felt like working for his dad. That’s the type of character he had. He didn’t want to disappoint him if he messed up.”

Matt Hollifield, SAC Referee

On the field, Sparks was a prodigious winner with 338 victories in 37 seasons with the Eagles. He’s the fifth winningest coach in the history of college football, but it was his personality and quirks outside the huddle that appealed to those near him.

“You’d wander a practice field, and Ken was likely to come up to you in his golf cart,” said Voice of the Eagles Adam Cavalier. “And as a matter of fact, he did one time. ‘I’m just meandering around,’ he says ‘hop in,’ hands me a peach, and discusses quarterback play with me while I chow down on a peach he pulled from his pocket. What other football coach in America does that?”

Cavalier knew Sparks’ uniqueness well. When he was hired as the new Voice of the Eagles shortly before the start of the 2012 football season, Cavalier had to prepare himself for what would likely be Sparks’ 300th career win in the first game of the season.

Adam Cavalier, Voice of the Eagles

“He couldn’t have cared less about that 300th win,” Cavalier laughs. “His lack of concern about the pomp and circumstance of that. Took a little bit of pressure off me!”

In athletics, Sparks’ legacy is profound. It’s also just a tiny part of the picture.

“When Ken Sparks spoke and represented Carson-Newman, he did it as close to perfectly as anyone could have done it in this day and age,” Starnes said.

Cavalier concurred. “How much he cared about everyone around him… that’s… uncommon.”

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