ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Tabor College completed its search for head coaches last week by hiring John Sparks to take over the baseball program.
Sparks, 28, will also teach physical education classes at Tabor. He received his bachelor’s degree from Grove City (Pa.) College in 1995, and his master’s degree from Slippery Rock University in May 2000.
“Since this is a combined teaching and coaching position, the teaching is very important to us,” said Don Brubacher, Tabor athletic director. “We’re very impressed with John’s academic background. He was an excellent student and we’re convinced he will be a strong professor for us.
“We also feel he has a good baseball background, and has an approach to working with the game that will be successful here,” Brubacher added. “He works aggressively with pitching and hitting as well as team organization. We feel his style of coaching will work very well in our environment.”
Sparks, 28, was head baseball coach at Brookfield (Pa.) High School this past school year. For the previous three years, he was an assistant coach for his alma mater, an NCAA Division III school of 2,300 students, during a successful rebuilding period.
“They had gone through kind of a tough time that last few years and hadn’t won many games,” Sparks said. “We rebuilt things from the bottom up, starting with fundamentals and some recruiting. Little by little, step by step, it came together.
Sparks will inherit a similar situation at Tabor, where the team has struggled to win consistently the past several seasons.
“I think that experience of seeing how to build a program from bottom to top will be definitely helpful in coming to Tabor,” Sparks said.
“I know they’ve had a bit of a rough time the past few years, although they have a pretty good history through the early ’90s and won quite a few conference championships.
“Hopefully, my experience at Grove City College will give a blueprint of how to go about things there.”
Brubacher said: “He understands that the team’s greatest challenge is pitching. I know he plans to work hard to try to find some pitchers to bring into the program if that’s still possible for the coming year. At the same time, he is determined to work aggressively with the pitchers we have at present, to help them be more effective.”
Sparks said he was first attracted to Tabor because of the opportunity to both coach and teach.
“It’s been my goal the past few years to be a head baseball coach and also do some teaching on the collegiate level,” he said. “Tabor also looked like a good fit as far as what the school stands for, morally, spiritually and academically.”
He said he was sold on the school when he made a campus visit a few weeks ago.
“The people were just great,” Sparks said. “I met Don (Brubacher) first and talked to him on the phone a few times before that. He really impressed me with his commitment to the student athletes and the college in general.
“Everyone who interviewed me made me feel very comfortable. I felt at home right away.”
Sparks likes the facilities, too, including the college’s new strength-training addition and its baseball field.
“I thought the baseball field had a lot of character and looked like quite a bit of work had been done on that the past few years,” he said. “I was overall impressed by the college, especially for a college of its size.”
Sparks said he’s prepared for the move to Kansas. He grew up in what he considers a small, rural town in Pennsylvania.
“When I came (for the visit), it brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘rural,'” he said with a chuckle. “But I enjoy that small-town atmosphere.
“From my visit, what I saw of the people, everyone is extremely friendly and very welcoming. I don’t feel intimidated at all.”