Jay Sparks had lived in Columbus nearly all his life up until a year ago. He moved to the city when he was 4 years old and spent just four years away while he was in college.
A year ago, he accepted the women’s basketball coaching position at Francis Marion University, moving 394 miles away to Florence, S.C.
Now, he’s coming home.
Sparks accepted the athletic director position at Brookstone School, officially resigning his post at Francis Marion on Friday. He will take over as AD on June 1 after the departure of current director Brad Dehem, who accepted a similar position at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta.
Coming home was a major factor in his decision to leave Francis Marion after one season at the helm, but it certainly wasn’t the only one.
Sparks will carry on his family’s long legacy in athletics at the school. His dad, Joe, spent 11 years as Brookstone’s athletic director from 1974-85. Sparks himself graduated from the school in 1976, and his son Bentley and daughter-in-law Mary are both current Cougars coaches. Bentley coaches boys basketball and Mary girls soccer.
“I personally have had an affiliation with Brookstone since 1974,” Sparks said. “That goes back a pretty good ways. I was interested in extending a Sparks legacy within athletics.”
Sparks already has an impressive legacy within the Columbus community.
Most recently, he spent six years as the athletic director at Columbus State University. Prior to that, he coached the CSU women’s basketball team from its inception in 1989 until he became AD in 2008. Over that span, he posted a career record of 367-231. He also spent six years as the girls basketball coach at Hardaway from 1980-84 and the boys coach at Brookstone in 1985-86.
Sparks said that being a college athletic director and a high school athletic director are, in many ways, apples and oranges. The budget and the number of sports at the higher level can’t be compared to the situation at a college preparatory school.
But the inner workings of the department, he said, will be the same.
“Managing people and putting people in a position where they can be successful is what it is,” he said. “I think I can do that. That’s what I’ve learned over many years being in college. I don’t think putting an ex-coach like myself into an AD role is a bad move at all. You’ve been there and done that and you know what the coaches need.”
Despite being away from the high school athletics scene for some time, Sparks said he has been kept abreast of situations through his close relationship with his son, Bentley.
“I don’t think there was a single one of his basketball games that he didn’t call me right after to discuss the game,” the elder Sparks said. “Indirectly, I’ve already been involved in his games. Now, I’m just going to be a little closer and know his players better, but my job is still to let him coach just like it is to let everybody else coach.”
He was, of course, asked during the interview process about his relationships with his son and daughter-in-law and whether that would prove to be a distraction or a difficult working environment.
Sparks said he doesn’t look at it like he is now his son’s boss, though that’s exactly what he will be. Instead, he will view his son like he would any other coach.
“I’m just there to make their jobs easier,” he said. “Make sure he can move forward in his coaching career and have success right now. I’d say the same thing for (new football coach) Scott Pethtel.”
Sparks will take over on June 1 and said that he will wait until then to make any judgments about specific needs in the athletic department.