Coach Ken Sparks (February 25, 1944 – March 29, 2017)

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Longtime Carson-Newman football coach Ken Sparks died early yesterday morning. He achieved remarkable success as far as football is concerned, but more importantly, he impacted thousands of lives for Christ. Below is a Baptist Press release about Coach Sparks, including material I passed along to Baptist Press to help with the story…

 

Ken Sparks, among winningest college football coaches, dies

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (BP) –– Ken Sparks, legendary football coach at Carson-Newman University, died Wednesday (March 29) after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 73.

Sparks, who announced his retirement Nov. 14 after 37 seasons, finished his Carson-Newman career with a winning percentage of .7699 — fourth highest in college football history, while his 338 victories stand at fifth best nationally.

However, those numbers — including 99 losses and two ties -– “mattered little to Sparks,” according to a news release from Carson-Newman, which is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. “The Eagles’ head man was far more likely to ask a player, colleague or coach how their heart was and to guide them to a life in the light of Christ.

“Sparks himself lived his life at the foot of the cross, doing everything in his power to honor his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every turn.”

Carson-Newman President J. Randall O’Brien said Sparks “leaves a legacy that has influenced, and will continue to impact, the lives of Carson-Newman student-athletes for years to come. Ken’s devotion to seeing that his players develop on the field was secondary to seeing them develop as Christian young men off the field.”

O’Brien added that Sparks “inspired us in the way he so bravely fought his battle with cancer — with courage and full of faith. Our hearts are saddened, but we know that Ken is with his loving heavenly Father. Our prayers are with his dear wife Carol and his family.”

Sparks grounded the Carson-Newman football program in a yearly theme rooted in a Bible verse, the C-N news release stated.

For the 2016 team, Sparks’ “me 2 We for HE” theme was based on Philippians 1:27 — “Just one thing: live your (me) life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (He), so (We) will be seen standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind, working side-by-side (we) for the Gospel (He).”

“For a Sparks-led practice, it was a common sight to see the session open and close with a prayer, led by players wearing Carson-Newman gear not adorned by C-N slogans, but with Bible verses,” the university release said. A video tribute to Sparks can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACoFb9JAeEg.

Under Sparks, the Eagles won five NAIA national title games in six appearances. A move to NCAA Division II didn’t hamper his Carson-Newman squads as the Eagles played for the D-II national title three times and were a semifinalist in 2009.

Sparks’ teams recorded 21 South Atlantic Conference Championships, 25 NCAA or NAIA playoff appearances and 104 All-Americans. Most recently, a street was renamed after him that runs through the middle of Carson-Newman’s campus in Jefferson City, Tenn.

Sparks was inducted into the inaugural NCAA Division II Hall of Fame coaches class in 2010 and is a member of the South Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame. He has been honored with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Lifetime Achievement Award and National Coach of the Year.

Sports columnist Brett Maragni, also a Florida pastor, noted that when Sparks ended his coaching career last fall “people talked more about Ken Sparks the man of God than the successful coach. Everyone who knew him, myself included, had zero doubts that winning on the field, as important as it was, was not the most important part of his job. No, his main goal in coaching was to impact young men with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Maragni, online at http://www.pastorbrett.com, reported that Sparks said in a January interview with WBIR in nearby Knoxville, “I don’t want to have a legacy,” noting, “Let me tell you what I want, I want an investment in the Kingdom of God that’s lasting. That’s what I want.”

Sparks’ son Chad, now the teaching pastor at Providence Church in Knoxville, chose to play for his dad at Carson-Newman even though he received attention from larger schools in higher divisions of college football, Maragni recounted.

“It was a great experience for me,” Chad said. “I had always wanted to play for my dad. He was and is my hero. When I was growing up, other coaches were about winning. For Dad, winning is priority No. 4, behind No. 1 – bringing players and others to Christ, No. 2 – teaching players how to be good people and No. 3 – teaching players to play great football.”

Chad Sparks said he is proud of the impact his dad had in the lives of thousands. “Not a week goes by when someone does not ask me if I’m related to Coach Ken Sparks when they hear or see my last name,” he told Maragni. “When I tell them that he’s my dad, I am often treated to stories of how their son or brother or cousin — or how they themselves — came to Christ because of him, sometimes with tears in their eyes.”

In addition to his wife and son, Sparks is survived by a daughter, Chandra Childress; stepson Tim Bobo: stepdaughter Kim Hines; and 14 grandchildren.

The Sparks family will receive friends at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., from 2-6 p.m. Friday (March 31) followed by a service open to the public. In accordance with the family’s wishes, the burial will be private.

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Want to Become a Reader? Here’s How…

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It’s one thing to be literate… to have the skill to read. It’s another thing to be identified as a reader of books. Regrettably, most Americans don’t read much, if at all. According to the Pew Research Center:

Among all American adults, the average (mean) number of books read or listened to in the past year is 12 and the median (midpoint) number is 5–in other words, half of adults read more than 5 books and half read fewer. Neither number is significantly different from previous years.

Half of American adults read 5 books or less per year? That’s stunning. With average reading skills (250 words per minute), it would take just 6 hours to read one 200 page book. The average book in America is 232 pages, so let’s round that up, being conservative, to 6 1/2 hours per book. That would mean it would take about 32.5 hours to read five books. Hang with me here… just a little more math… there are about 5,782 awake hours per year (assuming 8 hours of sleep per day). Putting it all together, this means that the average American adult spends about 0.0056% of their waking hours reading books.

Let’s compare that to watching television. According to multiple sources, the average American adult watches over 5 hours of television per day. This roughly 32% of waking hours. And this isn’t even counting watching movies at the cinema or on DVD. Yikes!

I can understand why this the lifestyle of the average American adult is more about television than reading. We all want to “chill our” after a long day at work, and the idea of working your way through a book is not exactly the best way to chill out after working all day.

Neither do I want to suggest that watching TV is morally wrong or sinful. Depending on what you are watching, TV can land anywhere on the moral spectrum. However, one has to wonder if our lives would be more greatly enriched if we were to reduce that television input at least a little and pick up a book more often, especially if it is a good book. And please note, I’m not too naive to fail to recognize that the same that is said about television offerings representing all points on the moral spectrum also applies to books. There are fantastic, enriching, life-changing books and there are raunchy, trashy, morally bankrupt books and all manner in between. I want to move forward with this discussion under the assumption that we are talking about reading quality books.

Are You a Reader?

What about you? Can you identify yourself as a reader? I’m not asking if you are literate. I’m asking if you read books. Here are some probing questions: When was the last time you completed an entire book? Do you have a book, or books, that you are currently reading? How many books did you read last year?

If your answers to those questions leaves you disappointed with yourself as a reader, and if you want to do something about it, please keep reading.

I’m not going to lay out a number of books that you must read to be considered a legitimate “reader.” You need to decide that for yourself. We are all at different stations in life and being a “reader” for one person might mean reading six books a year (one per month) while being a “reader” for another person might mean reading many more.

If you happen to be someone who is disappointed with the amount you read, I want to extend some encouragement to you, and hopefully offer you a helping hand in becoming the reader you desire to be.

Continue reading Want to Become a Reader? Here’s How…