January 24, 2000
"Just carry the ball," is what Derek Sparks heard from his coaches. He listened and did that very well without questioning from age 15 until late in his 17th year when the reality of what that truly meant impacted his future education and potential career.
Sparks wrote about his experience and will introduce his book, Lessons of the Game: The Betrayal of an All-American Football Star, at a sports workshop at the Woodinville Barnes & Noble on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 7:30 p.m. His book exposes enterprising public and private high school coaches and football enthusiasts who find athletic talent, bring them in, and provide for all their expenses and perks, telling the athletes not to worry about their education, that they will take care of it all.
A naturally talented football player, Sparks got plenty of media attention wherever he played--first, in his hometown of Wharton, Texas; next, in each of the Los Angeles schools to which he was moved--a total of three in three years. Looking toward a football scholarship, Sparks was shocked to find that his grades were changed, and people worked against him in the pursuit of finding a college where he could play football until Mike Price of Washington State University contacted him.
"I realized that my story was powerful enough to impact young people who want to pursue a sports career by opening their eyes to the game inside the game," said Sparks, a 1996 WSU graduate and now 26.
"I wrote the first draft of the book when I was a senior at WSU. After graduating, I pursued an NFL career as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. A knee injury kept me from prospering as a pro. I returned to Los Angeles and worked on the book until it was finished. Game Time Publishing in L.A. purchased the rights to the book and published it last September," said Sparks.
Longbow Productions in Los Angeles, an established producer of network television, cable, and feature films, has recently taken an option for the movie rights for the book. Ronnie Clemmer and Bill Pace of Longbow co-produced Penny Marshall's 1992 hit A League of Their Own.
Sparks, who has just moved to the Woodinville area, is a motivational speaker in the schools and churches. "I give young people tools to reach their goals and become champions in the game of life. There is a price to be paid to achieve. And the question I ask them is: are they willing to pay? I talk about single-parent homes like mine, peer pressure, self-esteem, goal setting, dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, the importance of education, and encourage them to make positive decisions in their lives," he said.
Currently, Sparks works with other athletes who are trying to do the same thing he is: inspiring and reaching young people to get them on a positive track. "I have talked to well over 20,000 kids since I started this program. I found that around 80% of them say they want to be a professional athlete and 75% are positive they will be one. The reason I do what I do is that 75% do not understand the odds are that less than 2% will ever sign a pro contract. The media and some parents and coaches have all contributed to the dream of the money and glory in the pro sports.
"I see that almost 50% of the athletes playing in high school, college, and pro sports are undereducated and unemployable for good paying jobs when their playing days are over. My message to all is don't be deceived by the endorsement companies, sports agents, and people with hidden agendas, and never compromise your education," said Sparks.
His book retails for $19.95. Sparks can be reached at 1-888-461-4263.