You’d think that sitting at the scorers’ table, Kay Sparks would have the best seat in the house for local volleyball and basketball games. However, that is not quite the case.
“Those officials, they make good doors; they are not very good windows,” she said with a wide smile.
Sparks has been working on the score crew for Smith-Cotton volleyball and basketball contests since 1999, when she also started scoring basketball games for State Fair Community College. Before then, she worked on the score crew in La Monte, where her son, James, and daughter, Jamie, were athletes and graduated in the late 1990s.
“When my kids were playing sports, by keeping score I had to keep my mouth shut,” she said with a laugh. “So that is why I kept score, so I wouldn’t yell at my kids. But I also got to travel with them, too.”
Sparks logged more than three decades working in education in La Monte and Sedalia, most as a guidance counselor but also serving as a physical education and business teacher. During her time in La Monte, she also coached volleyball, softball and girls basketball.
“I love seeing the kids who I taught … I’ve seen them grow up,” Sparks said. “I love sports and (working on the score crew) is a way to still be a part of it. My husband (Gordon) doesn’t care for sports, but this is my relaxation; this is something I enjoy.”
Chad Harter, a Smith-Cotton score crew member and former S-C volleyball coach, said Sparks’ experience is valuable to the crew, but she brings so much more.
“Kay Sparks lives and loves volleyball. She approaches score keeping with passion and energy,” Harter said. “She creates a fun environment for her peers at the table, partners with the referees to provide support during the game, forms relationships with the players, and mentors others while teaching the art of keeping score.”
While Sparks is a familiar face at the scorers table, also familiar is the candy assortment she shares with her crew, game officials, coaches and players. She started bringing candy because games can start early, so the sweets can be a bridge to a more substantial meal. Also, she joked, it goes back to working her kids’ games: If she had candy in her mouth, she couldn’t yell.
What she brings depends on the sport and who she is working with. She learns what the score crew members and game officials like and tries to have it on hand for that night. Whittier High teacher Mark Johnson likes Tootsie Rolls, and some referees like Hot Tamales. For Harter, she brings peppermint Lifesavers.
“Kay's candy is an extension of her generosity and giving spirit,” Harter said. “She insists that players, coaches, and referees come and partake. This is not just reserved for the Tigers. She extends her warmth and hospitality to the visiting team, as well… Kay has a way of making everyone feel special.”
Sparks plans to remain a fixture on Smith-Cotton’s score crews.
“I will keep doing it for as long as I enjoy it and can keep up with it,” she said. “I have great people working with me and we work well together.”
Harter noted that Sparks provides much more than an accurate accounting for points made and timeouts taken.
“Kay's consistency through the years has been amazing,” he said. “She has been more than a scorekeeper to the coaches at Smith-Cotton over her tenure. As one of those coaches, I personally appreciated her advice from her days of coaching, her gentle reassurance after a loss, and the way she celebrated with us when we won.”
Sparks offers some advice for anyone fortunate enough to have found a pastime they are passionate about.
“If it is something that you love, do it until you can’t do it anymore,” she said. “There is always something positive about everything that you do.”