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WHS grad Sparks enjoying South Dakota life

Courtesy photo Derek Sparks, a 2009 Williamstown High School graduate, is pictured here with former NFL referee Gene Steratore last summer at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where Sparks works as the box office manager. Steratore, now a television analyst, was in town helping with a clinic for officials.

PARKERSBURG — Throughout high school and even college, 2009 Williamstown graduate Derek Sparks always has enjoyed being part of a team.

After collecting eight combined letters in cross county and track for the Yellowjackets, Sparks went on to compete for Davis & Elkins and earned a degree in sports management.

Now, he’s doing his part as the box office manager at Sanford Pentagon, which is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The venue, which features nine basketball courts and is a 160,000 square foot facility, holds numerous events from concerts, to fights, to Augustana University’s home hoops games for both men and women along with being the host site for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament among other things.

“One of the biggest things we do is our youth tournaments for basketball and volleyball,” stated Sparks. “I have nothing to do with this, but our great team here behind the scenes does a wonderful job with these.

“In terms of what I do, answering and making phone calls is part of it, but I also handle walk-ups and work within Ticketmaster to get the events set up and work with our marketing team to develop effective strategies to best promote our events.”

The regional facility was supposed to have a mixed martial arts show last week, but the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow that to happen.

“We have basketball academies in our building and a team of coaches who coach that and also volleyball, baseball and softball academies,” Sparks said. “Right across the street from us is Sanford Tower.

“It’s basically where a lot of our academic people work out and train. There’s a certified trainer on site ready to go in case someone gets hurt during a game. They always got somebody there. We do a little bit of everything out here.”

Despite the pandemic, Sparks is currently still working.

“Right now it’s not too terrible,” he added. “When this whole thing first hit we were in the middle of the Division II NAIA men’s national basketball tournament. We started on March 11 and that night we were going to continue the tournament with no fans and I was like cool.

“I was handing out refunds. We had teams from Oregon, Idaho, California, all over the country. They had traveled all this way and to play one day of basketball and sorry you can’t come back. We got through two games on the 12th and it was all canceled.”

Even though things are slow for the time being, Sparks enjoys his job. He admitted it’s “not too complicated” and added “but it keeps me busy for the most part.”

Following his time competing for the Senators in Elkins, Sparks got a job working for Zide’s. Not long after he ended up at Oklahoma State with a job in ticket operations.

“It was shortly after my birthday,” Sparks recalled of February 2014 when he got some information from friend and Parkersburg South graduate Jonathan Gomez. “What’s kind of funny is my dad and I were going to go to Charlotte and visit family down there. I was going to go to a job fair. They were hosting one and the ticket to the fair was a ticket to the game. I think they played the Mavericks that night.

“Then I got that call and my dad said take the job they may not wait on you and I said that’s a good point. I moved to Oklahoma, sold my car so I could afford a plane ticket, moved out there and didn’t know a soul. Jonathan had reached out to me and said he had a buddy who works at Oklahoma State and I told him I’m interested. I’d take a job anywhere. He gave me the info and I reached out to him.”

Between that job and his current one, he spent time at the University of South Dakota as the assistant director of ticket operations. He also met wife Arianna once he left the Mountain State.

“Some of the things that’s happened, this is crazy,” Sparks said of the new normal. “I never thought in a million years this would happen, but here we are.

“Close friends of mine from college and elsewhere have lost their jobs. I’m like man it sucks. Hard times for a lot of people right now.”

At least for Sparks, playing sports is something he felt shaped him into the person he is today.

“Just being a student-athlete teaches you a lot of things, quickly learn how to accept defeat,” he admitted. “Chael Sonnen, former UFC fighter, says they’ll tell you failure is not an option. Failure is the most readily available option. It’s very easy to fall in the trap of failure, but you have to keep going. You’re going to win some and lose some.

“Take from it what you can, grow and get better. It teaches you how to deal with adversity. Like the pandemic, put your head down and try to get through it. I know it’s not easy but the same principle applies learning how to work with others and trying to achieve a common goal, which is important in all aspects of life in my opinion.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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