Sparks: Merger just part of MPSSAA job

AN INTERVIEW Q&A

September 28, 1992

As executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, Edward "Ned" F. Sparks Jr. has been the point man in the merger of Baltimore City schools and the MPSSAA, which governs the state's other interscholastic sports programs.

Sparks, 45, lives in Catonsville with his wife, Mary. He has five children: Carolyn, 23; Susan, 22; Tricia, 17; Katie, 15; and Matthew, 7. A graduate of St. John's High in Washington and the University of North Carolina in 1969, Sparks also has been a coach in Howard County.

Recently, he talked with The Sun's Lem Satterfield about the scope of his job and the special demands the merger with Baltimore City has produced.

Q: What does your job entail?

A: I feel my job is twofold -- to act as the staff specialist for rules interpretation in the department of education and to enforce the rules in programs, running them as its members have mandated.

Q: What are some of your goals as MPSSAA executive secretary?

A: To build and maintain a strong, solid interscholastic athletic program, and I think those goals have remained intact. Learning through participation is an elective choice, but it can teach you teamwork, self-esteem, brotherhood, self-confidence, perseverance. We want to encourage an educational experience that will teach the kinds of values that last a lifetime.

Q: Since the Baltimore City public schools have joined the MPSSAA, what impact have they had?

A: It's a very neat thing. I'm very happy they have a chance to participate in our programs. They can compete with perhaps the best in the state. When the competition's over, they'll be shaking hands with their opponents from around the state, so it's also a way of bridging some cultural gaps. Of course, when you expand, you're going to experience a little change that can be a bumpy road at first. It may take a year to smooth itself out, but the city has been very receptive. I think that after a year or so, we'll all be on the same page.

Q: What does the MPSSAA do to promote equity among girls and boys sports?

A: The president of the MPSSAA, Pat Berry, is a female, so I think that's significant. There are 11 state titles for boys and for girls, and we treat them all the same. We have a bylaw that provides for girls to participate in football and wrestling, but we also upheld a case in Cecil County recently that says we don't have to allow boys to play field hockey. Boys sports do tend to attract larger crowds, but I think interest is growing for girls -- primarily because they were so far behind.

Q: State and county school budgets are being cut. Do you foresee any major problems for athletics?

A: Fortunately, our entire budget is self-generated from things like radio, TV, gate receipts and souvenirs. On the one hand, that's good because we don't take anything from the taxpayers. On the other hand, we're at the mercy of the weather a lot of times. Most of our members are faced with budget problems within their school systems. Teachers are being furloughed. You'd have to be arrogant to think that athletics wouldn't be affected.

Q: Will sponsorship help?

A: Corporate sponsorship is an option, but you don't want to sell your soul or have to dance to their music entirely. We do have some. Pepsi-Cola, USAir, Towson Sports Medicine have all been very good to us and kept things in their proper perspective at the same time. If people want to sponsor us for the value of our programs, that's one thing. But we don't want to prostitute ourselves. We don't want to put our kids in a position to be walking billboards.

Q: What are some of the major changes you are proud of?

A: I think the [Baltimore] city schools' coming in is very significant. We've also added some state tournaments over the years -- one for girls soccer and the ones for boys and girls lacrosse. The football playoffs were moved to Byrd Stadium in 1982, so this marks the 10th anniversary. We've experienced a lot of expansion in our sports programs, so much so, that you can hardly stand still.

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