Five new local former athletes will earn their spot in the Liberty County Athletic Hall of Fame this year and will be inducted during a banquet Dec. 9 at Club Stewart.
Entering its seventh year, the event annually honors those who have played, coached or aided sports programs within the community.
This year’s inductees are Jerome Standard, Jerome Smith, Michael Sparks, Ernie Walthour and Will Pettis.
In this edition of the Courier we introduce Michael Sparks and Jerome Smith. The rest of the inductees will be featured in a future issue.
Michael Sparks is a member of Bradwell Institute’s class of 1969.
As a Tiger, Sparks played football for two years and was named to the Class A All-State football team in 1968 and 1969. He received the most improved football player award for both seasons. Sparks was also talented on the hardwood and played basketball as a Tiger for all four years. He went on to play basketball in his freshman year at Georgia Southern University. He then played basketball at South Georgia College.
Sparks was also a track athlete who was among the runners in Bradwell’s run at the Class A state track title in the 1968-69 school year where he placed fifth in the 220-yard dash. In 1969, he was the region champion in the 100- and 220-yard dash. He ran for the Tigers’ track team for four seasons.
In 1969 he was the recipient of the Fraser Rambo Award and was named Senior Superlative at BI.
Sparks served in the Georgia Army National Guard from 1971-77 and earned a bachelor of science in education from Georgia Southern in 1974.
Sparks went on to become an educator at Southeast Bulloch High School in Brooklet where he coached track and cross country.
Under his guidance the girls won nine region track championships and the boys won a region championship. He led the Southeast Bulloch girls to a state championship in 2003 and they were state runners up in 1997.
Sparks was named the girls’ region coach track of the year 10 times in his career.He guided the boys’ track team to a region championship and was named their coach of the year in 1981 and 2001.
Sparks took the boys’ cross country team to a region championship in 1992, the same season he was named the school’s cross country coach of the year. Sparks is currently serving as director of the W.W. Mann Retreat and Conference Center in Brooklet.
Smith is a member of Liberty County’s high School class of 1959. As a Tiger he lettered in basketball for three years and lettered in baseball for one season.
Smith averaged 15 and 23 points per game and was the boys’ basketball team captain his junior and senior year.
He went on to graduate Savannah State University and returned to his alma-mater as the girls’ basketball coach.
Smith led the girls to four consecutive District II-A titles and the runner up position in 1969-70.
In 1972 he guided the team to a region runner up position in Region 3-B.
Smith was also a football coach at Liberty and guided the team, along with coach Donell Woods and James Hall, to a 9-1 record in 1965. It’s still considered the best season in the program’s history.
After eight years coaching at Liberty, Smith coached the girls and boys basketball teams at Bradwell Institute.
As the girls coach he took the team to the state competition and coached current Lady Tiger coach Faye Baker during her school years at BI.
Smith was also involved in the Liberty County Recreation Department using his athletic knowledge to develop young players. He took his LCRD girls basketball team to a district championship in 1979 and the junior Fort Stewart championship in 1982.
The Liberty County Athletic Hall of Fame banquet will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, at Club Stewart on Fort Stewart. Tickets are $15 and must be purchased in advance. For tickets, call Jimmy Martin or Rickey Gilliard at the Liberty County Recreation Department at 876-5359 or Craig Stafford at 369-4572. E-mails should be sent to Cstafford@coastalawyers.com.