As a teacher and cross-country coach, the late Don Sparks was an inspiration for many kids who competed for Walnut Grove Secondary (WGSS).
Not only for his skills as a coach, but for his battle with Type 1 diabetes and Addison’s disease.
Gary Lutes who coached track, said Sparks, who went by the affectionate nickname of ‘Sparky,’ was an energetic, enthusiastic presence for his student athletes, despite having to manage two life-threatening illnesses.
“It was a precarious balancing act,” Lute told the Langley Advance Times.
Sparks was known for showing up at running competitions with Sherlock, his diabetes service dog.
Lutes recalled Sparks as an “amazing” distance runner and a dedicated coach.
“He would run farther than the kids at their meets,” Lutes related. “He was definitely an inspiration.”
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During their time at WGSS, Sparks and Lutes are credited with building the school into what the online Varsity Letters website, described as a “perennial Fraser Valley power” that “swings with everything it has for the overall team title against the likes of heavyweights like Oak Bay and St. George’s.”
Sparks, a father of two, was 58 when he passed away in November.
He’d been off on medical leave since June.
An online memorial tribute posted by his family said his death was due to complications from diabetes and Addison’s disease.
He was described as “wickedly funny, fiercely committed to his family, a gifted teacher, track and cross-country running coach [who] had an acute sense of justice and a strong moral compass.”
Lutes said Sparks has left an enduring legacy at WGSS of coaching staff versed in his methods.