In the summer of 1961, a lanky 17-year-old senior to be at Reynoldsville-Sykesville High School (now part of DuBois Area) called the head football coach to tell the coach that he was going to go out for football that year.
Since he had last played football in ninth grade, the coach's response was, "Oh, Albert, you'd just be wasting your time and mine."
The coach was my father, Harry E. Clarke, Jr., and the player was Albert Walter "Sparky" Lyle, who would go on to gain fame as one of the most dominant relief pitchers of the 1970s with the Red Sox and Yankees. Sparky became the first relief pitcher to win a Cy Young Award (AL) in 1977 with the world champion Yankees.
It turns out that Sparky wasn't wasting anyone's time in 1961, as he was an all-conference tight end who led the Falcons that season with four TD receptions, three of which were over 30 yards.
When Sparky made it up with Boston, he sent me an autographed photo and an authentic Red Sox ball cap, a pretty cool thing for any 7-year-old to have in the days when logo merchandise wasn't being sold in every store in the nation.
I first met Sparky personally in 1973 when he was with the Yankees and they were playing in Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. My dad, Fred Guyer (dad's line coach at Central), a friend and I drove to The Big Apple for a weekend and saw two games. We also spent a few hours at the house in north Jersey that Sparky was renting that season from Jeff Torborg.
After his retirement, Sparky was a regular at a local celebrity golf tournament put on by Ray Savino, another Reynoldsville native who owned the Riverside grocery store in Tyrone at the time. One year in the early 1990s, when I found out that Sparky would be at the tournament celebrity meet-and-greet at The Bull Pen lounge, I drove up and walked in unannounced, and greeted him with, "Hey, aren't you Rollie Fingers?"
He replied, "Yeah! Do you want an autograph?"
With me that night I had the copy of Sparky's 1978 book, "The Bronx Zoo" that I had given dad for Father's Day one year, and Sparky inscribed it with, "Coach, hope my senior year wasn't a waste."
He also graciously came to Roaring Spring the next morning to have breakfast at The Spring House Restaurant with dad's group of retiree friends.
I last caught up with Sparky in 2005 in Lancaster when I found out that he was managing the Somerset (N. J.) Patriots baseball team of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball; they were playing the Lancaster Barnstormers on Sparky's 61st birthday.
I had arranged a photographer's media pass for myself through the Barnstormers' PR office and after the game I waited under the stands outside the visitors' clubhouse door. When Sparky came out, I gave him a card and wished him a happy birthday.
Not recognizing me and probably thinking I only wanted an autograph, he took the card, politely said thanks and kept walking - until I told him who I was. We chatted a bit that night, and it was refreshing to learn that he was still as profane and sarcastic as ever.
The Patriots won their third league championship that season, and Sparky is currently the most successful manager in ALPB history. He's coached 10 years and won six league championships.
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Because Voice of the Fan recognizes that many local readers have met, interacted or been friends with famous sports figures, we are introducing a new feature, "Rubbing Elbows."
It's an extension of two questions in Fandom that ask about the most famous person in sports you've ever met and your most prized piece of sports memorabilia.
Be it from a chance meeting or maybe when you were securing an autograph or maybe you went to school with someone who went on to make his mark nationally in sports, we're interested in your story.
Please limit your story to 200-250 words and feel free to include a photo. For more information, call Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel at 946-7527 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.