Long-time Valley basketball icon Sparr dead at 77

Juniata Valley regularly plays some of the best boys basketball in District 6.

But that wasn’t always the case.

“We were just at breakfast, and we talked about a game where Williamsburg beat them 73-8,” former Blue Pirate player and coach Don Appleman said. “That was in the mid-50s, late-50s.”

Then Ed Sparr came along.

Over the next 30-plus years, Sparr not only transformed Juniata Valley basketball, he was Juniata Valley basketball. Always wearing his trademark green jacket, he won more than 400 games on the boys side, started up the Lady Hornets’ girls program and made Valley hoops such a part of the culture in the Alexandria and Petersburg area that the school eventually won a PIAA championship not long after he retired in 1993.

Sparr died Thursday morning after a bout with cancer and other health ailments. He was 77.

“I’m going to miss him,” said current Green Hornet coach Ron Anders. “We’d get together after basketball games and talk quite often.”

“Ed built that program. He started from scratch, from the ground floor up, and he really put some long hours and sweat and hard work into that program to get it where it got to be and it still is,” Appleman said.

Brock Anders was part of the first Hornet team that reached the PIAA finals in 1995, one year before Valley won its only state title under the guidance of Mike Fields. But he came up as a sophomore in Sparr’s final year as coach, and said that Sparr made quite an impression on him and on the area.

“He coached my father, Bill, and uncle, Denny, back in the ’70s during the longest run into states at Juniata Valley before my team under Fields went further my senior year. To have a connection between my dad and I through basketball was special,” said Brock Anders, who coached East Juniata to a Tri-Valley League championship and one-loss campaign this past season.

Sparr went 410-217 in two stints coaching the Hornet boys from 1961-79 and from 1985-93. They won the District 6 championship in 1976 along with six Juniata Valley League crowns.

“He stressed discipline,” Brock Anders said, “and made the young players earn every opportunity.”

Sparr’s teams were known for their 1-3-1 zone defense, strong shooting and solid fundamentals.

“When I was a kid, my memories are of Ed coaching in his green jacket in those classic games with Williamsburg and things like that,” Ron Anders said. “When I was in elementary school and I went to see Juniata Valley basketball team, of course, it was Ed.”

Sparr was a standout basketball and baseball player – playing hoops for Bill Casper – and the quarterback of the football team at Williamsburg in the 1950s before going on to college at Lock Haven. Over time, he built quite a rivalry on the court with his high school alma mater.

“Ed was respected, because they knew he was a Williamsburg kid. His dad was a golfer and worked at the paper mill. The family was well-known and well-established. I think people respected Ed for what he was trying to do, but they hated to lose to him, I know that,” said Appleman, who visited Sparr in the hospital earlier this year. “He was very competitive, and he wanted to win, and he did a good job down there. Anyone you talk to would have said that.”

In addition to coaching both Valley varsity basketball teams, Sparr was athletic director at the school, where he taught for more than 30 years, for 12 years. He also coached baseball in the Blair Twilight League.

However, it was the boys basketball team with which Sparr was most identified, even well after his retirement. His son, Brian, is the current Green Hornet junior varsity coach.

“Ed made it to every game he could, and, when he was well, he was at every home game. When I first got hired, he was always available for me. I always respected that,” Ron Anders said. “He encouraged me to play as many kids as possible and to develop his bench – that was one thing he wished he’d done more of. When I coached, he’d sit in that same corner, and, when I walked in, when he had something to say, he’d make sure to call me over. He wasn’t afraid to speak up.”

Ron Anders never got to play for Sparr.

“One of the things I respected about him was that he retired right before the state run that was coming up at our school. He knew what the talent was coming up, and he could have stayed and coached those teams,” Ron Anders said. “But he knew it was his time, and he let Fields coach. He could have very easily been selfish there and coached those teams and been very successful.”

Sparr was inducted into the Huntingdon County Hall of Fame in 1999. He was chosen as an honorary coach in the fifth annual Altoona Mirror Basketball Classic in 2009.

Sparr is survived by his wife, Barbara, and five children, Kelly, Jeff, Wendy (Glenny), Tammy and Brian, as well as five grandchildren and a sister, Deanna Kavel. Family might have been the one love in his life that surpassed basketball – he first left coaching to follow Kelly as she finished up her playing career at the University of New Mexico.

“He was very much a family man. He would always have his father ‘Pappy’ Sparr at our games and on the bus to road games,” Brock Anders said.

Friends will be received 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday and 1-2 p.m. Wednesday at Petersburg Church of the Nazarene.

“I’ll remember him as the guy that brought the modern game to Juniata Valley,” Appleman said. “He’ll be missed. I know I’ll miss him.”