By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s been a successful coach in several sports and a well respected school administrator in Franklin County. Casey Sparrow has also always been a University of Kentucky sports fan and getting to see the UK football team play and practice — along with meeting coach Mark Stoops and assistant John Schlarman — had special significance for the Mercer County man.
Sparrow has been battling cancer for over four years and recently stopped treatments as he chose quality of life as his first priority now.
“I have good days and bad days,” Sparrow, who lives in Mercer County, said. “We have started Hospice. People hear that and think the end is near. But we are just meeting with the nurse, having her check on me to make sure I have what I need or she gets it for me. It’s been a little crazy but I feel good. I am able to get up, get out and do what we need to do.”
One of Sparrow’s best friends is Western Hills football coach Don Miller. When Stoops came to watch Western Hills star Wandale Robinson play Sept. 14, the coach’s wife, Jennifer, mentioned to Stoops that Casey Sparrow, a 1989 Franklin County graduate, and his wife Lisa were coming to the UK game the next day. Stoops arranged for the Sparrows to not only get on the field at Kroger Field but also to meet him and Schlarman, who has also been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, after the Murray game.
“Coach Schlarman is a really good guy,” Lisa Sparrow said. “He was awesome with us.”
Casey Sparrow and Schlarman started exchanging messages and that led to the Sparrows along with their son, Austin, a former Mercer three-sport standout who is now a student assistant basketball coach at Lindsey Wilson, attending practice last week. Former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard, the UK football director of player development, gave them a tour of the football facilities that left Casey Sparrow impressed.
“There is nothing that a student-athlete at UK could use, want or need that is not there,” the former coach said. “There’s no reason for the skill development not to improve in four years. We got to watch practice — and Lisa and Austin were about in convulsions because we were in a video-free zone and they had to put their phones down. But I enjoyed watching the guys. Some were bigger than you think, some were smaller.
“We got to talk to Stoops some between periods (in practice) and I made sure I spoke to coach Schlarman and spent some time with him. I told him that I did not know exactly what he was going through but I know what you going though. I told him anything I could do to answer questions about anything, just ask. You really can’t prepare for this but I can share what I’ve tried and done.”
Casey Sparrow is a well-known figure in Kentucky. He coached track, basketball and middle school football at Anderson County and eventually became the head girls basketball coach. He moved on to Covington Holmes where his 2002 team (29-6) made the state semifinals before losing to Jackson County. His star player was Miss Basketball Erica Hallman. His wife was one of his assistant coaches.
“I was also offensive coordinator for the football team at Holmes for three years,” Casey Sparrow said. “Once we won the region in basketball, I got into the administrative end and started as assistant principal at Western Hills. But for a while we lived in Georgetown and Lisa ran (coach) Billy Hicks’ middle school program at Scott County.”
He’s planning to keep doing all he can do, including watching UK sports. He’s never been to a UK basketball practice but admits “that would be pretty special” and something he would love to do if the opportunity came like it did with football.
“I am very, very appreciative of what coach Stoops did for me,” Casey Sparrow said. “He didn’t have to do the things he did or go out of his way to make us feel so welcome and special, especially knowing he had such a big game coming up.”
That’s how Stoops is as validated by the way he gave the game ball from Saturday night to Marco Shemwell’s family. He was the 4-year-old child hit and killed by a car leaving Kroger Field after watching the UK-Murray State game.
“I’ve been very blessed in my four years battling my disease. It has been tough at times. But the experiences and people I’ve been around, and the Good Lord, have taken good care of me and Mark Stoops is just a special man,” Sparrow said.
“It’s not like I am bed-ridden. I still do what I can do. When I need to rest, I rest. I am operating on about 30 percent of my live functionality. Who knows? It could be one day it (his liver) might say that’s all I have and that’s it but my hope is that 30 percent will just keep kicking tail like it has been and I just keep going on.”