Panther alums reach milestones
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Dec 03, 2012 | 4773 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A night after Piedmont coach Tommy Lewis celebrated his 500th career basketball win, Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin won his 400th game as a girls coach.

“It was great because it’s been four different schools. There’ve been a lot of different kids and it’s one of those things where hopefully a bunch of people feel like they can smile about it, knowing they were a part of it,” Lewis said. “It seems like a personal thing, but a lot of it’s not. I’ve had so many good players at so many places.”

Both Spring Garden alums, Lewis has been in the business for 26 years, coaching at Spring Garden from 1989-2000, getting the big 5-0-0 on Nov. 26 against Cherokee County. After the game, a light bulb lit up in Austin’s head.

“I didn’t really think about it until I saw where coach Lewis had gotten his at Piedmont,” Austin said. “I pulled a chart out of my desk drawer just to see where I was at the time, and I realized the very next day was when we played and I had 399.”

Sure enough, on Nov. 27, against Gaston, Austin’s team won, 43-41.

“It was nice to get it in a big game,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of battles against Gaston in the past few years when they were 1A. We’ve played them 16 times in the last four years, excluding the other night, and eight times it was for some kind of championship — area championship or region championship.”

As Panthers in high school, Lewis and Austin played point guard for Dale Welsh. While Lewis was a senior when Austin was in seventh grade — and a waterboy for the team — Lewis took Austin under his wing.

“He would coach me in (pick-up) games, then as I got a little older, he came back as an assistant coach here with coach Welsh,” Austin explained. “He coached me in B-team, then coached me with coach Welsh for varsity. He used to spend countless hours in the gym with me playing one-on-one as I got older.”

Now back at Spring Garden for his entire career after playing collegiately at Southern Union, Austin said reaching 400 for his alma mater “just feels like something you’re supposed to do.”

“It’s a good place to coach and it’s a great combination of community support, parent support and student-athletes that want to play basketball,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy place to get 400 wins. All the ingredients are there for it.”

• New Bulldog in town: Any time a coach or player’s number goes into my phone, it always has their school in parenthesis next to the name. I don’t know why. I mean, I know Joe McGuire plays at Oxford, Frank Tucker is the football coach at Alexandria, Chris Brown is the guy to go to for stats at Weaver, and so on.

And yet, I jumped the gun a little bit last week. My new contact simply read: “Ty Sparks (Piedmont).” As of yesterday, however, Sparks was no longer a Randolph County Tiger, he is a Bulldog.

“I’ve been to a few places, trying to see which place is right for me and my family,” he said. “We felt Piedmont was the all-around best choice.

“When you walk into the school or go into the town you can just almost feel the winning tradition. One thing that caught my eye when we drove into town is all of the trashcans are royal blue with the yellow P on them. You just don’t see that everywhere.”

Speaking with his father, Randy Sparks, on Nov. 19 after his highly controversial dismissal as the Randolph County football coach following being placed on administrative leave in October, he said he would do what was best for Ty and his family.

The ball coach stuck good to his word.

Obviously, the junior quarterback brought success to Randolph County on the football field, but Sparks also has his eyes on possibly playing basketball this year for Piedmont.

“I’ve spoken to coach Lewis about that and he said that’d be possible,” Sparks said. “I can start practicing, I just can’t play until it’s approved by the athletic association.”

After Piedmont’s game vs. Anniston on Friday night — which included the Sparks family in attendance — Lewis didn’t want to say much at first, but gave a small hint toward what may be to come.

“If he’s serious about coming, and I know he’s jumped through all the hoops, if he does come I would hope that’d be a good thing,” he said. “I’ve never seen him play, but his dad’s a basketball coach and his mom was a great player and coach. You can’t go wrong with a kid like that.

“We don’t dress 15 so we’ve got a uniform if he does (play).”

Considering the attributes Sparks brings on the field, the Piedmont community should be nothing short of ecstatic about the transfer, especially with the graduation of 2012 quarterback Cade Bradley coming in May. Despite the disappointing conclusion to this season, things are already looking up for the Bulldogs.

• Strong defense: The inevitable occurred last Thursday. With a strong 4-0 record entering a contest against Ohatchee, White Plains had also not allowed a team to score outside of the 30s. However, that changed when the Indians scored 48.

“We have to give the credit to them,” Wildcats’ coach Chris Randall said. “They gave us some trouble early on. They went on a streak and knocked down some shots. They have a couple of really good guards that can score the ball.”

On the flip side, White Plains also set a few season highs on the way to getting its fifth win. Randall’s squad put 86 points on the scoreboard, having five players scoring in double figures.

“I felt like we attacked the basket really good,” he said. “Our guards did a good job of getting up and down the floor. The tempo was really at our liking, especially after the first quarter.”

Scoring its season high in points also brought its largest margin of victory, 38 points.

However, once the fourth quarter ended and the horn sounded, the Wildcats began improving the D with Weaver coming to town on Friday.

Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.

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