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Getting My Voice

Throwback – Miles and years cannot lessen the bond Ken Sparks (left) and Stan Cotten (right) formed on the banks of Mossy Creek.


by Stan Cotten — Voice of the Demon Deacons

(Ed. Note: This piece first appeared in the Nov./ Dec. 2014 issue of Gold Rush, the magazine of Wake Forest Athletics. It is used here with permission.)

I hope you’ll indulge me some personal space with these next few paragraphs.

I’m the “Voice of the Demon Deacons” because I was once the “Voice of the Eagles.” And I owe a great deal of not only where I am but who I am to Coach Ken Sparks – who is so comfortable in his own skin that, despite countless opportunities to “move up” in the coaching ranks, he has remained the head football coach at Carson-Newman University for 35 years. A man of great conviction and greater faith, Sparks felt called to a place referred to as “Mossy Creek.”

Called to coach. Called to teach. Called to have influence over young men and, really, anyone else who would listen.

I have no idea how many wins Sparks and his C-N teams will have won by the time you read this. But as I write this column (Sunday, October 26) the Eagles and Sparks won their 324th game together yesterday which put Sparks fifth, and one ahead of Paul “Bear” Bryant, on college football’s all-time win list.

What will never be able to be counted, though, is the number of people Sparks will have influenced in his lifetime.

Ken Sparks followed the late Bill Clabo (yes, a relative of former Deacon offensive lineman and NFL veteran Tyson Clabo) as the head football coach at Farragut High School just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. I was his first quarterback, and we immediately took to one another. A quarterback and his coach typically have a special bond. But the link that began in the late 1970’s continues today. Coach stood up with me at my wedding. He has mentored me for four decades.

I love him. I definitely owe him. Ken is coaching through his second season while being treated for and battling cancer.

While I was finishing my freshman year at Tennessee and working part-time at a Knoxville radio station that anchored the Vol Network, Sparks was named as the C-N head coach. He asked me to come broadcast his games, and I jumped at what I thought would be a great opportunity. I called Carson-Newman football and basketball games for twelve years.

That time at Carson-Newman changed my life. At an age much younger than most I was able to begin a career that I still enjoy and cherish today – 35 years later. Only because of the experience I gained in Jefferson City, Tennessee, at C-N, was I able to meet a man named Bill Crouch, at the time the Vice President of Development at C-N and a proud Wake Forest graduate. Through Bill Crouch and a few others I was able to meet Ben Sutton and Charlie Patterson at Wake Forest before moving on to Marshall University in 1992. In 1996, Ben and Ron Wellman gave me the opportunity to come to Wake Forest.

Another life-changer. We’ve raised our two daughters here. Gone to the Orange Bowl and the NCAA Tournament. Constructed a house. Built a life.

And for me, all because of Ken Sparks.

By the time you read this I will have been back to “Mossy Creek” during Wake’s second open date to visit my friend Ken – to see him coach one more time, for me perhaps the last time. There won’t be any tears. There will be a time for that. There will be lots of bear hugs and laughter. And nostalgia for a place where my soul still has deep roots.

And there will be good football, that’s for sure.

I will have left and returned home a better man. Coach will leave me with a nugget or two that will help me deepen my faith, be a better father or husband or neighbor. He’s always been intentional with me in that way. While I played for him and worked for and with him he demanded a lot. But he gave so much more. And he will give until he gives out. That’s who he is, who he has been called to be.

Thank you, Ken. I’m the “Voice of the Demon Deacons.” I owe you one.

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