By ROGER UNDERWOOD
During a recent telephone conversation, Greg Sparling was proudly telling me about his oldest son Coleman experiencing his first tolo.
We both were expressing amazement at how quickly time passes — Coleman was a very small infant when I attended Central Washington basketball’s midnight madness celebration in 1997 — and was sound asleep while his dad held him in Nicholson Pavilion.
“Where does the time go?” Greg asked, wondering the same thing we all have.
Sparling was 28 then and about to start his third full season as the Wildcats’ head basketball coach.
Now he’s 43.
And four games into his 18th season as Central’s head man, Sparling is within two wins of 300.
Central basketball has had a remarkable coaching history. Since 1930, in fact, the Wildcats have had just four of them with Leo and Dean Nicholson holding the reins for 60 years.
Sparling started his head coaching career under the most dire of circumstances, taking over for Gil Coleman in 1995 shortly before Coleman died from an extended illness. Greg’s oldest son is named for Gil.
Since then Sparling’s teams have won five conference championships, have posted four 20-win seasons and since the program moved from NAIA to NCAA Division II competition 14 seasons ago the Wildcats have reached the national playoffs eight times including five of the past seven years.
His record stands at 298-185 (.616), ranking him behind only Dean Nicholson (609 wins) and Leo Nicholson (505) on the CWU victory list.
The road hasn’t always been smooth, however.
Surprising defections by two key players led to a 9-18 record in 2004, the program’s first losing finish in 40 years. And when CWU went 11-16 the next season, the wolves were out in full force, calling for Sparling’s exit.
When I told Dean Nicholson about the situation during a phone call to Dean’s home in Concord, Calif., his response was, “Tell the people who are after him to cough up some scholarship money before they get all hot and bothered.”
The ship was righted, of course, and after the Wildcats beat Western Washington 82-68 in 2007, Vikings coach Brad Jackson said, “We never like to lose, of course, but from a personal standpoint it’s good to see Spar winning again. He’s one of the good guys.”