‘The Billy Graham of coaches’

National champ/ex-FHS coach, the late Ken Sparks, is filmmaker Joslin’s latest documentary choice based on Christian bonding

As he continues planning for a feature-film documentary on one of East Tennessee’s all-time great football coaches — who impacted Farragut High School football in the late 1970s — national-known actor/filmmaker and 1980 FHS graduate Jeff Joslin made a glowing comparison.

“I can summarize coach Ken Sparks in one small sentence on why we want people to see this documentary. Coach Sparks was the Billy Graham of football,” Joslin said about this late East Tennessee coaching legend who led FHS to one of its best three-year spans of football success (from 1977 through 1979) before a 37-year head coaching career at Carson-Newman University was highlighted by five NAIA national championships in the 1980s.

This was among the “four stories I wanted to tell that spun out from being a quarterback for Ken Sparks at Farragut High School (during all three seasons the coach was at FHS) and Carson-Newman (from 1982 through 1984),” Joslin said. “We won back-to-back national championships in ’83 and ’84.

“His achievements as a coach … are staggering. He served Carson-Newman University from 1980 through 2016” before losing a battle with cancer, the filmmaker added, “With national championships (also) in 1986, 1987 and 1989.

“He was the fifth winningest (college football) coach behind John Gagliard, Joe Paterno, Eddie Robinson and Bobby Bowden.”

However, detailing what separated coach Sparks from other coaches he played under, “I played football from 6 years old to 1987, and I retired from football from the Canadian Football League. Coach Sparks was the only coach that cared about my spiritual life, my eternity and my relationship with Christ,” Joslin said. “He got me involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Farragut High School. He was the Huddle Sponsor, and we would have FCA meetings at his house on Tuesday nights.

“He took 60-plus football players through the Scared Straight Program to hear John ‘Red’ Fuller tell about his conversion to Christ and life in prison,” he added. “He was the meanest and strongest inmate of the Tennessee Prison System at that time” at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Morgan County.

Moreover, “In 1982 coach Sparks spoke in front of the parole board on behalf of Red Fuller,” who was paroled that year, the filmmaker said.

Overall, coach Sparks “has impacted thousands of people with the message of Christ,” Joslin said. “We want to work with FCA and through their network of coaches and athletes to give (the documentary) to every coach around the globe and use it with the athletes in their organization.”

The coach also influenced Tony Dungy, former NFL defensive back and Super Bowl XLI-winning head coach with quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

“After meeting Ken Sparks at an FCA coaches camp at Black Mountain, he was so impressed that he patterned his coaching of his players after Ken Sparks,” Joslin said.

As head of Double J Productions, “My son and his wife and myself are the production company putting the story together,” Joslin said. “… I started a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization to tell inspirational stories with a purpose.

“I started discussing the story with some C-N alumni back in February,” he added. “I started it in motion and got some interest and commitments for some donations.”

While “COVID shut us down” in the spring, Joslin and his family soon bounced back.

“In July, my son and his family relocated from Los Angeles to Nashville. My son and his wife have a media company, Native Wind Media, and we discussed re-starting ‘The Ken Sparks Story,’” he said. “There was no hesitation and we did start it.”

About a timeline to start and finish, “My goal was to get out before the football season in 2020, but COVID had other plans,” Joslin said. “So we’ve looked at 2021, maybe the spring. We are starting interviews over the next several weeks, starting in Knoxville, with those around the area.

“We have a Facebook page: Sparks – The Ken Sparks Story,” he added, “Where they can like the page and we will keep everyone posted on the project” by visiting https://www.facebook.com/TheKenSparksStory/?modal=admin_todo_tour@thekensparksstory

The fundraising page for Ken Sparks Story on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/donate/1331882777143423/