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In need of a spark

Canyon High senior Nate Sparks has many people in his corner as he battles leukemia

Posted: November 19, 2008 10:26 p.m.
Updated: November 20, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Nate Sparks (15) walks hand-in-hand with teammates on Oct. 17 before his Canyon Cowboys played Valencia. Sparks, who is battling cancer, was made an honorary captain for the game. He was a placekicker for the Cowboys.

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He was completely suited up.

His No. 15 jersey and shoulder pads draped over his weakened, thin body.

His green and gold pants were tied at the waist.

He took a teammate's hands and walked to the center of the football field.

In a roped off area at Harry Welch Stadium, his family stood up to cheer for him - crying tears of joy.

It was Oct. 17.

That night, Canyon High senior kicker Nate Sparks took the field with his fellow teammates as an honorary captain.

Just a few hours prior to the game against Valencia, Sparks laid in a hospital bed.

"One of his goals was to suit up and play football in his senior season," recalls Sparks' father, Jerry. "It was almost like a dream getting to see him dress. It was amazing and exhilarating just to be able to see him feel normal. It was a miracle to have him there."

A miracle, because on Aug. 21 the 17-year-old underwent emergency surgery he was not expected to survive.

On July 24, Sparks was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia - AML - a fast growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

What was supposed to be his last summer of fun and enjoyment as a high school student, soon turned to a long hospital stay.

The anticipation of being the starting place-kicker for the Cowboys diminished when Sparks was given the grim news that the chemotherapy he would undergo would make him too weak to even walk.

Jerry said that it's an around-the-clock, daily job caring for Sparks.

Not a day goes by that a friend or member of the family is not by Sparks' side.

"It becomes your whole life. When one person is diagnosed with leukemia the whole family is diagnosed," Jerry says.

Sparks' older brother Jeremiah says the last four months have been crazy for the family. Jeremiah is humbled by the support that they have received from so many members of the community.

So has Jerry.

"The Canyon family, the team and church members have gotten us through many dark days," Jerry says.

One of those people is Canyon girls tennis coach Debbie Glasnow.

A longtime friend and neighbor to the Sparks family, Glasnow held a tennis tournament last weekend with proceeds going to the Sparks family.

"I wanted the girls to see something bigger than themselves," Glasnow says. "Not only did we want to promote the sport, but it became a nice avenue to generate income."

The tournament consisting of mixed doubles, dubbed SAL - Students Against Leukemia, will be an annual event in which Glasnow hopes to help others in need.

"It was a great way for the community to come together for a wonderful cause for families that need it. Next year will be bigger," she says.

As Sparks awaits his third round of chemotherapy on Dec. 1, Jeremiah says his brother is determined to make the best of his circumstances.

"His biggest desire is to be a normal teenager and enjoy his senior year," Jeremiah says. "He's pretty strong all around. He has his good days and his bad days. He's starting to get his energy back."

Recently Sparks was told by doctors that he would need a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Friends and family members have already begun the process of planning a day for bone marrow donations from members of the community.

"He hasn't resigned and has really kept his spirits up," Jerry says. "But he has grappled with the fact that he will be further away from home and there really is pretty much not going to be a senior year in high school. He is determined to get better. He has never once been despairing. He has a great attitude about beating this."

Sparks couldn't play in the game against Valencia. His presence on the sideline was enough of an inspiration for his cohorts.

Players, coaches, and students bustled for hugs, pictures and handshakes.

Looking onto the field, the teenager appeared at peace, resonating a desire to be one of the guys again.

And although his time on the field as a Canyon Cowboy may have already come and gone, Sparks' family assures he will shine again.

"We're going to make it through this," Jeremiah says.


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