Rumors Are Flying That Star Banning Back Sparks Is Running to New School

Times Staff Writer

Is football star Derek Sparks leaving Banning High School?

That was the rumor circulating on the Wilmington campus Wednesday regarding the All-L.A. City running back who gained fame as one of the state's top sophomores last season by rushing for 1,394 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Sparks has not attended Banning since the spring semester started Feb. 6 and is in Texas with his mother, according to Sparks' grandmother, who lives in Wharton, Tex. Neither Sparks nor his mother could be reached.

While Banning officials said they were under the impression that Sparks would play for the Pilots next fall, sources say he plans to transfer to another Southern California high school.

Here is what is known:

- Sparks is scheduled to appear Tuesday at First Church of God Christian School in Los Angeles as part of a "role model" program for eighth graders, according to Principal Feager Pertilla.

- Pertilla said a man who identified himself as Eric Sparks, the football player's uncle, asked the school's permission to have news media present when Derek appears.

"I said it would be OK," Pertilla said, "as long as it doesn't disrupt my school."

Pertilla said she does not know any member of the Sparks family. The idea to have Derek participate in Tuesday's program came from a student at the school who apparently knows Sparks, Pertilla said.

Banning football Coach Joe Dominguez was surprised by the latest episode involving one of his best players.

"I just assumed he was going to officially return here," he said. "He hasn't officially checked out of school, but he probably is. The kid didn't miss a day of school in the fall semester and now he's missed 2 1/2 weeks.

"The last time I saw him was the last day of the fall semester. As far as I know, we treated the kid fine. The last time I talked to him he was thrilled about being here.

"All I know is that we're going to continue to have a fine team here with or without him. We're not built around one person."

Dominguez, who guided Banning to an 11-3 record and the L.A. City 4-A final in his first season as head coach, said Sparks lived with his uncle Jerome in a Wilmington apartment after moving from Texas after the ninth grade. He said the elder Sparks has since given up the apartment.

"I think his two uncles are controlling his life," Dominguez said. "I think sometimes parents or guardians are frustrated athletes, and this gives them a chance to run with the football, so to speak. I think that might be the case here."

Neither Eric nor Jerome Sparks could be reached.

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