Running back Derek Sparks, considered one the top sophomore football players in the state, has transferred from Banning High in Wilmington to Montclair Prep in Van Nuys.
Sparks (6-1, 200 pounds) was an All-City Section running back at Banning last fall. He rushed for 1,394 yards and scored 15 touchdowns to help the Pilots reach the City 4-A Division championship game. He enrolled at Montclair Prep at the start of the spring semester two weeks ago.
Jerome Sparks, Derek’s uncle and legal guardian, cited the fear of gang activity in Wilmington and the rigorous academic environment at Montclair Prep for changing schools. Montclair Prep more closely resembles the schools Derek attended in Texas before he transferred to Banning last fall, Jerome said.
“Walking on the (Montclair Prep) campus gave me a feeling of Texas,” Jerome Sparks said. “The way the school is, you get that country feeling. It’s not closed in and chained up. . . . I felt Derek needed to be in a different situation.”
Derek’s mother, June, who lives in Wharton, Tex., grew concerned for her son’s safety at Banning because of reported shootings in the Wilmington area, according to Jerome. He added that a shooting occurred in the Harbor College parking lot after a game with Washington High last season.
“We didn’t want to keep the boy in an area where there are gangs,” Jerome said. “His mother wasn’t comfortable with that. She wanted to bring him home (to Texas), but we couldn’t let her do that after what he did last season.”
Derek Sparks lived with his uncle in a Wilmington apartment while he attended Banning. Jerome Sparks said he gave up the apartment Feb. 3, three days before the start of the spring semester. They are now living in South Los Angeles.
Rumors that Sparks had transferred spread at Banning last week. But school officials, including football Coach Joe Dominguez, said they were not informed by any member of the Sparks family.
“I thought it was best that we made a decision without any type of persuasion,” Jerome Sparks said. “We didn’t want to get in some recruiting game with Banning.”
Some might consider the transfer strange. Banning, along with Carson, stands at the pinnacle of City football. The Pilots have won eight 4-A titles since 1976, including six in a row from 1976 to ’81.
Montclair Prep, a small private school, competes at Division IX--the lowest level in the Southern Section. The Mounties were 6-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs last season.
But Montclair Prep has established a strong athletic tradition and includes among its alumni such football players as running back Rich Swinton and wide receiver Tim Stallworth of Washington State, former Stanford football and baseball standout Toi Cook and Reggie Smith Jr., son of the former Dodger.
The family wanted Derek to attend a school that stresses academics and Montclair Prep fills the bill. Derek was an honor student from seventh to ninth grade.