Mater Dei's Leland Sparks Cleared to Play Football

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leland Sparks, a fifth-year senior at Mater Dei High School, has been cleared to play football by the Southern Section Executive Committee, Commissioner Stan Thomas said Wednesday.

However, Mater Dei Principal Lyle Porter said Sparks will not play in the Monarchs' game against Riverside Poly tonight.

Sparks, who transferred from Van Nuys Montclair Prep, had been granted a fifth year of eligibility two weeks ago by Southern Section officials. At that time, however, Sparks' transcripts from Montclair Prep showed that he had not completed 20 units during the spring semester and thus was academically ineligible to compete.

Wednesday, section officials reviewed another transcript provided by Montclair Prep and it showed that Sparks had completed the required number of units during the spring semester. Under Southern Section rules, an athlete must complete 20 units per semester to be eligible.

"We had a corrected transcript and in a (class) where no grade appeared before, a passing grade has been inserted," Thomas said. "He now meets the required 20 units."

Sparks, who has been practicing with the Mater Dei team the past week, also had a grade-point average below 2.0 for the spring semester, making him academically ineligible. However, he can be placed on academic probation, which would allow him to play.

Mater Dei and several other schools in the section allow academically ineligible athletes one semester to improve their grades. During that time, they can compete.

Although the Southern Section would allow Sparks to play tonight, Porter said he wanted to check Sparks' performance in class since transferring to Mater Dei.

"If I get a reading from our teachers that Leland is performing at a B/C level and is progressing toward graduation, then we will give him the go-ahead to play," Porter said.

Porter said the grade check should be finished before Mater Dei's game Oct. 6 against Mission Viejo.

Sparks, who has been playing wide receiver and defensive back for the Monarchs in practice, said he had passed a computer science class last semester at Montclair Prep. Porter said that grade was missing from Sparks' file.

"We called the principal at Montclair Prep and he checked the records," Porter said. "He said that (the grade) had been inadvertently omitted from the transcripts."

Running back Derek Sparks, Leland's cousin, also transferred from Montclair Prep and was academically ineligible. He was placed on academic probation last week and played in the Monarchs' game Friday.

Leland Sparks was granted a fifth year of eligibility Sept. 12 after appealing to the Southern Section. Sparks, who repeated his sophomore year at Montclair Prep, had competed in eight semesters of high school athletics.

However, a panel of the executive committee ruled that Montclair Prep officials had misled Sparks and his family. Jerome Sparks, Leland's uncle, said Montclair Prep Principal Vernon Simpson assured him that Leland Sparks would be granted a fifth year of eligibility.

Sparks played quarterback for Montclair Prep last season. He also played center field on the Mountie baseball team, which won the Southern Section 1-A championship.

Derek Sparks gained 1,944 yards and scored 35 touchdowns for the Mounties in 1989. Friday, he had 281 yards in 13 carries in the Monarchs' 38-21 victory over Santa Ana.

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