La Cañada High Athletic Director Craig Franzen said it was “shocking” when he learned Todd Sprague, the Spartans boys’ water polo team’s first-year coach resigned from his position Sunday afternoon just five days before the team’s regular season opener.
Sprague left La Cañada for a full-time social studies teaching position at Norwalk High, which he says is five miles from his home in Whittier. Devon Borisoff, a former All-Area standout boys’ water polo player at La Cañada, replaces Sprague after serving as an assistant coach the past three seasons.
“The opportunity came and for financial reasons I took it,” said Sprague, who added he wasn’t looking for a new position. “You’ve got to pay the bills, that’s the most important thing. Water polo has always been great, I have been able to use it to help make ends meet before, but now I will be making three times as much as when I was coaching.”
Sprague said it all unfolded over a 10-day span when “an acquaintance” notified him about the open position at Norwalk and he applied. He learned he got the teaching job Friday, notified La Cañada Unified on Sunday and spoke with the team Monday.
“I obviously was kind of surprised and taken aback by it a little bit because we just started the season,” Franzen said. “I wish the guy luck. He got a full-time job, you can’t argue with that too much. The timing is horrible.”
Borisoff, 23, whose brother Chase Borisoff is returning for his senior season as a utility with La Cañada, said it “definitely” feels good to have full control of the team.
“To be honest, nothing on our end is going to change too much,” said Borisoff, who graduated from La Cañada in 2007 and also brought on Wesley Lewis, his former co-captain with the Spartans in 2006, as an assistant coach. “I have kind of been the quote un quote head coach in an unofficial capacity for three years now, so this finally just makes it so I can actually stand up in the middle of a game and yell at referees and not worry about getting tossed out.”
Sprague, whose father Jim Sprague will also stick around as an assistant coach, said one thing that made his decision easier was the competent coaches already on deck at La Cañada in Borisoff, Kristen Dronberger and his dad.
“There are some very qualified people still holding the reins,” said Sprague, who’s coached two schools to a total of three CIF Southern Section championships. “It was just an unbelievable opportunity I couldn’t pass up on my end and I felt I was leaving the kids in good hands.”
Franzen said he hadn’t heard of a new coach leaving at the start of a season before, but thought it was a sign of the tough economic times and could possibly become more common.
“Coaches take jobs and then they find something better that can take care of their family, offers health benefits and all that kind of stuff,” Franzen said. “You’ve got to wish them luck, but at the same time you wish they could have finished out the season.”
While Sprague will not be coaching water polo this season, as the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District only has one school that offers water polo in La Mirada High, he did not rule out a quick return to the sport.
“La Mirada Splash has one of the best facilities around,” Sprague said of La Mirada’s regional aquatics center. “We’ll see, it’s up to the district [if I coach]. I have talked to them about my passion and love for coaching, so it’s a possible thing in the future.”
Even with his departure, Sprague still believes the Spartans are favorites to win a CIF Southern Section Division III championship after advancing to the semifinals in 2011.
“I think it’s the best opportunity they’ve had in a while to win a CIF championship. I wanted to let them know my leaving isn’t in any way going to hamper their chances,” Sprague said. “We’ve got everything, we really do. … I am going to be their biggest supporter, especially since I am not going to be there any more. I am going to be going to some of their games when I can, especially when they are out my way.”
After Sprague’s talk, the Spartans got right back to working to win a CIF championship.
“[The team] took it very well, it doesn’t really change anything from what we were doing because I coached all their games this summer and I coached them last year,” Borisoff said. “For them they had the meeting and then they just jumped in the water and it was practice as usual with me running it, same as always.”