For 48 minutes two teams turn into enemies out there amidst the dirt and the chalk on the football field. For 48 minutes, there is nothing else on these athlete’s minds than victory at the expense of their opponent.
And then the final whistle blows, the crowd turns from a deafening roar of cheers to a methodical shuffling of feet, and the 48 minutes of battle are over.
It is in these brief moments after that whistle when the new battle of the emotions of a win or loss versus the realization that this is just a game begins. In these brief moments, sportsmanship wins or loses.
And it was in these brief moments two years ago when Joey Sparks, then a Sophomore at Hobart High School, after a 47-34 win against Gary West Side, witnessed his opponents present themselves with such class after the game that this game, these 48 minutes of battle, became something much bigger.
“Despite the loss, they were so friendly after the game and told us good luck the rest of the season,” Sparks said about West Side. “It was an incredible display of sportsmanship, but what really got to me was after we all shook hands they asked our team to join on the middle of the field for a prayer which I had never seen before after a football game.”
A few weeks later, Sparks was met with a new battle, a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. During his fight he was comforted by the support of his teammates at Hobart, and his new teammates in spirit at Gary West Side.
“Within days of my diagnosis, everyone in my community knew about it,” Sparks added. “And even West Side's coach, Jason Johnson, found out and told his team & asked them to pray for me. I received a few messages from some of the West Side players letting me know they were praying and it meant a lot to me and helped me during my battle.”
After Sparks had recovered, he knew that he had to give back to a West Side team that had become his adopted teammates during the fight; something to show them that he appreciated the support more than they could ever imagine.
And that’s when he found out about the Ford “Go Further” program, which donates $1,000 to kids and schools doing great things in their community. So Joey made a 4-minute video describing his battle with cancer and the support he received from West Side, and as they say in sports, the rest was history.
“I described what West Side did for me, and sure enough I won,” said Sparks. “I donated the money to the Gary West Side football program. In addition to the money, Ford was so impressed with my video and their kindness that they donated them all new shoulder pads and helmets for their team to use.”
Flash forward to tonight where for 48 minutes Hobart and Gary West Side will battle again for football supremacy. For 48 minutes, these two teams will be enemies. But only for 48 minutes, because when that final whistle blows after tonight’s game, Sparks, Hobart, and West Side will all join together again as they truly are.