Sports Person of the Week
Sparaco Posts Impressive Senior Season
Chris Sparaco progressed into a top post player in the Shoreline Conference while competing for the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team. As a senior captain, Chris also served as an effective voice between the Warriors’ athletes and their coaching staff. (Photo courtesy of Chris Sparaco )
Chris Sparaco anchored the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team’s inside game as a premier post player in the Shoreline Conference this year. Chris, a senior captain, patrolled the paint and used his array of post moves to break down opposing defenses throughout the season. He also provided an important voice on a squad that was chock full of seniors and wound up finishing the campaign with 17 victories.
When Chris first arrived on the scene, he wasn’t sure where he would fit with the Warriors. As time went by, Chris dedicated himself to become a better athlete and basketball player, resulting in an early captain’s nod for the big man.
“I think the most proud I’ve been was in my junior year, when I was named captain in the early fall,” says Chris, who stands 6-foot-4. “As a sophomore, I wasn’t really pictured as making an impact. The summer going into junior year, I put all my effort into basketball. It was a time of personal growth for me. I went from being on the end of the bench to playing to most of the game.”
Chris had a knack for affecting possessions by anticipating the opposition’s offense. After transforming himself into an inside presence, Chris found his effectiveness near the rim. Chris averaged 10.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for Valley Regional as a senior.
“Before, I was more like an outside shooter. Once I realized my size, I put my work in the post, because that’s what my team needed. In the end, it has to be about that,” Chris says. “I played so much that I can read the game pretty well. My basketball IQ is pretty high. Rebounding is more of an IQ thing. You have to be in the right place at the right time.”
Chris prided himself on being a defensive leader for the Warriors. As the first man back, Chris always made sure everyone was in the proper spot, and that proved an integral factor in his team’s stifling defense.
“Defensively, it was my job to direct everyone. When I was in my own head playing, we lacked that consistent voice on the floor, but trying to keep everyone in position helped me focus on the team, rather than myself,” says Chris, who also pitches and plays first base for the Valley baseball team. “I don’t have the quickest feet, and I don’t jump the highest, but what I brought to the team elevated us. Working together as a unit is one of the things that I am most proud of.”
Chris played a heavy role in the Warriors’ success on the court. He matched that effort off the court while leading the team as a captain.
“I took it on my shoulders that I had to lead by example. I had to do things the right way. In practice, I can lose my cool if I’m frustrated with myself, but you have to learn the right thing to do,” Chris says. “The younger kids are looking up to you. For us seniors, it was more just keeping things together. We had a lot of strong personalities and good basketball players.”
An Essex resident, Chris comes from an athletic family. His father Ron is a baseball fanatic who coaches Little League in the area. Chris’s older brother Colin was an ace pitcher for Valley Regional, and his youngest brother Braeden is a freshman who played for the JV basketball team this winter. Additionally, Chris and his twin brother Dylan got to chance to share time on the basketball court. Chris says that it was a special opportunity to compete alongside his brother, who was also a senior captain.
“Colin has always been a role model to me, even though I don’t like to admit it. Colin won’t back down, and he instilled that with me,” says Chris. “It’s mostly been me and Dylan, though. Growing up with a twin is a different experience. He got his shots this year. It’s easier to play with someone you know so well. This year was fun. It’s a good experience, even though heartbreaking how it ended.”
Head Coach Kevin Woods was impressed with the way Chris honed his craft in order to get an edge against more athletic opponents. Chris also became an effective leader by helping his teammates overcome similar challenges to the ones he faced throughout his career.
“Chris brought us a legit post presence. He’s a student of the game when it comes to footwork. Many teams have big players, but they don’t necessarily have post players. Chris was the best post player in the league,” Woods says. “Chris has a competitive personality, whether that’s against others or against himself. He understood that was a challenge, and he tried to help others not have that challenge. Chris was also the voice of the team. We valued his perspective, because it helped us present to the team so that they could understand where we were coming from.”
Chris is just as determined to help Valley see success on the baseball diamond. In his junior season, the Warriors needed some help on the mound, and Chris volunteered to toe the rubber, even though he was more comfortable playing first base. Chris has steady hands and uses his footwork to help his fielders make every out possible at first.
“I pitched last year, because that’s what the team needed, but playing first base and hitting is more what I love. I have a good glove, and I can pick the ball and keep it in front of me well,” says Chris. “When I lengthened out, it made it easier to catch bad throws. Being able to stretch and stay on a base is about core stability. It’s a lot of practice with footwork. It’s just like footwork in basketball.”
Chris focuses on contact over power at the plate. Chris can certainly get a hold of one and launch it, although that’s never his aim when he steps into the batter’s box.
“I’ve had my fair share of long balls, but I mostly try to keep my swing level. I try to keep myself low and loaded. I’m a low-ball hitter. People throw low at me thinking I won’t be able to reach it, but I get my extension in that spot,” Chris says. “Ground balls through the hole are more successful than a pop-up. I try to hit a lot of line drives. Hitting a line drive is a better feeling than anything in the world.”
Chris will be concentrating more on academics than athletics when he goes off to college. He’s currently deciding whether to attend UConn or the University of Rhode Island (URI). Chris is going to major in engineering, and both schools have quality programs in that field.
“Sophomore and junior year, I’ve really put myself together in the classroom. I’ve gotten into UConn and URI in the engineering program, and it won’t cost me a million dollars. You have to recognize at an early age where you want to put your work in,” says Chris. “For me, I was more playing sports for myself and playing for my team. Sports really helped me figure out what I want to do with myself. I worked really hard at basketball, but I made time and decisions for myself that made school more important. Those are the choices that you make.”