Walter Ford

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September 7, 2012
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Section rules NU players ineligible

In August, the Sac-Joaquin Section received 524 transfer requests from student athletes looking to change schools, according to the section's communications director.

Of those, 465 were granted outright, 53 athletes were required to complete a “sit-out period” and six were denied eligibility to play any sports they participated in at their previous school for a full school year.

Two of those six are seniors at Nevada Union High School.

Cole Hannum and Owen Sparks, who transferred to NU from Marysville High School, have received letters from the Sac-Joaquin Section barring them from competing on the school's football team for the entire season.

Sparks was also denied eligibility to compete on the track team this spring.

Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Peter Saco said he declines to comment on specific cases.

“I do not talk about student eligibility cases with the media,” Saco said.

Hannum is a 6-foot, 2-inch, 225-pound running back who tallied 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns in his junior year at Marysville.

His attempt at a hardship transfer was denied, despite his family moving from Loma Rica to Penn Valley over the summer.

The section's ruling was one that NU head coach Dave Humphers said he was shocked to read.

“I respect Pete Saco, but I disagree with his decision,” Humphers said. “I think they got this one wrong.”

Sparks, a Browns Valley resident, wanted to transfer because he believed Nevada Union offered more opportunities off the field, said his father, Brad Sparks, who joined the NU football staff as an assistant coach after serving as the junior varsity head coach at Marysville in 2011.

In May, the California Interscholastic Federation implemented a “sit-out period” rule.

The rule states that any junior or senior who completes a transfer request by the first day of school will be subject to a “sit-out period” (approximately 35 days) for any sport they played at their previous school.

“The only thing that trumps that is if there is any undue influence,” said Will DeBoard, communications director for the Sac-Joaquin Section. “I guess the slang word would be ‘recruiting.'”

Hannum and Owen Sparks were denied eligibility under CIF rule 510.E concerning transfers requested under undue influence, said Hannum and Brad Sparks.

Rule 510.E prohibits changing schools to where a former coach has relocated. In this case, Owen's father Brad Sparks is the coach in question.

Brad Sparks has never been Hannum's coach while he played at Marysville and didn't coach Owen Sparks in 2011.

Marysville Principal Gary Cena sent the section a four-page letter concerning both Hannum and Sparks' transfer, Brad Sparks said.

The letter stated that Cena believed the boys were transferring after receiving undue influence.

Cena did not respond to several interview requests.

While both players attended the summer Western Sports Camp hosted at Nevada Union and operated by Humphers, NU's veteran coach vehemently denied any recruitment took place.

“It has nothing to do with me,” Humphers said of Owen Sparks' ineligibility.

“They considered it an undue influence because his dad is coaching for us. I highly disagree that a father's rights and responsibilities to the education of his son can be superseded by the CIF.”

Humphers said in July he was made aware of possible complications with the transfers after a conference call with NU Principal Mike Blake, Athletic Director Steve Pilcher and Saco.

“At that point (Saco) only had one side — the letter from Marysville,” Humphers said. “They didn't have any other info. I didn't think it would be a problem.”

The issue is now in an appeals process for both Hannum and Sparks, which is handled by CIF state division.

Once the CIF receives the appeal request, it has 10 business days to send receipt of request. Within 30 business days of that, a hearing will take place. Then a written decision by the state division's panel or hearing officer will be sent within 10 business days to the section commissioner and appellant.

The whole process could take several months, said DeBoard.

Nevada Union's last regular season game is scheduled for Nov. 2.

To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, email or call (530) 477-4232.

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The Union Updated Sep 7, 2012 04:31PM Published Sep 11, 2012 05:41AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.