Yesterday at the Jefferson Academy boys basketball game I was reminded of how great the coach, Mark Sharpley, is. Mark came to the JA at the beginning of the high school right after he'd taken a state 1A championship with his private school team and earned a 1A Coach of the Year. Several of Mark's top players followed him and in the second year of JAHS the team won a state title in boys basketball. To my knowledge, this was the first charter school to get a state title in an athletic sport anywhere in the nation (I checked with other state leaders at the time).
Now the JA team is comprised of students I knew as elementary school students or that I remember when they were born. I don't know if kids just grow taller now, but the varsity team has 7 of the 12 measuring over 6 ft. Two are 6'5". To be clear, these boys didn't transfer in, they're long-time JA families. Several of these families have a second or third son playing for Sharpley.
Obviously, Mark Sharpley is an extremely talented coach. But I believe his "secret" is more than just the fundamentals or his skill. Mark's greatest strength is the young men of character that he develops through personal relationships, perseverence and dedication on the basketball court and his own personal integrity. Mark's a tough coach. His players work hard the entire year, including summers where they either play Jam ball or work Mark's clinics. He drills them on the fundamentals, in fact since he's built up the program at JA, these basic skills are taught early at JA, and it shows in their performance. Currently the high school has four boys teams.
I've heard Mark say that it's not the game that's the most important -- it's what the young men learn from playing the sport. Every day his plan for practice includes a character trait or quote that he discusses with the players. Whether it's as a team, or individually, he has numerous conversations with his players about the type of men they should always strive to become. He seems to have a knack for understanding the young male thought processes. He knows when to push them harder and he knows when to drive home his point.
Mark does all of this with the greatest of humility. He's very low-key about his accomplishments and the recognition he's received over the years. He's "adopted" several young men in the past. Sharpley's own son, who's in seventh grade this year, is over 6 ft already and clearly headed to a successful career on the court.
I've always had a great deal of respect for Mark Sharpley. While probably most everyone who knows him, respects his talent and leadership, I think Mark's greatest quality is his own personal character and integrity. He serves as an excellent role model for his students. He impacts lives just because of who he is.