It takes only a few minutes visiting with Sapulpa High School Athletic Director Jason Parker to appreciate the meaning of the word dedication. And his optimism is contagious.
The beginning of a new school year is a blank slate in which anything is possible, and the glory that the cooler months offer is always forged in the confident hopes of August. “We are absolutely on the rise,” said Parker, now in his fourth year at the helm of Sapulpa Athletics. Success, he says, is measured both in terms of Sapulpa students’ achievement both on the field and in the classroom.
This dual success is something he has come to know firsthand. A 2000 graduate of Tulsa Memorial High School, Parker lit up the hardwood as a member of The University of Tulsa’s basketball team before going on to play professionally in Europe, and for the San Antonio Spurs’ Development League. When his playing days ended, Parker applied the lessons learned in athletics toward earning a law degree, and becoming a published author.
“Basketball was my ‘reason why,’” he said. “Law school was my first experience without basketball.” After a challenging first year of law school, Parker adopted the same methodical approach to academics that had brought him both academic and athletic success in his undergraduate years. The infusion of athletic mentality into his post-graduate studies would ultimately carry him to cum laude honors upon his graduation from law school.
It was his experiences in fusing athletics and academics that led Parker to write. In his book Engaged Athletics: How to Leverage the Impact of Youth in High School Sports to Impact Overall Student Success, Parker emphasizes a balanced approach, using athletics and academics together to foster success in each aspect individually. “You get asked a lot of questions, and you start to see a lot of patterns,” he said. Parker explained that he has noticed two polarized schools of thought where athletics are concerned; those who see no value in athletics, and those who over-prioritize athletics. The goal, he said, is to find common ground where the two elements can work together for the strengthening of all students. “We have so many kids going through life never going above and beyond.” Athletics, he said, offers students a foundation from which they can find a passion for life that transcends the field our court.
Just as on-field success is a team effort, establishing a foundation for success is a team effort as well. And Parker understands the importance on recruiting and retaining quality coaches who equip student athletes for success both on and off the field. “The search for coaches across the state is getting harder and harder,” he said. However, Parker embraces this challenge to the extent that a lack of mobility in the coaching ranks indicates a high level of quality individuals embracing the profession. “Consistency is key,” he said. “It takes you years to develop a program.”
To that end, Parker sees bright days ahead for Sapulpa Athletics. He is quick to emphasize community involvement as a big reason for his optimism. “We really have great support. When we have a need, we know we can get it accomplished somehow, some way.” Parker points to Sapulpa’s recent upgrades of the football stadium press box, and construction of Sapulpa’s new soccer/track facility as reasons for Sapulpa Athletics’ rise. “Our girls’ soccer team had the best season in their history last season,” he said. “Our baseball team had their best season in five years.” He anticipates a high ranking for Sapulpa’s boys’ basketball team for the upcoming season.
Yet despite the prominent placement of the word “athletic” in his professional title, Parker’s ultimate focus is on the whole student, and their ability to make positive contributions to society, both in the present sense and after their high school days are over. “Offering support so they can be their best. That’s what gets me going.”