How does one begin to tell the story of Ben Sparks?
Maybe start with his dad, David, the soft-but-certain spoken leader of the family.
Or perhaps it begins with his mother, Lenee, the tender-hearted woman whose prayers shake the steps of Heaven.
Maybe even with the young man himself, backtracking to his freshman year, hopeful for the beginning of his high school athletic career, already navigating through the dynamics and questions this new season may bring.
Any of these would do.
But let’s start with a baseball.
Round. Five ounces. 108 double stitches lining around the leather. Scuffed and grass stained. Lightweight, but once ricocheted off the barrel of a bat, it packs a heavy blast.
Monday, October 4, 2010 was just another day for most at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Kennesaw, Ga. The baseball team had fall ball, games in preseason that were a way for coaches and players to get a feel for one another. The boys were in the cage taking batting practice before heading to the field. Ben watched the older players fluidly toss balls down to the batter, reach and pick up another ball, and start the motion all over again.
Ben doesn’t remember much, only the moments leading up to the accident. Somehow he found himself pitching behind the L-screen 40 feet away from the batter’s box. “It was actually the first time I’d thrown batting practice in a long time,” he said.
That baseball, tossed to the hitter just moments before, pinged back up the middle at the exact same time Ben bent down to retrieve another ball, exposing his head. It was enough of a millisecond to strike him and send him sprawling, unconscious. The gym froze in eerie silence as Ben lay on the floor. Teammate Blake Glass grabbed his cell phone and started dialing 911. Everyone held their breath.
David and Lenee Sparks were at their home around 5 o’clock in the afternoon when they received the phone call from baseball coach George Hansen that Ben had been injured. They made their way to the school, no thought to anything worse than a twisted ankle or pulled muscle. Upon reaching the school and seeing emergency vehicles waiting in the parking lot, however, red flags began to wave a warning.
The Sparks found Ben inside and immediately realized it was serious. “When you get hit with a baseball, those things can do some serious damage if they hit you in the right place at the right speed. It’s something I would never wish on anybody on this earth,” David said.
He knelt down to Ben as his son began to seize. He could only watch as paramedics stabilized and put him on stretcher.
But Lenee, in the midst of the chaos, somehow sensed another story weaving into place. “It was like God always went a step ahead of us,” she said. “The ambulance was already there. People were already praying.”
One of those prayer warriors was Wayne “Pop” Clancy, a staple grandfather-figure to the community. He was at the school watching football practice and, according to Lenee, when he heard the sirens he immediately started doing what he does best- conversing with God.
While the Sparks family rushed to the hospital, friends from both sides of the field gathered on the pitcher’s mound for emergency pregame prayer. Teammates, coaches, and friends sent petitions up like incense to Heaven.
Ben was taken to WellStar Kennestone Hospital, where doctors declared he needed surgery for a traumatic brain injury. They put him on a life flight to Children’s at Scottish Rite, where the surgeon and staff called his parents for immediate consent for surgery. Gruelingly slow hours passed, and the Kennesaw world waited for news.
Ben eventually came out of surgery, but stayed in an induced coma for three days to reduce stress swelling. Doctors were unsure as to his recovery, whether the trauma would permanently take a toll on him physically and mentally.
Prayers continued to spread throughout the hospital halls.
On October 7, with David at Ben’s side for the night, Lenee slipped home to get a few hours’ rest before coming back to the hospital. Staff were planning to try and wake him up from the coma early that morning. “It was 3:45 AM and I brought my daughters, and we walk through this hallway and I see this person with their back to me sitting in a chair.” There was Pop Clancy, diligently praying for her son. “He even had on a white jacket, I believe,” she mused, “so I called him my little angel.”
From an entry in the journal Lenee kept for Ben, she chronicled the moments leading up to his consciousness. Dad and I were with you, reading the greetings from your classmates to you, trying to help you understand where you are, and encouraging you as we wanted to see you wake up… Dad asked you to squeeze his hand and you did, two times. I said our bedtime prayers with you, and after saying “Amen,” you opened your eyes to see. We were so excited. God is always on time. And this is approximately 72 hours after your surgery. God is so good. You are healing, and soon to be back at home with us, living life to its fullest.
“Three long days of waiting and anticipating was tough,” David admitted. “But we had such an outpouring of friends- there were so many local people from our church, FCA, the school and the community that came down to the waiting room that night. It was an amazing outpouring of support and love shown to our family like we had never seen before.”
Ben showed promise of recovery, and in a week he moved to a regular patient room and began inpatient rehab for the next few weeks. On the eleventh day, he was released from the hospital. Sparks continued months of therapy, until he was able to join his peers at school again. Mixed reactions met him in the halls of Kennesaw Mountain.
“When I went to school, everyone was looking at me a little different and was like, ‘Whoa, there’s the kid who got nailed in the head,’” he stated. “People would either shy away or go ‘Hey you’re that guy, right?’ and I’d be like, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ Basically, I’ve been really fortunate to be where I am now.”
Come the end of January, Ben amazingly tackled the world of baseball once again, trying out for and making his high school team.
“One of the most amazing things to me was the fact that he was chomping at the bit to get back in that cage where he suffered that injury and play baseball,” David shared. “He has not missed a season since. He’s played every year and is now a senior on the varsity team at Kennesaw. The kid has no fear.”
Wrapping up his high school baseball career, Sparks has poured out more blessing on his teammates and coaches than he could have imagined while lying in a hospital bed three years ago. But with baseball, for Sparks, it’s not the result but what is underneath the effort. “It’s always giving glory back to God and living for Him on the field and showing people what I stand for and how I act.”
He’s been a leader in his FCA Huddle, organizing the worship and speakers and closing out gatherings. The Sparks family has been familiar with FCA for quite some time. Ben’s older sisters Claire and Maegan were both involved with the leadership team; it only seemed natural that he follow suit.
For Ben, he likes the challenge of continually forming his faith and looks at his accident as an outlet for sharing God’s wonders. “I’m actually kind of thankful it happened because it really got me where I am today, persevering and living out Colossians 3:23. It’s definitely a big tool when talking about my salvation, just how I’ve grown in the Lord. God’s love is really what’s behind it all. Without that, where would we be?”
Weather-stained, precisely cultivated, fitting perfectly in the palm of a hand.
Torpedoed as a weapon that caused a boy’s life to hang in the balance. A portal of prayer and a vessel of healing by the power of God.
And for Ben Sparks, the best way he knows how to worship and leave a lasting legacy when he steps off the field.
“I view God sitting there with His arms wide open saying, ‘Come on, come on,’ and I just keep coming and that’s really pushed me a lot [through the injury]. I don’t want to be considered as a ‘good kid.’ I’d like to be known as a Christ-centered kid.”
By Sarah Rennicke | FCA.ORG