After coaching the Saluki women's cross country team for the last two years, Matt Sparks takes over as coach of both the men's and women's programs in 2004. In addition to his cross country duties, he will serve as the middle distance and distance coach for the SIU track and field team.
Sparks has led a resurgence in SIU's women's distance program over the last two years. The Saluki women finished second at the MVC Championships in 2003, marking the team's best finish at the event since 1992.
On the track, Sparks' athletes have experienced similar success. Under Sparks' guidance, six MVC individual championships have been won. Highlighting that group is Noa Beitler, who is the school and MVC record holder in the indoor mile. She also holds the school's record in the outdoor 800-meters and qualified nationally.
Other athletes in Sparks' charge are Ty-Nica Davis (two-time conference champion in the 4x400m relay and 800-meter run; USATF Junior All-American in 800m), Brittani Christensen (school record holder in the 3000m steeplechase) and Cherylynn Schilling (USATF Junior All-American in 5000m).
In addition to what his runners have done on the course, Sparks' cross country athletes have been successful in the classroom as well. In fact, the 2002 and 2003 teams each achieved Academic All-American status with distinction, with the 2003 squad earning the second-highest GPA (3.61) in the country.
Prior to joining the Salukis, Sparks enjoyed a successful two-year coaching stint at Ohio State, where he also coached women's cross country and distance. The Lady Buckeye distance crew set school records in the 3000m steeplechase and the distance medley relay under Sparks' direction. He coached standout Kati Stevens to the fastest time ever by an Ohio collegiate runner in the 3000m. Not to mention, OSU earned its best finish with a second-place showing at the 2001 Big Ten Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Sparks first started coaching at his alma mater, Indiana University, where he served as a graduate assistant and volunteer assistant coach for three years. He played a key role in the recruitment and development of many cross country and track and field athletes for the Hoosiers. Additionally, he helped lead the women's program to Big Ten Conference Indoor and Outdoor championships in 2000.
Before his coaching debut, Sparks came to Indiana as an athlete on the cross country and track teams. He gained valuable experience working with national champion and American record holder Bob Kennedy and Hall-of-Fame coach Sam Bell.
During his athletic days, Sparks was a consistent scorer at the Big Ten Championships on the track. Also, he ran in the top-three for the Hoosier cross country teams in both his junor and senior campaigns.
A native of Noblesville, Ind., Sparks earned an education degree in general science and biology in 1997, and a master's degree in applied sport science in 1999.
In 1992, he graduated from Noblesville High School, where he was a three-time top-five finisher in the state cross country meet, and a four-time all-Indiana track and field recipient.
Sparks, and his wife, Emily, reside in Carbondale.