Written by Devon Boen
An excellent coach is often defined by integrity and character rather than by a number of wins or the talent level of team members.
That sentiment is abundantly true in the case of Jack Sprague. Sprague was recently chosen as Montana’s Class A Coach of the Year for the American Legion Baseball
Association, but the long-time baseball lover and teacher of the sport doesn’t put much emphasis on accolades.
“When I started coaching in Wolf Point, it was about getting kids to believe they could do something bigger than Wolf Point. It’s about defining young people,” Sprague said.
Sprague may be a seasoned coach now, but he wasn’t always the teacher. He grew up playing baseball on the American Legion Wolf Point Yellow Jackets and continued playing at Jamestown College in North Dakota. After that, Sprague made the transition from player to coach.
His résumé includes assisting with the Babe Ruth teams in Wolf Point, coaching the Wolf Point Yellow Jackets from 2000 to 2010 and now coaching the Glasgow Reds.
Sprague said coaching wasn’t something he planned, but rather something that happened over time. He said there had only been two summers since he was 19 that he hadn’t coached.
Sprague’s 20 years of experience has paid off. The Yellow Jackets won state multiple times under his leadership. The Glasgow Reds earned second-place at state in 2012 and fourth- place in regionals.
So what is Sprague’s secret? Well, he’s been called “old school” by many, but he isn’t one for labels or limitations.
Sprague said he focuses not on winning, but on discipline, respect, and integrity. He explained that his team doesn’t stay in hotels when travelling. He and the boys camp or find a local gym or civic center that allows them to stay overnight.
Maybe old school wasn’t too far off the mark. Sprague said it was important to keep his players’ feet firmly on the ground and their egos in check at all times. He said he doesn’t pamper anyone or give anyone special treatment simply because they’re talented.
Sprague’s no-nonsense attitude and distaste for hand-holding has helped over 30 of his former players receive baseball scholarships for college.
His current players also reflect his stringent values. The Reds won the award for best Sportsmanship in the A Class.
Sprague said the sportsmanship extends off the field. He encourages his players to hold the door for others and let strangers move ahead in line when they are out as a team.
The mark of an excellent coach isn’t simply earning the respect of his players, but rather keeping it over time.
Sprague said many of his previously players who had grown up and moved on with their lives still keep in contact with him. He said many of the men he coached know they can come to him with problems or issues.
Sprague’s love for baseball was clear, but it was only a facet of his coaching methodology. His dedication to shaping young men by instilling respect, humility, confidence and discipline was far more undeniable and that is what truly makes him coach of the year.