Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Cedar Hill soccer player won't let cancer change his outlook
CEDAR HILL - A voice over the loudspeaker at Longhorn Stadium thundered Tuesday.
Ryan Sparkman looked up at the press box and smiled before disappearing into a tunnel.
"The nickname has stuck," he said sheepishly.
But the plume of red hair is gone. Chemotherapy has robbed the 16-year-old Cedar Hill sophomore of his signature Mohawk. What it hasn't taken is his will to compete.
Sparkman, less than two months removed from being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, remained an active member of the Longhorns. As an outside midfielder, he played in six matches and practiced regularly.
Sure, there have been changes. He takes four pills a day and succumbs to fatigue. Just a year ago, he could play 80 minutes with his club team, the Texas Longhorns.
Now, he struggles to stay on the field for half that time, if at all. On Tuesday, his attempt to play in Cedar Hill's 3-1 loss to Plano in a Class 5A bi-district playoff game was scuttled when he was immobilized by intense back pain that prompted another visit to the hospital.
But cancer, Sparkman said, "shouldn't define who you are."
It hasn't, not since he complained of shoulder pain in January and went to see an orthopedist. That led to a visit with a pediatrician and eventually a trip to Children's Medical Center in Dallas, where a CT scan revealed a large mass had formed near his lungs. Sparkman's mother, Karen, who has raised two children by herself while working as a secretary at Mansfield's Danny Jones Middle School, was in shock.
"You have a healthy, athletic child who has never complained about anything," Karen said, "and now all of a sudden he has cancer."
But Ryan, upon hearing the news, wasn't devastated or overcome by fear. He remained unfazed because, he said, "it all seemed surreal."
"Besides, nothing was going to get in the way of me being me."
Teammate Clint Ritter called Sparkman "an unbelievable fighter."
He demonstrated those resilient qualities last fall when summoned to start for Cedar Hill in a pivotal football game against Euless Trinity. The regular kicker, Eduardo Camara, had suffered a sprained ankle. Sparkman, who had never played for the varsity, was tabbed as Camara's replacement despite "being scared as all get-out," he said. In a 23-14 win, Sparkman kicked three field goals, providing the margin of victory.
"He's one of those guys that say, 'I have to do this, and I will get it done,' " said Cedar Hill soccer coach Jerome Koehler.
Ryan has approached his treatment with the same tenacity, undergoing chemotherapy at least once a week. If all goes well, he hopes, he will be back to full health by summer and on the football field in the fall. By then, a patch of red hair should return to his head along with a sense of normalcy.
"He doesn't look like a rooster now," Karen said. "But he will. He's planning on playing football, and he's planning on the cancer being gone. For him, it's just a chapter in his life."