Annette Sproles, mother of Kansas State All-American running back Darren Sproles, died in her Olathe home Sunday evening after staging a five-year battle with cancer that at times rendered her weak, but never broke her passion for living and watching her record-breaking oldest son on the football field.
Always supportive, devoted to activities that involved her sons, Darren, 20, and Terence, 14, and never one to admit the pains that frequently accompanied her prolonged illness, Annette Sproles, 41, carried an upbeat attitude and a passionate love for God that provided inspiration for others.
"Everybody loved her," said Larry Sproles, Annette's husband. "If you didn't know her and you walked up to her, she was very approachable. She was just well liked. Everybody loved her. ... Everybody loved her."
The phone rang constantly in the Sproles' home Monday while family and friends steadily arrived and filed through the door. The K-State football team had recently sent a poster bearing supportive thoughts of Darren's teammates.
"You always try to prepare for it," Larry Sproles said, "but when it happens it's still a deep shock."
Gene Wier received an unexpected phone call Sunday at around 10 p.m. that shook him out of bed. Wier, Darren Sproles' former coach at Olathe North High School, who now coaches high school football in Texas, received the sad news from his former star pupil in Manhattan.
"(Darren) called and said he had been called just about 15 minutes prior and said he was pretty stunned and pretty hurt," Wier said. "But that's what Darren is about -- his family."
"Whenever anything bothers me, I complain, but (Annette) never complained," Wier added. "She was always thinking about something else or thinking about the kids, what needed to be done there. She never brought anything to herself."
Similarly, Annette Sproles described as strong but quiet, helped instill into her sons humility, a no-quit attitude, and the virtue of hard work. Such traits are apparent in Darren Sproles' demeanor. Sproles will enter his senior season in the fall with a school-record 3,661 rushing yards for his career after gaining a nation-leading 1,986 yards in 2003 for the 11-4 Wildcats. Sproles was also a runner-up for the 2003 Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's most outstanding running back.
Asked recently whether Sproles, a certain preseason favorite for the 2004 Heisman Trophy could handle the attention, K-State coach Bill Snyder admitted, "I have all the confidence in the world in Darren Sproles. The type of youngster that he is, the humility that is engrained in his value system, he's a neat, neat young guy."
Annette Sproles said in 2002 during Darren Sproles' sophomore year, "Darren understands that his football abilities are a gift given to him by God and that God can take those gifts away at any time. For Darren to act too cool and like he's all that, that's not allowed in this house."
Although quiet Darren Sproles has made his impact through his actions on the field, Terence has touched people with his talented voice, Larry Sproles said.
"He's the singer of the family and has a real gifted voice," Larry said. "He sings with the Kansas City voice choir and in Second Baptist Church in Olathe."
During a phone conversation Saturday afternoon, Larry Sproles said his bed-ridden wife was "strong" and that the family was "doing OK."
"This place has been crazy," he said. "I've got a houseful here this weekend."
Annette Sproles, who had been originally diagnosed with her illness in 2000, was unable to attend a majority of Darren's football games during his record-setting senior season at Olathe North. At the 2000 Kansas Class 6A state championship game, she cheered-on her son from a closed administrative booth at Kansas' Memorial Stadium, as the 12-0 Fighting Eagles claimed their fourth state title in five years.
Despite all of the success, Wier said football wasn't the most important thing to Darren Sproles, though.
"That wasn't first in Darren's life," Wier said. "He's a very religious and very family-oriented boy. When there was a time about him wavering about where he was going to school, it was all about his mom's illness. Nobody knew that. Darren never puts himself in front of anybody."
While Larry Sproles joined other family members to watch Darren play in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 3, Annette Sproles and Wier sat together in the Sproles' living room and watched the game on TV. She had joked that Weir, who had traveled from Texas, could only come over and watch the game if he took her to dinner at her favorite restaurant, Gates Bar-B-Q.
"She was always very, very proud of both of her children," Wier said. "It isn't about football. She's into football when Darren is playing football. She's into Terence with the activities he's in like music. She's just a good mother. There's no other way to describe her."
Wier said that became apparent the first time he met her.
"It was when Darren was a sophomore," Wier said. "She pulled me off and informed me that he had a dental appointment and was either going to be late or miss that second practice and that was just the way things were going to be."
Weir paused and chuckled at the memory.
"I knew right then that she was a mom that was in control of what was going on."
K-State director of athletics Tim Weiser said Monday evening, "Anytime somebody loses a parent it's obviously a very difficult time. I went through that last fall and I know how hard that is even as an older adult. As a younger person, that's obviously a very difficult thing to have to go through. I know that this is where thankfully we have a coach like Bill Snyder to assist the young men with tragedies like this and I feel quite confident that we'll provide the support necessary to help Darren through this."
Private funeral services for Annette Sproles will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. in Olathe. The family had not yet decided upon a memorial, Larry Sproles said Monday.
Copyright 2004 Spirit Street Publishing, Inc./Powercat Illustrated/GoPowercat.com
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