From the Bench: Rewinding to Talk Once Again about Athlete Many Consider Best of All Time at BHS

By Jeff Toquinto on January 06, 2019 from Sports Blog via

Editor's Note: I: This blog originally ran in 2016.
The stories, by all accounts, are legitimate. And if they’re not legitimate, they must have a pretty strong fiber of truth within them.
I’ve heard them for decades now. More notable is that I’ve heard them from the individual’s past friend and athletic foe alike. And now I hear them whenever I write a blog – or Connect-Bridgeport does any type of story – talking about the great athletes or great teams from Bridgeport High School’s past.
The stories include one common denominator and one name. The denominator is that the person in question was arguably the best athlete ever to walk through the doors of the Johnson Avenue school. The name in question is 1970 graduate Chris Sprenger.
Understand completely that I have no idea just how good Chris Sprenger was as an athlete. I don’t ever recall seeing him play. And if I did, I’m pretty sure the fact I was just about a month short of being two-years-old would probably disqualify me from remembering just how good he was.
Yet, his name, without fail, is brought up. Many times followed by inquiries about how is he doing today and sometimes inquiries about how is “coach” doing, since he spent many years on the bench here in Harrison County. And even more times the inquiry leads to the “you ought to write something about Chris Sprenger.”
I’m happy to oblige. In fact, I was able to have a nice conversation with Sprenger, whom I’ve always referred to as coach since that was my frame of reference, for about a half an hour earlier this week. And when I told him that I was writing about the “legend of Chris Sprenger,” he just laughed.
“I guess that’s one good thing about getting older is that the legend grows. It’s a lot of fun and, most of the time, if I’m talking about my playing days it’s when I run into some of my old buddies,” said Sprenger. “The really good part is that the older I get the better I was. Now it’s to the point where they tell me things I don’t remember.”
Of course, the things I’ve always heard was that Chris Sprenger was arguably the best football player ever at BHS. Considering Bridgeport’s storied football past, that’s no small compliment. And, yes, that he had thighs the size of tree trunks.
“I’ve heard that … a lot,” Sprenger laughed. “Just like everything else, my thighs from high school have gotten bigger and bigger as time has passed.”
It wasn’t just football that Sprenger was good at. He was a Class AAA all-state first team athlete in football, basketball and baseball during his time with the Indians.
One of his opponents competing against Sprenger when Sprenger was a senior and he was a sophomore easily recalls playing against Sprenger. And that person is former Bridgeport High School Principal Mark DeFazio.
“I saw him that one year, my sophomore year, in football, basketball and baseball,” said DeFazio, who was a four-sport all-state athlete with the Presidents. “When you played Bridgeport, you knew who Chris Sprenger was and that was back in a time that you didn’t get the publicity kids get today and didn’t have all the media resources you have today.
“He was every bit as good as you’ve heard. He could do anything he wanted in any sport,” DeFazio continued. “He had the tools from the height and the weight to the skills, athletic ability and work ethic.”
Many remember Sprenger for becoming a Division I basketball athlete at West Virginia University. And many will also tell you that basketball was his second best sport. Sprenger, who played football for Coach Ed Carder and an assistant named Wayne Jamison, said that he knows today that football was what he was best at. It was basketball, however, that he loved.
“We had a good team in football, particularly my junior and senior year. We went 9-1 my senior year and our only loss was to Fairmont Senior (21-14),” said Sprenger. “That was back when they only took two teams to the state playoffs and that loss knocked us out of it.
“That was one of the most disappointing things ever for me athletically because I always felt we should have beaten Fairmont,” he continued. “I’m not a 100 percent on this, but I think they had a player score in the last minute to beat us.”
When you look at his accomplishments, Sprenger sounds like the typical high-end BHS player that gravitates through the system that’s still in place. Youth football, then off to what was then junior high and then into the Indians’ varsity scheme. More than once, I’ve had people tell me in the past 25 years that Sprenger was also the best junior high football player ever in Bridgeport, which is part of the legend that can be confirmed as not being true.
“I was only in Bridgeport for three years,” said Sprenger. “We moved to Bridgeport from Maryland and when I went to WVU my family moved again, this time to Charleston.”
It turned out to be a beneficial short-time move for the Indians. The time for Sprenger in Maryland also proved to be where his love for athletics, and particularly basketball, began.
“My physical education teacher in Maryland was a man named Glenn Smith. He had played at the University of Maryland in basketball and he really got me interested in sports and he gave me the fire to want to play basketball,” said Sprenger.
As the all-state honors show, Sprenger was not too shabby on the hardwoods. And his coach there, as well as in baseball, was Wayne “Smiley” Jamison.
“You’d like to take the credit for how good he was in all those sports, but he was good when he got to Bridgeport so someone else deserves that credit,” said the now deceased Jamison from an interview in 2016, who said Sprenger was also a standout pitcher and outfielder on the baseball team. “One thing I remember most about him was in basketball. He was the first one that could actually shoot a jump shot. He shot at the peak of his jump and could shoot over everyone. My goodness could he shoot. He was really good, and he was really good in baseball. He was a force in football too.
Looking back, Sprenger said he knows now that football was his better sport. He probably had an inkling at it while in school considering he had scholarship offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Maryland, North Carolina and so many others. And had he played, he would have been a Tar Heel.
“My cousin played linebacker there and even though he was going to graduate, that’s probably where I would have ended up,” said Sprenger. “I just loved basketball.”
And what was Coach Jamison like as a basketball coach?
“There’s a lot of things I don’t remember, but he was a good coach. I will tell you this. I ran more in high school with him than I ever did in college,” said Sprenger. “The other thing I can tell you about Coach Jamison is that he was a good man.”
After his time in Bridgeport, he played for four years at WVU. His first season was with the Mountaineer freshman squad back in the time when frosh weren’t allowed to play at the varsity level. He spent his final three years on the varsity.
“I really enjoyed my freshman year and always thought I should have played more when I got to the varsity, but everyone thinks that,” said Sprenger.
By December of 1974, Sprenger was not only done with Division I athletics, but he was wrapping up the student side of his student-athlete career at West Virginia University.  After he left Morgantown, he took his first job in Fayette County on the education front and was an assistant coach in football and basketball and was also coaching track.
By the time the early 1980s rolled around, Sprenger returned to Harrison County. He came back to coach the freshman basketball team at then Washington Irving High School.
“Sam Scolapio was the principal and I also coached tennis and cross country. I told Sam that I don’t remember ever agreeing to coach those two sports, but he assured me I did,” Sprenger laughed. “I ended up enjoying my time doing that.”
Eventually, Sprenger became an assistant to Washington Irving and then later Robert C. Byrd basketball Coach Brad Underwood. When Underwood stepped down in the early 2000s, Sprenger took over. He served as varsity coach for three years until 2003.
“By that time, I had coached for a long time and realized just how much of my time it was taking up. You add to that a lot of the peripheral things that I just didn’t like and I realized it was time to step down,” said Sprenger. “The bad part about it was that I really missed the kids and the practices. After a couple of years I was finally okay with it.”
Sprenger continued to teach. He retired not too long ago – on June 10, 2015 to be exact – and ended a teaching run of decades. In fact, he taught for 40 years.
“I’m actually enjoying it,” said Sprenger of his retirement.
And if he hears the occasional story from the past?
“I’ll probably enjoy that too,” he said.
As for where he ranks all-time in BHS history or even Harrison County history as the best all-around athlete? Well, that’s another subjective topic and one those with a longer history of watching sports in this area than yours truly would have to make.
DeFazio knows where Sprenger lists in his pantheon of prep Harrison County greats.
“Chris is probably the best all-around athlete I’ve ever seen ... and have seen a whole lot of games from when I played to when I coached and into today. I’d put (former Roosevelt-Wilson all-stater and Glenville State All-American) Chris George up there and, pound for pound, Dante Bonamico is right up there with both of them,” said DeFazio. “Chris was that good, Dante is that good and Chris (Sprenger), well, the stories about just how good he was are all true.”
Even if they get grander with age, it appears there’s plenty of fact behind the legend. And approaching nearly a half a century later, there are still plenty of numbers and accolades to back up the argument.
Editor's Note II: Top photo shows Chris Sprenger (45) with the 1969-70 varsity basketball team, while he's shown runing the ball in the second photo and taking a jump shot in the third photo. In the fourth picture, Sprenger is photographed for becoming - at that time - onlyl the third BHS player ever to make first team all state. In the bottom photo Sprenger is shown taking a cut in his baseball uniform. Photos from the 1970 Ki-Cu-Wa Yearbook; photos courtesy of Mrs. Alice Rowe.

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