Joplin Always Has Known Value of Home

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

July 9, 2020

It is no accident that Stan Joplin has never ventured too far from his hometown of Milan on the border of Monroe and Washtenaw Counties in extreme southeast Michigan.

In fact, that has been by design.

“Mr. (Phil) Barnes once told me that you never want to get too far from home,” Joplin said recently, recalling one of his high school administrators. “If you are close by your home, people will remember you.”

It has been more than 40 years since Joplin played basketball at Milan, and no one is forgetting him anytime soon.

A coach at the high school and Division I collegiate levels and then high school again over nearly 40 years, the 63-year-old Joplin is two seasons removed from his last tenure leading the program at Sylvania Southview. But those decades of wisdom continue to be passed on to Southview students as Joplin serves as an assistant principal at the high school.

“The farthest I ever lived from Milan was when I was coaching at Kent State,” he said. “I’ve remained in southeast Michigan or northwest Ohio all of these years. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to stay close to home and receive a good education. You can’t put a price on education. Sooner or later, basketball was going to come to an end.”

It gave him a running start at the beginning.

One of the first four-year starters in Monroe County Region history, Joplin grew up around the game. People like Barnes, coach Ron Dingman and Ann Arbor’s Sandy Sanders all played key roles in Joplin’s early success.

Barnes was a mentor, offering advice and some key life lessons. Dingman was the coach who inserted Joplin into the starting lineup as soon as he could and kept him there as he led the Big Reds in scoring and was named team MVP four consecutive seasons. Sanders was a local basketball guru with connections from Ann Arbor to Detroit.

“Mr. Sanders was umpiring a baseball game and saw me shooting over at the elementary school,” Joplin said. “He invited me to come up to Ann Arbor to play.”

Sanders saw the basketball talent in Joplin and put him on the court in Ann Arbor with other prep talent and some University of Michigan players.

“That’s where I met guys like Campy Russell and Joe Johnson,” Joplin said.

Sanders took area players – including Joplin – to Detroit to play at the famed St. Cecilia Gym. St. Cecilia is well-known in basketball circles for hosting standouts like George Gervin, Magic Johnson and, more recently, Jalen Rose.

“You can imagine what kind of eye-opening experience that was,” Joplin said. “It showed me how hard I had to work. That was huge for me. That really exposed me to basketball.”

Growing up, his neighbor played basketball at Milan, and Joplin would get to go to all the games to watch him. Joplin read about Milan and other local basketball players in the Ypsilanti Press, Ann Arbor News and Monroe News, soaking up everything he could about the game.

“I just wanted to be an athlete,” he said.

He was more than just an athlete. An all-stater, he scored more than 1,500 career points – still a Milan record – and was recruited to play at the University of Toledo for Bobby Nichols.

“It was the perfect situation,” Joplin said of growing up where he did. “Milan was a small town. A lot of the students I went to elementary school with I spent my whole time in school with. I knew everyone in the city.”

At Toledo, Joplin blossomed into an all-around player with a knack for elevating his game during key moments. He was named second team all-Mid-American Conference in 1977-78 and 1978-79. The 1979 Rockets won the MAC championship and made the NCAA Tournament. It was there that Joplin had the biggest moment of his career when he knocked down a 20-foot jumper to beat Iowa, 74-72, in the first round. The Rockets would lose a close game in the second round to a Notre Dame team that included four future NBA players. During Joplin’s four years at Toledo, the Rockets went 82-27.

While making national headlines, Joplin also was earning his education, something that Barnes encouraged along the way.

“I followed in his footsteps, went to college, got my degree and went into administration,” Joplin said.

After graduating from UT’s College of Education in 1979, Joplin began coaching at the high school level and was soon head coach at Toledo Start High School. He went on to become an assistant at Kent State University then joined the Rockets’ coaching staff during which time he earned a Master of Administration degree. He would later join the Michigan State University staff with Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo.

In 1996, Joplin was named head coach at his alma mater, where he remained for 12 years, going 203-155 overall and making the NIT field four times. After he was let go following the 2007-08 campaign, Joplin reached into his education background to become an administrator in the Toledo area. He probably could have landed an assistant coaching job somewhere because of his connections in the sport, but chose not to go that route. He remained close to home.

He coached for a few seasons at Holland (Ohio) Springfield and one year at Sylvania Southview but is enjoying being a basketball fan these days.

“Basketball is the one thing I’ve done my whole life. I miss coaching, but I don’t need it,” he said.

Joplin goes to most of the Southview games and will go on the road occasionally to watch games in which some of his former players are coaching. He gets back to Michigan State University every now and then to watch the Spartans practice and relishes friendships he’s made in the game with people like former University of Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker and former Boston College head coach Al Skinner.

“I’ve got a lot of close friends that I stay in touch with,” he said.

He is not ruling out a return to the sidelines, but is not planning on it, either.

“I watch a lot of basketball. The game has changed,” he said. “The 3-point shot has taken the center out of the game. But, the game itself, is fine.”

Joplin is in the hallways more than the gym these days at Southview. His students know more about Mr. Joplin the school administrator than Stan Joplin the legendary basketball player from Milan – and he is fine with that.

“Every once in a while, someone will say something or bring me a video and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Joplin, I didn’t know you played.’ I just tell them that’s not me, that is just some guy with a lot more hair. It’s become kind of a running joke.”

Made in Michigan 2020

June 24: Fracassa's Remarkable Records Still Rule - Read
June 16: Muskegon Grad Casts "Magic" in HBO Series - Read

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Milan basketball legend Stan Joplin serves as an assistant principal at Sylvania Southview High School. (Middle) Joplin still owns the career scoring record at Milan. 

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)