John Sprenkle was walking through tick-infested, chest-high weeds calling for his barking beagles that he couldn't see.

Humidity soaked shirts as a thunderstorm grew in the distance.

And Sprenkle couldn't have been happier.

He's the former star football player and wrestler from West York High who went on to play big-time football at Virginia Tech. Later, he came back home to coach at West York and teach gym class there for 31 years.

Now, Sprenkle is 57 and retired and training beagles. It's a passion reborn, one he finally is able to invest as much time into as he wishes.

"If I would have known it was this great I probably would have retired before I did," he said with a laugh. "It's competitive - and (the dogs) don't talk back to you.


About this series
Coming up with a short list and then ranking the 10 greatest athletes in the history of each YAIAA high school was a daunting task. For sure, there is no scientific approach. But after two years of interviews, research and roundtable discussions, we are presenting as fair an attempt as possible to create an objective list on a decidedly subjective topic.
OUR CRITERIA: 1. The only accomplishments considered were those achieved while competing in high school varsity athletics. If an athlete earned a college scholarship, that was also factored in. 2. Accomplishments outside the setting of high school varsity sports and accomplishments after high school were not taken into account. 3. Athletes who attended more than one local high school were only evaluated at the school where they had the most varsity success. 4. Female athletes were rated by how they dominated their own sports not how they would fare going head-to-head against male athletes.

Your turn
If you d like to comment or offer a differing opinion on this list, we d love to hear from you. Each Sunday, we ll present your feedback on opinions on page 2 of the York Sunday News sports section - The Rundown. E-mail your thoughts to Sports Editor Chris Otto at cotto@ydr.com or mail them to: Greatest Athletes, c/o Chris Otto, 1891 Loucks Road, York 17408.

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Sprenkle made his name back in the late 1960s when he won a state heavyweight wrestling title and was so dominant playing football that the biggest schools offered him scholarships in both sports.

Penn State, Miami, Arizona State and most everyone in the Big Ten came calling.

He even was a standout hurdler on the track team, if you can believe it.

"A lot of heavyweights were slow and plodding. He was just too quick for them," said John Toggas, his high school wrestling coach. "He could move like a lightweight."

Sprenkle was a rare combination of power and speed. He could run nearly as fast as the Bulldogs' star running backs.

And he did something that most football players didn't do in the 1970s - seriously lift weights. They weren't even lifting regularly at Virginia Tech when he arrived.

"I always felt like that was kind of my secret," he said.

He not only was a standout lineman at Virginia Tech, he also wrestled as a college freshman, advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

He even had a few pro football looks, but he had a young family to support and a dream teaching job at his alma mater. That was perfect for him.

"I really had enough of football. I didn't have any interest of going on.

THEN: John Sprenkle takes a dive during a posed (and painful-looking) photo will a member of the Virginia Tech football team in the early 1970s.
THEN: John Sprenkle takes a dive during a posed (and painful-looking) photo will a member of the Virginia Tech football team in the early 1970s. (Submitted)
And the way my joints feel now, I'm glad I didn't. I can barely walk as it is now when I get up in the morning."

So he ended up coaching football for 16 years and wrestling for 14.

Retirement finally opened up his long-time love - beagles.

He now spends most nights at the York & Adams Beagle Club in the Pigeon Hills near Thomasville. He trains around 20 dogs (three of his own) to follow the scent of rabbits and eventually compete in field trials all over the country.

One of the dogs he handles, Twin Maples Reds, is a national champ. His goal is to train his own field champion.

On one summer evening, Sprenkle and four dogs had the beagle club fields all to themselves. The first runs went to Tyrod (named after a Virginia Tech quarterback) and Bear (named after legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant).

A rabbit darted into the brush.

"Tally ho!" Sprenkle shouted.

Noses to the ground, the dogs disappeared into the briars and weeds, zigzagging in pursuit.

It's not about catching the rabbit. Just about picking up its scent as quickly as possible and following it as closely as possible.

Sprenkle tramped through the chest-high weeds after them, doing his best to monitor - and make sure they didn't run off after a deer.

Bear, for example, still needs some fine tuning.

"He's goofy," Sprenkle said. "I'm the one who has to get him squared away. You have to watch what dog you run him with" - meaning a partner who is challenging and, yet, not too dominating.

"That's the whole game, pairing him up with the right dog."

Soon enough, the storm rained down that evening and Sprenkle gathered up his dogs. He drove home, reminiscing about his old life, looking ahead to the new one he loves.

His retirement and his family - and the dogs that keep him competing.