Two is better than one for Stephanie Sparkowski, the goalkeeper and captain of the East Meadow High School girls’ varsity soccer team. Sparkowski, a 17-year-old senior, has widened her athletic career this fall, making history in East Meadow as the first female athlete to join the Jets’ football team.
The team’s new addition began practicing to be a placekicker over the summer, and played in her first game on Sept. 14, when she went 4 for 4 on extra-point tries in the Jets’ 28-6 win over Manhasset High school.
“I was really nervous for that first kick, hoping to get it through,” Sparkowski said. “It felt really good to do it.”
Football Coach Doug Bange knew Sparkowski’s reputation on the soccer field. When she showed interest in joining the football team, he said he was more than willing to bring her on. “Like everything else she does, she was 100 percent committed,” Bange said. “Whatever sport it may be, she has that tenacious attitude, and knows what it takes to win.”
Sparkowski joined the team at an opportune time, Bange said. As it happened, he was looking for a new kicker after Eric Bernstein, who handled the Jets’ kicking duties last year, graduated. The team immediately embraced Sparkowski and “had total confidence in her,” Bange added.
Her inspiration to join the team, she said, was the same role model who motivated her to start playing soccer as a 5-year-old: her brother, Daniel. “I became very competitive, especially with him, and I wanted to beat him at everything,” she said. “Just having him as my older brother gave me a forever role model that taught me so much.”
Daniel, 20, a 2016 graduate of East Meadow High, played on the EMHS soccer team and was a kicker on the football team. These days he plays soccer at SUNY Morrisville, where he’s a junior.
As Stephanie has discovered, there are key differences in kicking soccer balls and footballs: The latter requires sharper aim, speed and singular focus. “She has two seconds to get that kick off before the defensive line starts coming at her,” Bange said. But once she began practicing, he added, “everything fell into place.”
On the soccer field, Sparkowski booted a 56-yard free kick that assisted the winning goal on Sept 16, two days after her first football game, in a match against Farmingdale that the Lady Jets won 1-0.
“She’s the most humble team-first player,” said Soccer Coach Adam Hananel. “All she’s ever doing is worrying about how she can help her teammates, [especially] the young kids, making sure they have what they need to be successful. She’s such a leader and role model.”
Sparkowski has received All-Conference, All-Class, All-County, All-Long Island and All-State honors in soccer, and was named the Northeast Conference Goalkeeper of the Year last season. She has also played for the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, a national nonprofit that trains young soccer players.
On July 21 in Orlando, Fla., she showcased her skills alongside other top players who competed in the inaugural Allstate All-American Cup. Allstate collaborated with MaxPreps, a sports news outlet run by CBS, and evaluated roughly 800,000 high school soccer players around the country before choosing 40 boys and 40 girls to compete in the all-star tournament.
Sparkowski is committed to attending the University of Michigan and joining the soccer team next fall. But this season she hopes to lead the Lady Jets to the Nassau County finals. “I’d like to leave a good foundation for the soccer program for years to come,” she said.