By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Union’s softball program is full of tradition.
That legacy of success is something Jacob Casey knows all about as he slides into the head coaching position, replacing longtime Yellowjacket coach Todd Viverette, who retired following this past season.
The Yellowjackets’ girls basketball program doesn’t have that same winning tradition, but that is something Tyler Sparks hopes to change as he replaces Aphaka Moore, who departed Union following one season to take over the Natchez girls program.
Under Viverette — who guided Union for 10 seasons — the Yellowjackets won two state championships, claiming the 2003 Class 1A slow-pitch crown and the 2010 Class 2A slow-pitch title. In between, Union was a perennial contender but frequently ran into other area powerhouses Clarkdale and Enterprise.
Those successes make for a daunting challenge for Casey, a Union graduate and the son of former Yellowjacket football coach Rickey Casey.
“I’m very excited about being back in Union and looking forward to getting started,” he said. “I have high expectations and I know Union has a winning tradition and I’m excited about trying to continue that winning tradtion.
“I have a lot of respect for coach Viverette and what he’s done with the program. I just feel privileged to be able to take over since he’s leaving. There is pressure there because he’s established a winning program but I feel like if we push the girls and work hard, we can keep that going.”
Casey’s history of success, though, is what helped lead his alma mater to him.
“Jacob has been a winner at whatever he’s done,” Union athletic director Brad Breland said. “He’s an ultimate competitor. No matter what sport he played, he gave it his all.
“He’s an extremely hard worker and a great competitor.”
Casey, who has been an assistant baseball coach at Sebastopol and Carthage, plans to build on Viverette’s program through hard work.
“We’re going to work hard and try to do things the right way,” he said. “We’re going to continue to improve and push the girls and expect them to give me their best effort and let the chips fall where they may.”
Sparks also plans on hard work paying off for the Yellowjackets as he prepares for his first head coaching job. The Belmont graduate is looking for a high-octane attack to help Union replicate the success he is familiar with.
“We’re going to be basic motion, but not very complex,” he said, adding that he was surprised when he landed the Union job. “We will press, full-court man-to-man. We’re going to try to cause turnovers and take care of the ball ourselves.
“The first thing I’ve done is work on fundamentals. We dribbled and passed. We didn’t even do any offense.”
Belmont has won two of the past three state championships in Class 3A under coach Chris Higginbottom. Higginbottom and former Belmont coach Malcolm Kuykendall are mentors that Sparks leans on heavily.
“It’s going to help a lot,” Sparks said, adding that he hopes to get involved in a youth league in Union to develop future players. “I’ve got two of the best mentors anyone can ask for. Growing up in Belmont, you eat, sleep and breathe girls basketball so that’s a great resource. I talk to coach Kuykendall probably 2-3 times a month and I talk to coach Higginbottom weekly.”
That support system and the Cardinals’ success caught Union’s attention.
“Tyler comes from an area where basketball is really important,” Breland said. “Some of the members of his family are coaches up there and he’s been around basketball his whole life.
“He has a good network of coaches up there in the north that he talks to on a regular basis and I think he’ll be able to lean on them if he has any questions.
“He’s real passionate about it and I think he’ll do really well.”