At the 2022 Annual General Meeting, SCOT President Ruth Suehle announced the 2022 SCOT Volunteer of the Year, John Sprague.
John was born in Yokohama, Japan, where his father was serving in the Army in post war Japan and his mother was a nurse. As part of a military family, John and his sister Kathy moved frequently, living in Ohio, Massachusetts, France, North Carolina, Florida, and finally settling in Fayetteville, when their father retired from the Army.
Charter Member of the NCSU Pipes and Drums
John entered North Carolina State University in 1968 on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. Soon after arriving at State, he read a notice in the Technician, the student newspaper, about the formation of a bagpipe band. He had always wanted to learn a musical instrument and liked the sound of the pipes…so he went to the first organizational meeting. He continued with the newly formed NCSU Pipes and Drums throughout his undergraduate studies in Aerospace Engineering and through graduate studies in Applied Math. As a solo competitor at Highland Games, he won numerous trophies as he moved up the ranks to Amateur Grade I. There were only four pipe bands in North Carolina in the early 1970’s. The Charlotte band invited the other bands to come hear the Black Watch perform at the Charlotte Coliseum. It was there that John noticed a young piper from Asheville–Emily!
Air Force Days, back to Raleigh, Clan Cameron Pipe Band
John completed his master’s degree in 1974, was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Air Force and served as a Space Systems Analyst at NORAD in Colorado Springs, CO. He kept up his piping with a group of pipers in Colorado. With the end of the Vietnam War, the Air Force was downsizing, offering officers the option of ending their commitment early. Since John anticipated he might be sent to Greenland where there were no pipe bands, he applied for early release. He returned to NCSU, this time earning a Mathematics Education degree. He was happy returning to the NCSU Pipes and Drums. He also helped form the Clan Cameron Pipe Band made up of talented players from NCSU and friends from the North American Academy of Piping. He attended the NAAPD for 10 different summers.
NCSU Pipes and Drums Director
In 1977, John became the Director of the NCSU Pipes and Drums and continued in that capacity for the next 35 years. Piping was his life. During the school year, he taught high school math classes as his day job. In the evenings, he taught a beginning bagpipe class one night, a second semester class another night, led band rehearsals another night, and depending on how many different grades the band was fielding, he met two or three nights a week with the different competition bands. On weekends, he arranged private lessons with individuals within the band, both pipers and drummers. Many bandsmen remember John for his selflessness, his always being there to work with them, get their pipes going, tutor them for solo competitions, or just be a listening ear when they were going through life transitions.
Over the years, the band competed in Grades II, III, IV, and V. The Grade II band traveled to Scotland in 1986 where it competed in four contests including the Scottish National Championship and the World Pipe Band Championship. In the 1990’s, John was once again a full-time student at NCSU, working toward his PhD in Math. During this time, he was around the University during the day and able to keep multiple levels of bands going. In the last year before he retired from NCSU, he was directing 55 pipers and drummers in either a performing band, a competing Grade III band or a Grade IV band.
Piobadh na Triantan
John and Emily worked up their own repertoire to perform as a duet. To fill a request for a mini band to play for a special celebration at the Kirk of Kildaire in 2014, a few more pipers and drummers were added. The group stayed together, taking the name Piobadh na Triantan, which means “piping in the Triangle”. The band has enjoyed performing at many SCOT events including the Ceilidh at the Cary Arts Center, Cary Spring Daze, the International Festival, Tartan Day events, informal family picnics, and most recently, a celebration of Pat Johnston’s life at the Annandale Center in 2021.
SCOT Board Member
Before SCOT was formally organized, John worked closely with the Highland dance community to offer Scottish themed programs in the Triangle. There were Music from the British Isles concerts at NCSU, Beltane programs at various locations, Robert Burns dinners, events at schools and museums. John was a charter member of SCOT and served as the piping representative on the Board from 2003 through 2021. He initiated the Cary Indoor Solo Piping Competition and has directed this well-respected piping competition for sixteen years. He worked with the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Cultural Program to provide a Virtual Tour of Scotland and two Scottish Pop Ups of piping and dancing. For this effort, SCOT was recognized as an Outstanding Volunteer Organization in 2020.
John supported as many SCOT events as he could. He coordinated volunteers to represent Scotland at Raleigh’s International Festival. He was Tea Master extraordinaire at SCOT Teas. He played in most SCOT Golf Tournaments, winning the overall trophy for three years. He hosted SCOT Board Meetings at Cardinal Gibbons High School when he taught there.
John has never been one to toot his own horn. Henri J. M. Nouwen writes of Hidden Greatness in this way:
Piping has been John’s calling for 54 years. SCOT has been a richer organization with John there, sharing his expertise and passion for the Scottish art of piping.