Dakota Lafferty doesn’t need a lesson on urban and rural geography of Missouri. The Sparta senior has seen much of the Show-Me State during the seven moves he’s made from elementary school to middle school to high school.
“When Ava was playing Clark County in football (in a state semifinal in November), everyone around here was saying, ‘Where’s Clark County?’ I told them I know where it is,” Lafferty said. “I’ve traveled all around Missouri, from central Missouri and northeast Missouri and, of course, southwest Missouri.”
With his father, James, being an educator, Dakota has had a transient lifestyle. Lafferty has ridden school buses in Lebanon, Macks Creek, Madison, Palmyra and Sparta. He’s played high schools hoops for Sparta, Madison, Palmyra and Sparta again. Add up his points total from all three schools and he’s now in four figures.
Lafferty, who leads the Trojans into their own Sparta Tournament this week, reached the 1,000-point milestone last week against Crane. Appropriately, it was a home game.
Through all his travels, Sparta has been considered home for Lafferty more so than any of his family’s other stops.
“I’ve seen this as home first of all because there’s a lot of family here for us,” he said. “Also, in seventh and eighth grade, when real basketball started, I was able to have coach (Larry) Brown as my coach. I also managed for the high school team back then. I didn’t want to leave here, especially after being able to play varsity ball as a freshman. I wanted to stay here my whole high school career.
“As far as leaving, I had to make the best of it.”
The Laffertys left Sparta following Dakota’s freshman year so James could take a principal’s job at Madison, a Class 1 school in the central part of the state near Moberly. After one year as a Madison Panther, Dakota suited up as a Palmyra Panther for the start of his junior year, as his father took a position as a pastor. Palmyra is a Class 3 school just north of Hannibal in northeast Missouri.
The opportunity for the Laffertys to come back to Sparta became available midway through last school year, as James took a teaching position at Ava.
“i had gotten word from a relative that there was a possibility they were coming back,” Brown said. “We were crossing our fingers at that point. Then it materialized. Dakota come back in January of last year. That was a nice addition and his dad will tell you this is where he belongs.”
“I loved being able to come back,” Lafferty said. “I was a little worried coming back in mid-season. But I knew coach Brown already knew me.”
Lafferty’s return to the Trojans saw him score 19 points in his first game back. He couldn’t have asked for a better reception from his former teammates who suddenly were his current teammates again.
“All the boys were like, ‘We love having you here and they thanked me for coming back,’” Lafferty said. “It was awesome.”
“He comes back and is probably taking somebody’s minutes. There could be jealousy,” Brown said. “But he was met with open arms. The kids were great welcoming him back.”
Lafferty leads Sparta (8-8) in most categories this season and is making a bid to average a double-double, while averaging 19 points and nine rebounds a game.
“He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever coached," Brown said. "He's worked extremely hard on his outside shot and has certainly improved. As of late, he’s shot it extremely well. He’s a weapon inside or outside.”
Lafferty scored a career-high 29 points and made two game-winning free throws with :06 remaining in a win at Purdy last week. He was able to keep his mind off the pressure of the moment by thinking of the reward if he made the free throws.
“Whenever we practice, we have to run a ’16,’ which is 16 times down and back (the gym floor) in a time limit,” Lafferty said. “One day, Coach said, ‘If you make your free throws, you don’t have to run.’ I’ve told everybody on the team what was running through my mind at Purdy was, ‘If I make these free throws, I don’t have to run.’”
Returning to Sparta has also allowed Dakota to continue serving as a mentor to his younger brother, Luke, along with their cousin, Jacob. Luke is a sophomore and Jacob is a 6-foot-3 eighth-grader who Brown thinks has nice potential.
“I try to get my brother in the gym as much as possible,” Dakota said. “What I want to get my cousin to do is get in the weight room. The biggest thing for me as a freshman was the physicality of varsity basketball. He’s going to be a post, so he has to be a little bigger.
“I like being able to be there for them.”