Sprague always struggled with school - he much preferred to be out fishing and running around with friends than studying. One day, his mother Josephine, an artist herself, sent him out with a canvas, paintbrush, and paints and told him not to return until he had a finished product to show her. Sprague returned with a finished product and his mother asked, "How did you like it?". Sprague responded, "I loved it." At that point, Josephine agreed to pay for Sprague to attend college.
In 1956, Sprague graduated from Balboa High School and attended Mississippi Southern College to pursue a major in art. However, his college experience was shortened as he was expelled due to an altercation with an art professor. He returned to Panama where he completed an associates’ degree at the Panama Canal College. He later transferred to American University in Washington, DC, where he subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree (1962) and a Master of Arts in art (1966), along with a credential to teach art in public school in Virginia.
Sprague’s thesis was titled “Figurative Painting Organized with the Principle of Shared Emphasis between Figure and Environment.” His abstract states, “The object of this thesis is to show the figure in space painted in such a manner as to exist in the composition as a functioning shape or shapes of equal importance with the other component parts of its environment. This is attained through the simplified modeling of self-contained planes of color juxtaposed against each other to create an illusion of space and depth.” This principle, obtained through an academic study of abstract impressionism combined with a passion for realistic subjects, was to serve as a touchstone for all his future artwork.