It was a fitting tribute to a young man — gone much too soon — when a large crowd turned out on a hot Sunday, June 27 at Miami Trace High School to honor the life of Sean Sweeney and to play the game he loved: soccer.
Sweeney, an assistant coach for the Miami Trace High School boys varsity soccer team, passed away on April 17. He was just 38-years-old.
“There is tremendous support from the community today for this event,” Miami Trace head soccer coach and long-time friend of Sweeney’s, Josh Thoroman said. “The parking lot is absolutely packed. The bleachers have a really good crowd.
A series of games were played Sunday featuring Miami Trace boys soccer alumni, current Miami Trace boys players, current Miami Trace girls players, as well as former Southern State Community College players.
“There are at least 100 former players here today,” Thoroman said. “Sean is in everybody’s thoughts and hearts today, for sure.”
“I’ve known Sean since I was 9-years-old,” Thoroman said. “He would have been about 3 then. He was in my brother Jeff’s grade (Class of 2001 at Miami Trace). His dad (Pierre) was my first pee-wee soccer coach, and his mom, Gayle. They started the Fayette County Soccer Association.
“They were my first coaches when I was 9,” Thoroman said. “Sean was their son, so I’ve known him forever. He was in my brother’s grade, so they were teammates for forever. I hung out with Sean all the time.”
Thoroman and Sweeney eventually teamed up to coach the Southern State Community College men’s team, beginning in 2008. Sweeney and Thoroman built a team that excelled, with the only four winning seasons in the program’s history.
Thoroman coached 16 years at Southern State, with 13 of them as the head coach. Sweeney coached at Southern State for seven years (from 2008 through 2014).
In 2010, Thoroman and Sweeney coached the Patriots in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s national tournament.
“We flew to Vermont,” Thoroman recalled. “There were eight teams from eight different states participating.”
The pair continued coaching at Southern State through 2014.
“In 2015, we came to Miami Trace,” Thoroman said.
It wasn’t long before the Panthers’ soccer program gained momentum.
The Panthers had the best season record in the program’s history and tied for the second-most wins in a season two other times.
Miami Trace won three Sectional titles in a row from 2016 through 2018, the only ones in the program’s history.
The Panthers earned a No. 1 tournament seed in 2018 and 2019.
Sweeney and Thoroman were very connected.
“We definitely were on the same page with everything,” Thoroman said. “I’m out of sorts without him. It’s never going to be the same. He’s irreplaceable, just the fun we had and the conversations, our thoughts on soccer and life in general.”
“I appreciate Mrs. (Kim) Pittser (Miami Trace Schools Superintendent) and Mr. (Aaron) Hammond (the high school’s athletic director),” Thoroman said. “And the Miami Trace Athletic Boosters for making this day possible.
“The alumni game was actually a tradition for a long time,” Thoroman said. “I’m not really sure why it went away. We have been having conversations about getting (the alumni game) started back up. This opportunity to resume the alumni game is great.
“You can see how popular it is,” Thoroman said with another exhibition ongoing as he had just come off the pitch, himself. “It’s great to have so many former players back from Miami Trace and Southern State. It’s good to see them all. To get them all back out here is wonderful. It’s terrible that it’s under these circumstances, but Sean would be super-proud right now of this. He wanted (the alumni game back).”
The proceeds from the day are all for Sweeney’s wife and four daughters, who were in attendance.
Lisa Sweeney wanted to address the crowd, but was overcome with emotion.
“I tried to. I made it about five steps onto the field and I couldn’t do it,” Lisa said. “I haven’t been on the field since I was with Sean. I could not. I broke down, fell to my knees and started crying.
“It was a lot, being back on the field, seeing Josh, ready to coach, being out there without Sean,” Lisa said. “It was overwhelming, to say the least.
“When I got home from the hospital that day, after he had passed, everyone was asking me about this page that the kids had started,” Lisa said. “I said, ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I can’t find my purse, my phone, or anything.’ I eventually got back onto Facebook and I saw all my messages and everything, I thought (Sunday’s tribute) was just going to be a small thing, a little, small get-together, like maybe a hundred people, at most, in remembrance of Sean.
“It turned into this big, huge, massive turnout, which Sean would absolutely love,” Lisa said. “He always loved the alumni games. He looked forward to them. He loved… soccer was his life.
“The generosity and the amazingness of this community, and, these kids that put this together, and, their parents and the boosters, the Miami Trace community and Washington Court House,” Lisa said. “Sean loved living here. He loved the community.”
Lisa paused for a moment, then said, “It blows me away, it blows me away.”
One of the first things Sean’s mother, Gayle Smith, and Pierre Sweeney, did when they moved to Washington Court House in 1985, being the long-time soccer fans they were, was help the Rotary start the Fayette County Soccer Association.
“Sean was only 3 when we moved here, so when we ran the program, none of our children were old enough to play,” Smith said. “It’s just overwhelming to see what a community, this soccer community, has become.
“What they’ve done for Sean and the family is astronomical,” Smith said. “Caleb Perry (a 2020 Miami Trace graduate) is an awesome rock star. This kid, oh my gosh, he’s going to be President one day, I think. He put this whole situation in motion (so fast), it was overwhelming to see that.”
The outpouring of feeling for Sean touched her deeply.
“I’m just grateful for everyone to understand what a great person my kid was,” Smith said.
“Josh (Thoroman) and Sean were great coaching partners,” Smith said. “Like Josh says, he doesn’t know how he’s going to work through it, but I’m sure he will.”
For now, at open practices, Sean’s brother, Lyle Sweeney, is helping Thoroman with the youth.
Lyle wore Sean’s goalie shirt for the alumni game, his mother said.
Sean wrestled for a time under the dean of coaches in the area, Rodger Mickle.
Mickle assured Sean’s mother that Sean would be a great wrestler, once he gets that killer instinct.
To which Sean’s mother replied, “Then he’s never going to be a great wrestler, because he’s never going to get that killer instinct.
“He is always going to shake his opponent’s hand for pinning him, or he’s always going to shake the other player’s hand for doing something good,” Smith said. “Sean always wanted to see the best out of everybody.
“He was a good wrestler, but he wasn’t a great one,” Smith said. “He was a good soccer player, but he wasn’t a great one. But, he was the person on the field that was supporting and promoting everybody on the field.
“Again, I knew my kid was a great kid, but I just didn’t know everybody else knew, too,” Smith said.