Sweeney passes away at age 71
Ray Sweeney was woven into the fabric of Lordstown High School athletics.
The former Lordstown Athletic Director and baseball, basketball and track coach impacted all that he encountered.
“I can honestly say he’s one of the finest people you’d ever meet,” former Lordstown teacher, cross country and track and field coach Frank Rahde. “There’s no doubt about that. The way that he treated people, the way he interacted with people, kids and adults, he was a good human being. No question about that.”
Sweeney died on Friday at Trumbull Memorial Hospital. He was 71.
Sweeney, a 1959 Champion High School graduate, saw his father, Ray, and his legendary impact on the Golden Flashes community. The elder Sweeney coached at Champion from 1945-64 in basketball, track and baseball. Every September, the Golden Flashes cross country team holds the Ray Sweeney Invitational in memory of their former coach.
In turn, Ray Jr., had a similar effect at Lordstown.
“I think that was part of his makeup,” Rahde said. “His dad was his high school basketball coach. Ray played for his dad at Champion. He said that had its pluses and minuses. He had to behave all the time with his dad being the coach.”
Former Lordstown mayor and coach Michael Chaffee said he remembered former Lordstown basketball coach and teacher Charlie Stingel and Sweeney coming together to watch the Red Devils take on the Golden Flashes, especially in track and field.
“When I coached at Lordstown and when we were at Champion, Ray would show up on the fence at the track, often times with Charlie Stingel with their McDonald’s coffee cups,” Chaffee said. “They were there watching Lordstown kids. Years after they retired, that’s how they were. That’s how Ray was.”
Stingel, who said Sweeney gave him his first head coaching job, remained good friends with Sweeney.
“We had friends there, Frank Rahde, who was coaching there for track,” Stingel said. “Ray loved track. I wasn’t quite as crazy about it. I still enjoy going out, watching the kids run. It was good to see them run, perform and improve.
“Our lives were based around athletics. It really gave us both everything that we had, our educations, our teaching jobs, friendship, a lot of friendships around the county.”
The two would fix things together.
“He was a pretty good skilled craftsman,” Stingel said of Sweeney.
Sweeney also was handy at fixing problems.
“You could always count on him for good counsel, good advice,” Stingel said. “He would tell you like it was. He was a straight shooter. He was always there when you needed him.”
Not only was he there for the Lordstown kids, but for his children as well. His son, Michael, coaches at Chagrin Falls. He’s an assistant football and basketball coach and the head baseball coach for the Tigers.
Champion Athletic Director Tim Cope, who recently stepped away from his role as baseball coach to spend more time with his family, said he remembers playing baseball with Michael and facing his team every year as a coach. He knew Michael’s father as well.
“Ray was like a second father figure at all the sporting events. He never missed any of them, always supported us,” Cope said. “Even to this day, Mike, the head baseball coach at Chagrin Falls, and when I was at Champion, he looked forward to that game every year. He got to see both of us out there.”
Sweeney took pride in running sectional-district volleyball and basketball tournaments at Lordstown High School as well.
“He made everybody that came to Lordstown feel special,” Chaffee said. “This is a guy who cares about kids, loves athletics. He always made sure everything he did was first class. He made sure he accommodated everybody.”
Sweeney truly impacted those he reached out to at Lordstown.
“I don’t think you could find anybody to challenge his heart or speak against his intentions,” Stingel said. “As a coach, you have to make some hard decisions. I think, overall, his feeling for his students and his players, the relationships that he had with them, lasted.”