In its centenary celebrations, the International Cricket Council has awarded medals of honor to five officials who have made significant contributions to the game in the US. The ICC invited the USA Cricket Association to recommend five people after it had asked its regions to submit candidates. Roy Sweeney, a long time player, coach and administrator, is a recipient of the award. DreamCricket.com will interview each of the remaining recipients in the coming weeks.
By Peter Simunovich
Roy Sweeney is a man of many stories. He can talk with authority about cricket in New York and the West Indies for hours leaving you wanting to come back for much more.
He can talk about when he could bowl at just over 90 miles per hour when he was a young man in Jamaica while playing at first class level and then he can switch to his 53 years in New York where he has dealt with mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Michael Bloomberg about trying to improve the playing fields for cricket in the greater metropolitan area.
And he is still friends with West Indian Test greats like Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Jeffrey Dujon after he brought the team to New York on four trips to help promote cricket.
For years Sweeney, 74, devoted much of his life to the game he loves. At times his wife, Ola, of 49 years shook her head as he directed his energy in improving the playing conditions of cricket. Even his children Roy, 39, and Audrey, 34, would have preferred if their father would have spent more time with them instead of playing on weekends and spending hours administering the clubs.
“They love me to death. We have a terrific relationship and we are a close family. My wife has been wonderful,” said Sweeney, now a retired civil engineer.
Sometimes he reflects on his life and thinks about the times in his younger years when he devoted his time, energy and many thousands of dollars to fulfill his vision of cricket in the US.
Sweeney made a lot of sacrifices because he firmly believed, and still does, that cricket should be in the forefront of sport because the founding fathers of the United States once played the game.
He overlooked his health when he should have been taking better care of himself. The end result is that for the past 30 years he has suffered from diabetes and has lost the use of his kidneys and now undergoes dialysis three times a week.
Sweeney has also had two toes on his right foot and a left toe removed. “Diabetes. It is a terrible, terrible thing,” he said.
There are times when he has to use a cane to help get around. For Sweeney it is all part of his life and long involvement in a game that is dear to him. He says he has no regrets.
In an interview with DreamCricket.com, he recalled the speech he made when he was inducted several years ago into the US Cricket Hall of Fame in Hartford, Connecticut.
“I said: ‘If I had served my Lord and my God as well as I’ve served cricket with the same love and dedication then I would not miss heaven,’” he said.
Sweeney, who lives in Brooklyn, tries to spread his knowledge and life experiences with people outside of his cricket family. He is Chairman of the Little People Child Development Center in his neighborhood and talks with children and encourages them to avoid the pitfalls of life and to try to stay on the right track.
It is no surprise that Sweeney was awarded the International Cricket Committee medal for his services to the game in the US. He said: “It is very gratifying and satisfying after you work hard. Right now cricket in New York is very good.”
Sweeney’s long time connection with New York began when he joined the Lucas Cricket Club soon after arriving from Jamaica to study engineering. He then moved to Long Island and helped form the Westbury Cricket Club and was later president for 26 years.
“We won many championships in Long Island and the Metropolitan leagues,” he said. Over many years Sweeney contributed between $35,000 and $45,000 to help keep good players so the team could continue having success.
In 1980, he bought a $28,000 15-seat van to transport players to compete at different venues. The van, which was not insured, was stolen. It was eventually found, stripped of anything worth selling. But this did not stop Sweeney from following his dream to improve cricket.
Six years ago the Metropolitan League honored him by naming a 50-over tournament after him, the Roy Sweeney Challenge Cup. It was a moving experience for the cricket veteran when he was told.
He says he has won countless awards and medals, including the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award, because of his association with cricket and he cherishes them all.
While the fire in Sweeney’s belly isn’t as fierce as it once was, he proudly talks how he vigorously fought to get fields and better conditions for cricket and over the years he has built up a network of contacts with local government administrators.
Sweeney has a long list of achievements in cricket, including the founding of the Mayor’s Cup for teams in the New York region, he helped found the Eastern American Cricket League and the Connecticut Cricket League and in 1985 he bit the bullet and formed the United States Cricket Promoters Association.
He did this because he felt that, at the time, the USA Cricket Association was not doing enough for the fans.
The following year Sweeney took a risk and the US Cricket Promoters Association brought in the West Indies Test team led by Lloyd, Richards, Greenidge, Haynes, Keith Atherton, Curtly Ambrose and Dujon in two one-day contests in Mt. Vernon against a US Select XI.
He bought them back in 1987 and this time invited a youngster named Brian Lara, and again in 1989 and 2006. “The West Indies games were great. I walked away with a lot of pride,” he said.
Over the more than five decades of cricket in New York he has been a board member of the New York Region, a vice president of the Metropolitan League and has helped the game improve several notches as well as being a father figure to countless players and making many friends along the way.
Sweeney has a reputation of stepping forward to help cricketers when in need. In 2002 former West Indies Test player Winston Davis was left paralyzed from the waist down after he was cutting a tree in Florida and a branch knocked him to the ground.
Sweeney flew to Florida and visited Davis in hospital to try to cheer him up. On several occasions he raised money to help the former West Indian player get his life back in order. “Winston is now in a wheelchair and we are friends,” he said.
Sweeney has many other stories to tell about his illustrious career in cricket, but that will be for another day.
Click here for the previous interview with Syed Shahanawaz