By John L. Aaron
The American cricketing community, more so the New York metropolitan area is mourning the loss of Roy Sweeney, a cricket visionary who passed away this week at age 78, in Florida.
Roy Sweeney made an impact on cricket in the USA from the moment he arrived from his native Jamaica in 1955 to continue his education. He graduated from Polytechnic University with a degree in Structural Engineering and worked for several construction companies over the years He was a member of the International Union of Engineers.
The sixth child of Cecil and Lily Sweeney, Roy was born in Clarendon, Jamaica, and attended the Chapleton Primary School before enrolling in St. Georges College where he completed his early education in Jamaica. He later entered the Jamaica Civil Service and worked for several years at the Ministry of Housing, before migrating to the US.
Roy Sweeney was always passionate about cricket, which led him to become a co-founder of the Westbury Cricket Club in New York, where he served as President for 26 years. As a result of his leadership, Westbury became one of the premier clubs in New York, winning a record number of championships. He was also an integral part in the formation of the Eastern American Cricket Association and the Connecticut Cricket League. He also served on the board of the New York Cricket Region.
Long before there was any talk of an American-type Indian Premier League starting in the United States, Sweeney saw the potential impact of bringing international cricket to the US as a way of promoting the sport and helping with its growth. That vision drove him to establish the United States Cricket Promoters Association, the organization responsible for bringing a full West Indies team to play at the Mount Vernon Memorial Park in New York in 1986, 1987 and 1989. Those were historical years for cricket in the US and cherished by many a cricket fan. The West Indies Squads were led by Clive Lloyd, and thousands of cricket fans witnessed history in the making, as it was the first time that full squads of Test players were playing in the United States. More recently Roy Sweeney, as president of USA Cricket Promoters, Inc. brought a West Indies XI playing under the pseudonym of ‘Caribbean All Stars’ to Floyd Bennet Field Cricket Ground in Brooklyn, NY. The 2006 star-studded cast included West Indies greats Brian Lara (Capt.), Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Ronnie Sarwan among others. The Caribbean All-Stars played two matches against a New York XI led by USA skipper Steve Massiah.
Roy Sweeney, was more than just about cricket on the field, he was a very compassionate man who gave of himself, so others would enjoy life. According to his daughter Audrey, “My father was a very outgoing person and a leader who always wanted to give to others. On many occasions when he returned to Jamaica, he would have a fanny-pack on his waist, and from it he would hand out money to the less fortunate young children.” She added, “I will miss him dearly. He thought me be a leader and to stand up for what I believe, and to not wait on anyone to give me anything. He always encouraged me to give back to the community; to be a giver, not a taker.”
When former West Indies Test player Winston Davis was paralyzed in an accident, Roy organized several fund-raising events through the US Cricket Promoters Association, which allowed Davis to be flown from England to the US to attend cricket functions.
As the news of Roy Sweeney’s passing spread like wildfire all across the five Boroughs of New York City, tributes and favorite memories of the cricketing icon were exchanged by friends and others whose lives he touched in some way, or another. Included here are some of those exchanges of fond memories.
Haseeb “Feezo” Sheriff, a cricketer and long-time admirer of Roy Sweeney said, “One of the things he was good at for my team was to make sure we were treated really well when his team was the host. He would always go out of his way to treat Everest team members and my brothers with great respect even making some our meals at the cricket ground in Westbury…he was a fabulous person.”
Roy Sweeney served the NY Metropolitan District Cricket League in various capacities, including Vice President and Public Relations Officer, and he continued to render advice to the league’s administration even during his illness. He was awarded that league’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. A 1991 inductee into the Cricket hall of Fame in Hartford, CT, Roy has been recognized and honored by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. In 2010, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the world governing body for cricket, awarded Roy Sweeney one of only two Centenary Gold Medals presented to cricket administrators in the United States. The other recipient was Clifford Hinds, who commenting on the passing of Roy said, “He loved the game of cricket more than anyone I know and worked tenaciously to promote the game.”
Hugh Pitter, a long-time friend and cricketing ally of Roy Sweeney emphatically stated, “The man was a winner, check the records!” Pitter reminisced that a favorite saying of Roy Sweeney whenever he (Roy) had a positive plan and someone else would say it can’t be done, was, “Watch me,’ while another favorite utterance of his was, ‘If you have a plan, and you don’t put it to use, you will never know if it would work.”
In addition to being a cricket promoter par excellence, Roy enjoyed a rapport with several elected officials, public servants and politicians who could make things happen, such as the purpose-built cricket fields at Canarsie and Erskine Fields in Brooklyn, NY. He was able to connect with statesmen and the ordinary man alike, often connecting politicians with the needs of their constituents, especially on matters pertaining to cricket.
Krish Prasad, the New York representative on the board of US Cricket and a dear friend of Roy Sweeney, said “Roy was a pioneer in the development of New York cricket, a true promoter and a great individual. All of cricket will miss him, Rest in Peace, my friend.”
Last June the US Cricket Promoters Association and Friends gave Roy Sweeney a rousing acknowledgment dinner in Brooklyn, NY and attended by many New York politicians, honoring him for his many contributions and accomplishments in the realm of cricket. The fortuitous occasion allowed many an admirer to publicly pay tribute to a visionary and a New York cricket icon.
New York Cricket Region Chairman Lester Hooper, in an invited comment stated, “As a former cricket administrator, promoter and enthusiast of the game, Mr. Sweeney stood head and shoulders above many others. He was a stalwart and never missed an opportunity to make a contribution to cricket. The cricketing community has lost a true statesman and a friend.”
Venelda Wallace, the New York Region’s Women’s Cricket Coordinator saddened by the passing of Roy Sweeney said, “It’s just a very sad day today. We have lost a great one, a legend I would say. Mr. Sweeney had a vision that he was determined to actualize. I learnt a lot from him. He would always say, ‘Don’t wait on anyone to get things done, do it yourself and to hell with everyone. Just get it done. People like to tear things down but ask them to help to build it, the response is always few; and as soon as it is accomplished everyone wants to share in the success.’ I have shared so many memorable moments with him that I can’t find one to choose. He was just one of a kind, my fellow Libran. We understood each other and stood for almost the same values. I will really miss him.”
Roy Sweeney suffered a number of health setbacks in recent years, leading to his ultimate demise earlier this week. He is survived by his wife Ola, sons Rasheen and Anthony, his daughter Audrey Mullins, a daughter-in-law Sherita Sweeney, a son-in-law Dennis Mullins, 18 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Roy Sweeney will be sorely missed by all.
The viewing will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2013 from 5pm-7pm at Port St. Lucie Seventh Day Adventist Church, 320 SW Tulip Blvd, Port Saint Lucie, FL 34953. The funeral service will be held on Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 11am at the same church and location.
Mascelles Bailey, Vice President of US Cricket Promoters Association and immediate past president of NY Metropolitan District Cricket Association, contributed to this article.