As an administrator, I learned I could teach people how to teach, but not how to love kids, so my first goal was to hire teachers who loved and wanted to support kids. Obviously, Knoxville Catholic High School found the same teacher-coach in Sean O’Neil, who is in his 17th season as the highly decorated coach for the Fighting Irish and is currently teaching environmental science and oceanography.
The success of his 17 years at Knoxville Catholic High School is remarkable for recognitions in combined cross country, indoor and outdoor track events: 171 all-state athletes, 46 state champions, nine all-Americans and two national champions.
In addition to those significant accomplishments: five Gatorade cross country player of the year honorees, one national high school coaches association senior boys cross country athlete of the year who was also recognized as a Team USA athlete and one Metro Knoxville Cross Country Hall of Fame inductee.
It is no surprise the coach has amassed this success in coaching skills and work ethic as Sean grew up swimming, playing soccer, running cross country, track and rowing; then he was a lightweight rower in college. He spent years competing in triathlons and marathons after.
However, it’s Sean O’Neil’s belief in the relationships he has with his teams that are responsible for the success of his programs.
“I believe that the best part of being a teacher and a coach is the opportunity to cultivate relationships with the kids I’m around and hopefully have a positive influence on their development into adults. That’s what drew me to this as a career choice.
“As a coach, I get to see a lot of the same kids for both cross country and track for four years, and it’s amazing to see how much they grow up during that time. Getting to share that journey is the most rewarding part of what I do. There are so many life lessons that can be learned through sports; lessons like the value of hard work, how to handle both success and failure with grace, and how to be a supportive member of a team. Along the way some of these kids run really fast and win some big races, and that’s a lot of fun, but it’s really the lessons learned from the process that will help these kids the most as they proceed into their adult lives.”
Sean and his wife, April, who is a nurse, have been married for 21 years. Their two children, 15-year-old son, Connor, and 13-year-old daughter, Rory, are both swimmers which keeps Sean at swim meets in addition to his teams’ track meets.
Aside from traveling to all the sporting events, Sean loves to ride bikes and camp in the woods.
My only question left for Sean O’Neil: When does he sleep?
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