By MICHAEL LETENDRE
HARTFORD – When the final horn sounded in the Bristol Eastern boys soccer team’s 5-0 victory over Hartford Public on Tuesday, Oct. 15, all eyes were on Lancers’ coach Bill Sweet.
After the handshakes between the squads, the Eastern team – who was joined by the victorious JV program at midfield – ended their end of match huddle by shouting “1-2-3, 400!”
The win over Hartford Public was Sweet’s 400th victory at Bristol Eastern as several former players and assistant coaches made the trip to Hartford to watch Sweet’s team blank the Owls and later, joined the longtime coach on the field.
“My son said, when I got 300 [wins], you should have gotten it sooner,” said Sweet. “I said ‘Adam, c’mon!’ I think he was kidding. I don’t know.”
It’s been an amazing odyssey for Sweet who started coaching the program in 1970 and has enjoyed every moment at the helm of the Bristol Eastern boys soccer program over 50 glorious years.
And from Sweet’s captains of Brian Greer, Paul Grisko and Bob Smith of his first squad in 1970 to Jake Woznicki, Drew Dauphinee, Dante Costantiello, and Nate DiLoreto from the current team, how many generations of players have come through the Bristol Eastern boys soccer program under the watchful eye of the outstanding coach?
It’s simply been a legacy that’s ageless when considering Sweet’s tenure on the sidelines at BEHS.
“The longevity, you’re not going to see that coming out of anybody anymore,” said Eastern assistant coach Bunty Ray. “In today’s day and age, to coach for 50 years, it just shows you his passion, it shows you his purpose, it shows you when all the players come back and want to be a part of the program.”
“Even last year when he got into the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, there were over 100 players there to honor him.”
The moment was also made special by the Hartford Public program as head coach Tyler Champ and his captains congratulated Sweet at the end of the contest, honoring him with the game ball while snapping pictures of the historic moment.
That milestone win wasn’t lost on Sweet’s players in the least either.
“He deserves every single one of those wins,” said Woznicki. “He deserves more for all the ties that we’ve gotten him.”
Sweet’s overall ledger includes 92 stalemates and, on more than one occasion, the longtime coach has marveled about that part of his all-time record.
“Like I tell everybody, I’ve got 92 ties,” cracked Sweet. “That’s the record. That’s the thing that amazes me.”
However, those ties and draws tell a bigger story than anyone could possibly notice on the surface.
“The ties also represent what we’ve done for all these years,” said Sweet. “We’ve had to fight and we’ve had to really work hard all the years. With the assistant coaches driving these kids, it’s really unbelievable.”
Sweet teams started play in the old CCIL, moved on to the Colonial Conference in 1974 and his squads have been part of the Central Connecticut Conference since 1984.
And his program made successful runs over each decade.
His first state tournament team came in 1975 with a 6-5-2 ledger and the Lancers will qualify for the postseason this year for the 12th time over the past 13 campaigns.
In 1985, Eastern made a surprise run into the semifinals and from 1992-1995, the Lancers won 43 consecutive regular season matches, numerous CCC South titles and the 1994 team was nationally ranked.
The Lancers were successful to start the 21st century with a CCC South championship and ended the decade with All-New England sensation Pat Plourde and another state contending team.
This decade, his current squad at 9-0-2 could make its deepest run into the postseason ever.
That’s just a small snapshot of 50 years on the sidelines for Sweet and the Kingstreeters.
Countless All-Conference players have come through Eastern and Sweet groomed over two dozen All-State players.
Sweet has instilled loyalty in his program as several of his former assistants have been his past Bristol Eastern players.
“I’ve known him since I was 8 years old, playing indoor soccer,” said Ray of Sweet. “I’ve had the privilege of playing for him and then coming back and coaching with him.”
And Sweet appreciates all the contributions Ray and a plethora of other dedicated men that have made the program what it is today.
Those assistants gave something back to the school and each have been an invaluable source of leadership and support for, not just the players, but Sweet himself.
“I’ve had great assistant coaches from coach David Sage, to Michael Green to Bunty Ray,” said Sweet. “I can just go down the list. I’ve had great coaches so that’s a big factor.”
Sweet’s preparation and dedication to the Eastern program is noticed by his current players and certainly appreciated.
“He’s out there every single day early, at least an hour, making sure we’re ready, making sure we’re all healthy,” said Woznicki.
Ray saw the faces of the players in Hartford as Sweet and the team celebrated the 400th win, extremely satisfied that the squad understood the gravity of the moment.
“This group really gets the history and the tradition,” said Ray of the players. “I’m glad they were able to be a part of it as well.”
The wins on the field are the things people ultimately remember but there’s plenty of behind the scenes elements of coaching that aren’t glamorous, including plenty of paperwork, preseason meetings, summertime clinics, time on the phone, and the like that go into making a successful season.
And that’s been a 50 year commitment that most coaches could never imagine or fathom.
“He’s the guy that organizes everybody; he’s the guy that gets everybody together and gets us all on the same page,” said Ray. “He’s humble and he’s tenacious at the same time, which is very, very difficult.”
“I’m proud just to be around him.”
Sweet’s squad was obviously tuned into that 400th win in Hartford and once Eastern smashed Public for three quick goals, making it a 4-0 game early in the second half, the outcome was no longer in doubt and his players were excited for their coach.
“He’s every one of our best friends,” said Woznicki of Sweet. “We’re happy for him.”
Coaches don’t collect 400 wins overnight and it’s a grind – day in and day out – and Sweet certainly earned a special milestone win.
And, when suiting up for the Lancers, everyone willingly joins in one mission and one goal when playing for Sweet at Bristol Eastern.
The number 400 proves that very fact.
“We know what it is to work hard but we do it for him,” said Ray. “It’s great. I can’t say enough. I’m honored to be on the sideline with him.”
Maybe Sweet will sit back one day and reflect on what those 400 victories really means to him.
Until then, the win simply gave the mentor a reason to smile about one of the many stops over a long and amazing coaching journey with the Bristol Eastern boys soccer program.
“I’ll be honest with you, most of these things set in when I’m sitting down after watching TV or having a nice meal in February or March,” said Sweet of the milestones. “[But] it feels great.”
NOTES…Coach Sweet also deserves credit for the many students he’s helped and guided along the way at Bristol Eastern. The retired English teacher once taught a sports writing class that helped the author of this story turn into a career. The author is forever grateful for those lessons and guidance.