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Perseverance Pays Off For Soccer Player



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In sports, success is ultimately most often defined by wins and losses. The goal to come out on top may always be there, but within the games and practices, as well as during the course of a given season, there are lessons learned, small victories within defeats, impressive efforts to overcome obstacles such as injuries, and myriad other accomplishments or examples of success under the surface.

Sean McKinley’s resolve and patience can be viewed as one of these sorts of wins.

When Sean was cut by the Newtown High School soccer team during tryouts in his junior year of 2018, he could have walked away from the game or picked it up at a recreational level. Instead, he stuck around with the team — trained with the Nighthawks in practice — and helped out as a manager, logging statistics, gathering equipment, taking on a variety of roles to help out and be a part of the team throughout the fall.

“On his own, he approached one of the captains and said he would like to be a manager. I told him ‘absolutely — 100 percent,’” said Charley Amblo, head coach of the Nighthawks each of the last two years.

Sean played midfield, a link between the defense and offense on the turf. He had held a position reflective of a midfielder off the playing surface. Coach Amblo said Sean served as a liaison between the team and athletics department during his junior year, providing schedule information to his teammates. Stat-keeping was not as simple as it may sound. We are not just talking goals and assists. The coaching staff had Sean logging such detailed information as types of passes as the program transitioned into playing possession-style soccer last fall.

Coach Amblo, set out from his first day on the job to have the players manage as much as possible, on and off the field, as part of their training growth.

“People responded to [Sean] as a leader or part of the staff,” the coach said.

Fast forward to his senior season, and Sean was back on the turf with the Nighthawks — not just in practices or helping out along the sidelines again, but playing in games. A lot.

Sean not only made the game roster in his final season of high school sports, but turned out to be a team member who got regular playing time throughout most of the campaign, helping the Nighthawks qualify for the state playoffs.

Talk about a prime example of perseverance and not giving up paying off.

“I think it’s super to inspire young people,” Coach Amblo said.

If At First You Don’t Succeed...

Amblo is a proponent of players being encouraged to try out again and continuing to play.

“Young people change drastically,” said Amblo, adding that each year begins with a clean sheet, and players have to prove themselves all over again in the program. This coach believes there are too many instances of young athletes not making teams and never having a chance to play again, referring to a throw-away society behind unfair decisions that lead to players exiting the game at a young age.

“It’s sad they get cut, and it’s said they quit. This guy gutted it out. This is a case of a kid who said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Amblo said.

Sean may have embraced his role last year, but he particularly enjoyed being a part of the game action with the Nighthawks this fall.

“It’s exciting to be able to impact the game,” the senior said. “The adrenaline of feeding off all these people watching you play,” is what he likes best about playing soccer, adding that connections made with teammates is also something he enjoys. “The toughest thing for me is if I’m not playing on the field — watching and not being able to do something about it.”

That must have made things particularly difficult for Sean during his junior year, but his stick-to-itiveness was inspiring to Coach Amblo.

“It makes me glad I came out of retirement to coach,” said the coach, who has announced his retirement from the NHS program this fall, a campaign that saw the Hawks tie New Milford for the South-West Conference’s Sportsmanship Award.

High school soccer may be done for Sean, but the next phase of his educational career awaits. He will attend the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park, N.Y., and decide if he wants to stay on the culinary side or business side of the career. He has the rest of his senior year and at least the start of his college life to figure that out.

Coach Amblo reflects on Sean’s two seasons and notes that he left quite an impact on the team.

“He was keeping stats; he was getting things organized for pregame,” the coach said of Sean’s junior year. “The few times that he could not make games, he was missed. I missed him as a manager, and now I’ll miss him as a player.”

Sean McKinley boots the ball up the field during a game this fall. He did not make the team in his junior year last fall but stuck around as a manager, made the cut this season, and played a key role in games. (Bee Photos, Hutchison)
Sean McKinley controls the ball in the midfield.
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