By Steve Williams
Knoxville Catholic Coach Sean O’Neil had heart surgery four days prior to this year’s KIL Track and Field Meet, but had a speedy recovery and was at the meet the following Monday.
In fact, he made it to the Volunteer Track Classic at UT that Saturday, two days after his surgery.
O’Neil hadn’t been feeling well and doctors discovered a tiny hole in his heart.
“The hole is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO), and it’s not that uncommon,” said Sean. “About one in four people have it. Usually it doesn’t cause any problems, but in my case the doctors think a blood clot passed through the hole and caused a mini stroke. I didn’t know I had a PFO until then. After that they decided to close it up so it wouldn’t happen again.
“Everything went well.”
At the KIL meet that Tuesday, Catholic distance runner Keegan Smith talked about his coach’s absence and quick return.
“He was not at practice on Thursday and Friday, but on Saturday he was at the VTC, where some of his team members were competing,” said Keegan, who was among those competitors.
“It just shows how much he is dedicated to the sport and all of his runners. He just wants us to do our best and be there to watch us succeed.”
Smith said the team made Coach O’Neil two cards – one for when he was in the hospital and then a big poster card for when he returned.
“We gave him the first one on Wednesday and he opened it right after he got out of surgery (the next morning) because it was a ‘Get well soon’ card,” said Keegan. “Then we showed him (the poster) at practice on Monday.
“He sent us a nice text message Thursday right after he got out of surgery. It was a text to the whole team, saying that he was doing well and he felt really loved after reading the card. It made us all feel happy.”
Regarding his quick recovery, O’Neil said at the KIL meet: “It’s amazing. I feel great. A couple days (after the surgery), I felt amazing. It’s pretty miraculous what doctors can do.”
PREVIOUS BEST: O’Neil, who is in his 10th season as head coach, said Catholic’s previous best showings in KIL team standings had been third place.
“The boys had finished third in 2014 and 2015, and the girls finished third in 2021,” he pointed out. “We had never come close to cracking the top two.”
But this year, his girls finished first and his boys third.
CHLOE’S DAY: O’Neil said freshman Chloe Truss had a great day and it started with “a surprise win in the 100. She wasn’t favored to win that one. In the 400, it was her first time breaking 57 seconds, and then she tripled with the win in the 200, her first time breaking 25 seconds. So she’s definitely peaking at the right time and doing her best running when it matters most.”
Chloe was less than a second away from breaking the KIL record in the 400.
BATTLING BACK: Karns junior Hannah Little got a late start in track this season due to a stress fracture in her foot. She finished second to Truss in the 400 with a time of 59.21.
A NEW PLAN: New Hardin Valley coach Chris Kane said Gracie Waite, this year’s KIL champion in the discus and shot put, “is already being recruited by several Power 5 schools who are interested in her as a junior.”
Waite has been a multi-sport athlete at HVA, also playing basketball. “But as I understand it, she’s done playing basketball and will concentrate on the field events her senior year,” said Kane.
Gracie started competing in the weight throw this past indoor season. She first took up the discus and shot put events in the seventh grade.
WINDY WEATHER: Running into a headwind slowed Maddie Archdale’s time in the KIL 1600 run to 5:11.
“The wind was definitely a major factor,” said the HVA junior. “Running into it is tough. I was in front most of the race, so I was getting all that wind.
“It’s definitely hard and challenging, but we’ve been racing in pretty windy conditions this whole season, so having that experience has helped a lot.”
A week earlier, Archdale had run a 4:59 in the mile run in a meet at Louisville, Ky., that converted to a 4:57 time for the 1600 (her PR).
A KIL GUEST: Abby Sharpe, the lone senior on South-Doyle’s state champion 4×100 relay team last season, was at the KIL meet and saw her former teammates win again in the 4×100.
Instead of the nursing field, Sharpe said she is going to pursue a career in sports psychology.
The female Student-Athlete of the Year at S-D in 2022 and a cheerleader, Abby also said she had just completed All-Star cheer and might start working on college cheer. Trying out for a spot on the UT cheer squad could be in her future too.
MEDAL WINNERS: Quarterbacks at Bearden and Fulton last fall, Drew Parrott placed fifth in the KIL 100 dash and Marcellus Jackson took fifth in the long jump.
MAKING HER MARK: Liliane Helton won the KIL girls’ pole vault, going over the bar at 10 feet, 6 inches. It was a PR for the sophomore and also a Concord Christian school record. Incidentally, Liliane’s dad (Rodney) and her uncle (Todd) were talented athletes at Central High and beyond.
KIL NEWCOMER: Career Magnet Academy, in its first year of having a track program, had eight athletes in this year’s KIL meet. Coach Eli Nester was pleased to say: “Every single athlete got a personal best.”