By Russ Lay | Outer Banks Voice on March 15, 2021
In this installment, we meet Tim Sweeney. Sweeney serves as Dean of the College of the Albemarle’s Dare County campus, which will soon move into new digs being constructed along Highway 64 in Manteo.
Sweeney is a long-time veteran in the field of public education and is a tireless advocate for COA and its Dare campus. While some of our past interviewees have been reticent about being in the spotlight, Sweeney welcomes any chance afforded to him to tell the COA story and encourage more adults and younger students to avail themselves of the academic, vocational and continuing education opportunities offered by the college.
But there’s more to Sweeney than his duties as campus dean as we shall soon discover. Let’s find out.
Q: Your friends know you’re a big sports fan and that passion has played a role in your public education career. Let’s explore that connection first.
A: I grew up in Staten Island, New York. I played high school basketball at St. Peter High School in New York City. I grew up in a basketball family. My dad, Butch Sweeney, coached me and my three brothers in the Catholic Youth League in NY. From St. Peter High School, my dad wanted me to look into going to school in the south. I was fortunate to play for Old Dominion University and be coached by Sonny Allen – famous for the Sonny Allen Fastbreak. My basketball experience at ODU led me to pursuing an education major.
This also led me to stay in Norfolk, Virginia when I was offered a teaching position. While I was doing student teaching at Booker T. Washington High School, they offered me what would be my first coaching job as the Junior Varsity Baseball coach.
Q: And that’s when you transitioned to teaching?
A: After two years of teaching, I was appointed as Dean of Discipline at Lake Taylor Middle School. In 1977, I was then offered the Head Coaching position at Norfolk Catholic High School. In 1984, I was promoted to Assistant Principal at Granby High School. I was there for twelve years. After Granby, I advanced to Principal at Northside Middle School. This school is located near the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk. We were able to transform the school, with partnership assistance from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, into an Environmental Hands-On Science school.
(In 1998, as he explains, Sweeney became principal of Heritage High School in Newport News, where his son Tim Jr. was a student at the time.) Heritage is located in a very low socio-economic community. The challenge was to connect to the parents and students, to trust the school staff and teachers. In 1998, we were able to create a Magnet School in Science and Technology. Heritage High School and the community taught me to first “capture a student’s heart, then you can capture their mind.” This has become my educational philosophy for as long as I can remember.
In 2007, I was asked to accept a transfer to develop and build a new school called the Achievable Dream Middle and High School. ADMHS is a year-round school dedicated to supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. After four years, I started work at the College of The Albemarle.
Q: The new campus in Dare will be ready to accept students in late 2021 or early 2022. What does the new facility mean to Dare County?
A: The new campus being built in Manteo is a game changer for our Dare community. The new facility will be a high-tech building equipped to connect our students to other campuses and also throughout the world. This will allow our students to travel less and gain access to many more programs of study.
The Career and Technical classes have also been added at the new campus. Electrical, Plumbing, Construction, along with HVAC and Welding, will be housed on campus in the existing Professional Arts Building. Of course, there will still be the cultural arts classes, such as Professional Craft Jewelry, Ceramics, and the Pottery, Drawing, and Painting classes offered through Continuing Education.
Q: Your license plate reads “Yanks1.” Explain!
A: My license plate is a nod to one of my greatest passions since I was young – the New York Yankees. I love my ‘Yanks 1’ plate! Yes, I am a Yankee fan!
My dad, a New York City detective, was a big time Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio fan. I grew up going to Yankee Stadium. Dad would give me, and my brothers subway fare and money and we would attend between 20-40 games watching the game sitting in the bleachers, often going early to watch batting practice. Dad knew we were safe inside and not on the streets hanging out. We would often go early for batting practice. Today we all have baseballs hit into the right field bleachers by many legendary Yankees such as Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and many more.
Yup! Twenty-Seven World Series Wins! How many do your Red Sox have, Russ Lay?
Q: The Outer Banks is a long way from New York City and quite different from Hampton Roads. What were your first impressions when you came here? And have they changed?
A: The first shock to this New York boy was going from NYC to Old Dominion University. Small town Norfolk versus NYC — “They roll up the sidewalks at midnight.”
After settling here and finding employment, I was told about a new development called Southern Shores on the Outer Banks. Having fond memories of the Jersey Shore and family vacations growing up, I bought the second lot sold as an investment at the age of 24. First, the lot gained a rental house and eventually that was a rental no more. It became a getaway for only the family – for years.
While at College of The Albemarle in Elizabeth City, I continued to commute daily from my home in Norfolk. Eventually, I was asked to accept a position as Dean of the Dare Campus. Once the decision was made to accept, our homes were flipped to a smaller one in Norfolk, and the cottage here in Southern Shores was sold for a larger “home.”
So, there wasn’t a lot of transition. However, there was such happiness at being able to finally call the Outer Banks home. All these years, my family had referred to me as Mr. Outer Banks, now I was able to live this love. Each morning as I drive to work, I am reminded just how lucky I am to be here in a beautiful home across from the sound.
Q: You love to travel. Some favorite places?
A: Aruba – of all the island destinations, it is affordable, not too far, beautiful ocean and scenery, nice mix of restaurants and shops, easy to get around.
Ireland, of course – My father is from County Cork. It is by far the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Just to be able to travel around the whole county was a thrill for me. Everywhere I went they knew of the Sweeney clan. Of course, I enjoyed my Guinness and Jameson while in Ireland. The history came to life after visiting Northern Ireland and traveling down the coast.
(Tim left this out, but he often travels to the Tampa area to see the Yankees at Spring training and he visits several of the other MLB team’s facilities in the Tampa Bay area.)
Q: You’re not working. What will we find you doing on the OBX?
A: Believe it or not, I love Fantasy Baseball. I refuse to take any Red Sox players on my team! I do also love swimming, biking, and going to the beach with my two dogs – Joba and Dudley. We run the beach.
Q: Favorite local hangouts?
A: Absolutely love the ocean and sound. Therefore, I am not only looking to hang out with a great view, but I also am looking for great seafood. I love seafood. I travel all around the Outer Banks and Manteo. In Duck, you might find me in a restaurant on the sound. South of Duck, you can find me in restaurants looking at the ocean. When in Manteo, it’s in the downtown restaurants and along Hwy 264 – and in Wanchese, definitely in O’Neal’s. You can’t go wrong on the OBX finding a nice bar and great seafood.