TERRE HAUTE —
Ted Sweatt’s rivals and friends remember him as a fierce competitor with a positive attitude and a loyal friend.
He was “one of the unheralded greats of our time,” according to a column written by Jimmy Claus in the Terre Haute Tribune less than a week after Sweatt’s death in Vietnam.
Sweatt, one of Vigo County’s “50 Greatest Athletes of the 1900s” as compiled by the Tribune-Star in 1999, was killed Nov. 27, 1968, at age 21 just a year-and-a-half after enlisting in the U.S. Army.
One of a multitude of outstanding basketball players in Vigo County in the 1960s, Sweatt won a state championship for Wiley High School in the boys high jump in 1964, setting a state record with his leap of 6 feet, 6 3/4 inches.
Ted will be posthumously inducted into the 2014 Indiana Track & Field Hall of Fame tonight in Indianapolis.
The ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Keystone Crossing. A reception will take place Saturday at the Terre Haute Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which also is the site of the Hall of Fame Museum.
Members of the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association, veterans who served as dog handlers in the Vietnam War as Ted did, will be in attendance at Saturday’s reception. With When Ted requested to work as a dog handler in Vietnam, it was no surprise to Keith Sweatt, one of 10 Sweatt siblings.
“He loved his dogs, he loved challenges. You put a challenge out there, and if he can’t do it, there he’d go trying to show you he could do it,” Keith Sweatt said.
Sweatt was a product of a competitive, athletic family, Keith recalled from his home in Tiburon, Calif.
“With a couple older brothers that competed at everything, we beat him at everything. He got better than us,” Keith said. “It helps build your character, gives you stamina. Ability to lose and get back up.”
Mike Harris, another member of the “Vigo County Top 50 athletes” as published in 2000, remembered Sweatt’s prowess in high jump developing through a dilligence that started years earlier.
The Sweatt brothers built a high-jump pit in their backyard, digging up the ground and piling up dirt as a landing area.
“We stuck two poles in the ground, used dad’s old bamboo fishing pole as the bar, dug up the dirt for the landing area. I started jumping with him. As a big brother know-it-all, I quickly found out he was going to do anything I did. He never stopped.”
Harris remembers Sweatt losing a high-jump competition early in his senior season.
“He made it crystal clear he would not lose another contest the rest of the season. He held up true to form,” Harris said.
Sweatt’s leaping ability obviously translated well to the basketball floor, where he averaged 19.2 points per game as a senior.
“Here was a lad who could shoot with the most prolific, who was velvet-smooth on defense, who rebounded with devastation and who rarely showed his emotions,” Claus wrote in the Tribune.
Sweatt’s older brothers, Larry, Everett Jr., Keith and William, were skilled shooters and scorers for Wiley.
“One time Everett scored 100 points in one day, scored 39 in the morning and 61 at night in a tournament in Terre Haute,” Harris recalled.
Harris, who lived his teenage years with his grandparents, spent a lot of time at the home of Everett Sr. and Dorothy Sweatt on South 13th Street. Harris, who would accept a scholarship to play football at Kansas University after a three-sport career at Schulte High School, said the Sweatt family had a huge impact on his childhood overall.
“A lot of my success had to do with being associated with Ted and his brothers,” Harris said. “Mr. Sweatt was the type of guy that if Ted scored 20 or Keith scored 30, he’d say you should’ve scored 30 or should’ve scored 40,” Harris said. “[Mr. Sweatt] wouldn’t let you get down on yourself. That wasn’t accepted. The way he handled it was don’t let it grow on you. No matter what happens, you stay positive.”
A Wiley teammate who grew up in the same neighborhood, Terre Haute resident Harold Allen recalls Sweatt being a strong leader in high school.
“As a guard, I didn’t get to start. He said ‘Harold, I’m going to go talk to the coach.’ He actually told the coach, ‘if he don’t get to play, I’m not going to play.’” Allen said. “He was the star of the team. Everything was centered around him. He was a terrific scorer. Most of our offense was centered around him scoring. He was a real good leader.”
Sweatt accepted a basketball scholarship offer to attend Southern Illlinois, where he would have had the chance to play with Walt Frazier had he stayed.
Sweatt returned home to Terre Haute and enrolled at Indiana State, hoping to compete in athletics; however, he never gained scholastic eligibility, according to a tribute to Sweatt published in the Tribune-Star.
Allen Dixon, a standout wide receiver at Gerstmeyer who grew up with Sweatt, recalls speaking with Sweatt prior to his leaving for the Army.
“I told him to hang in there. He came a few days later and said he’s going to the service. He had a seriousness in his voice. He said, ‘I’m leaving.’ That was a sad day for me,” Dixon said. “He was one of my good friends. I was at the same place on campus and somebody said Teddy Sweatt got killed in Vietnam. That was the two saddest times in my life at Indiana State.”
He was the 13th Vigo County native to die in the war and 813th Hoosier, according to a Terre Haute Star editorial that ran Dec. 5, 1968. Sweatt and his scout dog Britta were ambushed while on patrol in a no-combat zone.
“He felt he wanted to serve his country. He felt strongly, and I talked with him, that was what he wanted to do,” Keith Sweatt said.
Harris, who will be making the drive from Cleveland today to attend the ceremonies, said the loss of his friend was hard to take.
“Ted was as good a friend as anybody could be to another person,” Harris said. “We had an affinity for animals, cats and dogs. We went to a lot of movies, things like that. Just a real joy for me to have a friend like him. After that, the only ones to come close to that was his whole family. We spent a lot of time together and I miss him dearly.”
Dick Lawson, known as the first black player to start for Terre Haute Gerstmeyer’s basketball team in the late 1950s, competed against Ted’s older brothers but enjoyed watching Ted compete because of his modesty on the floor.
“Just the nicest guy you’d ever want to be,” Lawson said. “It was the saddest thing in my whole days on this Earth. It was a pleasure to know them. He was the type of kid that would listen to you. He didn’t want to be one of these kids that talk about being great. You do what you’ve got to do to be the best. Don’t you brag on yourself. You let the people brag on you.”