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Youth Boys Jun 28, 2010

Local soccer coach Sean Lanigan makes happy return to the sidelines

By Travis Clark

For Sean Lanigan, 2010 has been a journey to hell and back. The Centreville, Va. soccer coach saw his world crumble around him – his teaching job, his coaching positions, his standing in his family’s community – earlier this year, when he faced a sexual assault charge by one of his sixth-grade physical education students at Centre Ridge Elementary School and went on trial facing jail time.

May 27 brought good news however, as the accuser’s story never really matched up. It took less than an hour for the jury to reach a unanimous not guilty verdict. According to court transcripts, it appears the accuser was merely angry about the possibility of being disciplined for bullying, and made the accusations about Lanigan in an attempt to avoid her own punishment.

Shortly after the court handed down its decision, the Virginia Youth Soccer Association reinstated Lanigan in all soccer activities, giving him a chance to move on and not only return to the calling he loves, but to also try and get his life back together.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve had all spring. Just getting back on the field, letting the kids know that I’m back. Life is good,” he told Potomac Soccer Wire last week.

Lanigan had been a respected coach and well-liked teacher. He has long been an active in the Northern Virginia soccer community, working with a variety of organizations in the area, including D.C. United’s Youth Academy, Top Notch Soccer Camps, the Reston Soccer Association, and has coached at Herndon High School as well as a number of other select teams.

As he endured his legal ordeal, Lanigan’s reputation came under question, and he was forced away from the game. It was a difficult prospect for someone who has been involved with soccer in the region for more than 20 years. The ties he forged in the soccer community helped him cope with the harrowing experience of the sexual assault accusations and the trial that followed.

“The parents, the kids, the community had been asking the question all along ‘why?’” Lanigan noted. “They’ve been, from the very get-go, believing in me, knowing that the truth will eventually come out.”

That support will continue to carry Lanigan through the next few months as well. The high cost of a proper defense has taken its toll, not to mention the fact that Lanigan was suspended from his job without pay once the charges were levied. To help him and his family cope with the financial toll, a legal defense fund has been set up in his name.

With the legal trouble behind him at least, getting back on with life is something Lanigan hopes to achieve as soon as possible. That process began in earnest when he was back on the pitch in early June, running tryouts for teams he’ll lead in the fall. A fresh perspective has accompanied Lanigan in his return to coaching, and in the few weeks he’s spent back in a familiar role, he’s already noticed a shift in perspective.

“[The experience] has changed my attitude towards what’s important in life. U-12 soccer games, in the big scheme of things, are just not as important,” he said. “My approach to the game is the game – to be competitive, to win, to learn. But the end result of the game, I don’t dwell on it.

“I’m making more of an emphasis on not dwelling on the negative parts of the game. I focus in on the positive. This whole experience has changed that – my positive outlook on what teams are doing well, as opposed to picking off two or three things during the game that we didn’t do well and dwelling on those. I’ve noticed a big difference in the last three weeks, just personally, internally, and it’s definitely showing, I think, through the kids right now.”

After seeing spring pass by without the ability to spend time in his familiar coaching role, Lanigan gushed about the community support he’s received in his return to the sidelines.

“The transition has been absolutely superb. I’ve been welcomed back to the soccer community 100 percent,” Lanigan said. “I knew my teams personally were itching to have me back, but the people outside that I hadn’t met before or didn’t know that well, it’s very touching that they would come out of their way, leave their practice or stay after just to get two minutes with me, just to say that their thoughts and prayers were with me the entire time. It’s very humbling.”

Lanigan will also get a chance to spend time on the field with all three of his children this fall. He’ll be coaching his son, Daniel, with U9 team Herndon Premier Black in the NCSL. Along with that, he’ll be coaching his two daughters in the WAGS League, for the U-14 Herndon Strikers, while resuming his coaching duties with the U-17 McLean Celtic White and U-18 Herndon Blackhawks.

With the tryouts behind him, Lanigan plans to lay low for a bit, take a few weeks off from soccer and unplug. The harrowing ordeal has left his teaching future unresolved for the fall, but for now he can revel in the fact he is once again on the sidelines, nurturing and teaching the area’s young soccer talent.