The first message came via Instagram a little before 4 this afternoon: “Coach Sebe passed away this morning.”
It was sent from a Trumbull soccer parent with the tragic news that Sebe Gangemi, the school’s gregarious and immensely popular boys coach, had succumbed to his 13-month battle with leukemia.
I was at Fairfield Warde with a baseball game about to start and it took me an inning or two to focus as I tried to process the news. Soon came an email from a league coach, then another, then a text message. Now, more than six hours later, several coaches and school administrators have reached out.
The quick distribution of information was not surprising. Sebe was liked and respected by all. Every coach has angered someone at some point, at the very least a parent. But Sebe was beloved in his community, by his players, by opposing coaches.
Sebe’s coaching career ended last fall with his fourth FCIAC title in 14 years. Every coach had the same sentiment: if we couldn’t win, I’m glad it was Sebe.
Here is the quote from Danbury’s Antony Howard after his team suffered the 1-0 loss in what was an extremely well played final deserving of two victors:
“It’s kind of bittersweet. If I have to lose to anybody this year, losing to Sebe, it’s kind of the ending that fit the bill,” Howard said. “He obviously has had a lot on his plate this year and I think he’s an example to everybody there’s more to life than soccer. He’s going through a lot right now but at the same time it shows you the impact of high school athletics, and the passion and enjoyment that it gives the players and the coaches. It was a good game. It could have gone either way I think. I’m happy for Sebe and his boys. I can live with that.”
It was family first, then soccer, for Sebe. It was his passion, especially working with high school players. During his battle last fall he tried to ensure that his two most lucid hours were for practices and games.
Sebe never shed his smile. He was always upbeat. Soccer proved to be the needed respite.
“I count the days when we are going to play again,” Sebe told me after a game last fall. “My spirits are great. What helps me is being part of the team. Doing the coaching, which I love. That helps out a lot.”
Sebe was part of a much bigger team: the FCIAC soccer team. It is a close-knit community bonded by mutual respect. Coaches, players, officials — even the media — are united for the passion of a beautiful game.
That team is grieving today. Sebe would rather you smile from a favorite memory than shed a tear.
Right now it is a struggle to try and do both.