Sweetser, Dennis (2015)
“God gave me two strengths —
the ability to teach chemistry and the ability to teach the game of baseball”.
- Dennis Sweetser
“Through his dedication and commitment to everything he did ultimately defined him as an amazing individual. His commitment to his faith and his belief in people, community, kids, family and country was always his driving force. Whether it was his life commitment to teaching, the lifetime of service to his church, his commitment to the youth through Little League, Dennis always gave one hundred percent of himself to support those endeavors. These were things that Dennis believed in and knew that by doing so he could create a strong vibrant community.”
- James H. Miller III, Principal,
Edward Little High School
Dennis C. Sweetser was born in 1940, grew up in Auburn, attended local schools and graduated from Edward Little High School in 1957. He went on to graduate from Bates College, majoring in chemistry with a passion for teaching. On June 1, 1962 he married an Auburn girl, Donna Campbell. He and Donna moved to Bridgton, where he began his teaching career in chemistry and other science courses.
He also coached baseball and refereed basketball games. After two fun-filled years in Bridgton, Dennis moved on to Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, where he taught chemistry and physics. He was the jayvee basketball coach and assistant coach of a standout Hall-Dale team — winners of the Class C Championship. When a chemistry position became available at Edward Little High School, he jumped at the chance to return to his hometown and his alma mater.
He and Donna settled down, and Dennis stayed at ELHS for 33 years, becoming head of the Science Department and retiring in 2005 after a wonderfully fulfilling teaching career. He did coach 9th grade basketball and enjoyed refereeing basketball for many years. Dennis and Donna were blessed with three daughters — Debra Kirk, Karen Lewis and Mary Beth Galway. Later they would be blessed with six grandchildren — Cristina Lewis, Julia, Emily and Alex Kirk, Owen and Elizabeth Galway.
In 1967, Dennis became a coach for the Reliable Oil team (which eventually became Dead River Co.). These were boys 13-15, and he thoroughly enjoyed coaching at this age level. When the manager, Jim Murray, resigned his position, Dennis took over as manager and stayed on in that capacity until his death in 2009. He managed approximately twenty All-Star teams, going beyond the state level several times.
One of the highlights of his coaching experiences was going to the 1979 Little League World Series in Gary, Indiana, placing third behind Taiwan and Florida. This was an exciting time for ASLL and the Auburn community. He received many congratulatory messages from city and state officials as well as senators and congressmen from the national level. Also, he received many nice notes from the parents of the Maine All Stars. The boys represented ASLL and Auburn very well.
Another highlight was the 1989 addition of major softball at ASLL ,of which his youngest daughter, Mary Beth, was a member. The three Sweetser girls had grown up at the ballpark every summer, and now he finally had a Little Leaguer of his own and enjoyed watching her games. He would later enjoy watching his granddaughter, Crissy Lewis, play softball at ASLL. He felt honored several years ago when former Little Leaguer Bill Reynolds asked Dennis, as his former All-Star LL coach, to present him at his induction to the Auburn/Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame. When Bill was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, Dennis was asked again by Bill to present him at this event.
In All Star play, Dennis led his teams to nine State Senior League Championships, five New England championships, and one Eastern Championship and, of course, the ultimate 1979 trip to Gary, IN for the Little League World Series. However, he did enjoy coaching his regular teams as well during the summer. He won his 200th game in 1991 and his Dead River team went 20-0 that year.. His overall record for his Reliable Oil/Dead River Teams was 344-323. His All Star record was 101-47.
Dennis joined the ASLL Board of Directors several years ago as secretary and he eventually became treasurer for 12 years until his death. He established many lasting friendships throughout the years with the people at ASLL. He also was the groundskeeper for the ASLL fields and loved being at the ballpark early in the morning before going off to teach Chemistry at ELHS. There he would always have a few of his former ballplayers around his desk discussing baseball to start the day off right. He loved coaching these boys and then teaching some of them in chemistry, and he developed a great rapport with his students and ballplayers. In his spare time, Dennis also researched and recorded the history of ASLL.
On May 10, 2006, Dennis was honored for his 40 years of coaching and his dedication to ASLL. A field was named for him and a sign, stating SWEETSER FIELD was presented to him and it stands by that field today.
In 2008, Dennis was inducted into the Auburn/Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame for his dedication and accomplishments while coaching baseball at ASLL. Bill Reynolds introduced Dennis at this event and Dennis appreciated Bill’s words. This was a great honor for Dennis, and his plaque is on the wall at Gipper’s Restaurant in Auburn.
He thoroughly enjoyed working with the boys during his years as manager/coach, whether they were his Dead River players or All-Star players. He tried to instill in them the importance of dedication, responsibility and, at the same time, to have fun playing baseball. His love of the game and his enthusiasm never wavered throughout the years. During those years, he had wonderful coaches who assisted him, and he always spoke highly of them.
Unfortunately, he could not coach during his 43rd season, due to failing health. However, even to his dying day, he wanted to know how his Dead River boys were doing. He was very thankful for the coaches — Merton Gould and Bill Merrill — who carried on for him. Dennis passed away on June 16, 2009. His team did go on to win the Senior League Championship at ASLL in 2010.
The most significant display of affection for Dennis took place on the day of his funeral. The funeral procession took him through the ASLL Athletic Complex one final time, where all the teams were there in uniform to salute the man who had cheered and encouraged them for so long, the man they came to know as “coach” and the face of the Auburn Suburban Little League Program. This was the ultimate tribute given to someone who had done so much for his community and both the young and the older athletes who will never forget him. He was a teacher of the game.
On Wednesday, March 24, 2010, The House of Representatives honored Dennis by bestowing a sentiment upon him. This honor was given to him mainly for his 42-year dedication to ASLL. However, other attributes mentioned were his devotion and service to his beloved Court St. Baptist Church, his years of teaching in the classroom, along with his interest in history, especially the Civil War. In the Spring of 2011, Sweetser Field was dedicated along with a Memorial Garden that stands in front of the Sweetser sign. This garden was made possible with the funds donated to ASLL from relatives and friends at the time of Dennis’ death.
After being inducted into the Auburn/Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame, Dennis said, “I stand in awe of all the great athletes who are in this Hall of Fame, because I was not a gifted one. But, God gave me two strengths — the ability to teach chemistry and the ability to teach the game of baseball”.
“It was a fun thing,” said Dennis Sweetser, the team’s manager and a 40-year Auburn Suburban volunteer. “I remember Harold (Lucas) saying that being out there with those kids made him feel like he’d died and gone to heaven.”
Lin Roberts shared coaching duties with Sweetser. In addition to Reynolds, a power-hitting catcher, team personnel included Gary Violette, Mark Coutts, Brian Cameron, Paul Ames, Dave Mooney, Chip Bailey, Jim Simpson, Bruce Noddin, Lonnie Healy, Bob Taylor, Dave Roberts, Eric Peterlein and Mark Lashua.
Offense and defense were the team’s calling card.
“That was a talented group of kids,” Sweetser said. “Billy Reynolds and Gary Violette could hit home runs in every ballpark we played in. We didn’t have great pitching, but we always had enough to get by.”