It was 21 years ago that Sean McInerney of Buffalo Grove died in an auto accident on his way home from Harper College.
A much-loved athlete, student and son in a family with roots deep in the community, his tragic loss was felt by many.
“He fell asleep at the wheel and hit a guardrail,” said his father, Jim McInerney.
But Sean hasn’t been forgotten, thanks to , which next week puts on the 20th annual Sean McInerney Basketball tournament in his honor.
“He was just a good son, brother and all-around good person,” said his father, who now lives in Arlington Heights with his wife, Peggy, and has two other children, Regina and Jamie.
“He had lots of friends at St. Mary’s,” Jim McInerney said. “He then went to Carmel (Catholic High School) in Mundelein and then to Harper.”
Ann Gramm, former athletic director at St. Mary’s, started the tournament in 1991.
"Sean was really a great kid and his mom and dad were good friends of ours, so we figured what better way to honor a great kid who was such a great athlete than to honor him with this tournament," she said. "I know it meant a lot to Jim and it still does to honor him (Sean) and his legacy."
Sean played golf, basketball and baseball. His favorite “was a tossup between golf and baseball,” his dad said, “but he was a real good basketball player, too.”
Vic Rose, former athletic director at St. Mary’s, remembers Sean.
“He was a great kid, and a good athlete,” he said, “an all-around nice kid, listened well, took directions very well. On the basketball side, he became one of the top players on the team.”
Gramm remember Sean as a "gym rat."
"He lived for athletics. He hung around the gym a lot," she said. "He always wanted to have a ball, a bat or a golf club in his hand. He was there all the time; he loved it."
Sports was only part of Sean McInerney’s life; he was also an organ donor. After his death, his heart was donated to a man who had only days to live, Jim McInerney said.
“The man who received Sean’s heart lived 17 years. He was going to die of heart disease in a month,” he said. “He had two sons with Sean’s heart, so Sean gave him the gift of life.”
This year’s tournament, which runs Dec. 26-28, will feature seven area Catholic grade schools playing in St. Mary's Duffy Activity Center.
“We have them as far away as Wadsworth,” said Mary Kantor, current athletic director at Saint Mary’s. “A total of 80 kids are involved this year between the eight teams.”
Those teams include St. Hubert (Hoffman Estates), St. Raymond (Mount Prospect), Sacred Heart (Winnetka), St. Patrick (Wadsworth), St. James (Arlington Heights), St. Alphonsus (Prospect Heights) and St. Mary’s.
Games will begin at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 26 and at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 27. Trophy presentations will follow the final games, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 28.
“What I really like about it (the tournament),” Kantor said, “is that Jim hands out the trophies at the championship games."
“As part of the presentation, he talks about Sean and his love of sports and the importance of education. So we are hoping the kids realize that this is important.”