The Minisink Valley Board of Education unanimously approved the naming of the high school’s varsity soccer field as “The Coach Sean T. Cunningham Soccer Pitch” at its March 30 meeting.
“This is a fitting tribute to a man who has given so much to our school community, the greater Minisink Valley community and specifically to the district’s soccer program,” said Board Vice President William Cooper. “There was no doubt in the Board’s collective mind that Coach Cunningham must be recognized in a way that is everlasting. We’re confident this recognition does this, and we know our community joins us in feeling the same way. We know Coach Cunningham was a humble man. His commitment was, first and foremost, to the students he was involved with. He positively impacted generations of students.”
50 years of dedicated service
Coach Cunningham, who passed away in early March, began his teaching career at Minisink Valley in 1973 as a physical education teacher at the old Otisville School. His coaching credentials include the junior varsity and modified girls basketball teams; boys and girls modified track teams; and the girls junior varsity and varsity soccer teams.
After his 2002 retirement, Coach Cunningham served as a physical education substitute teacher and continued coaching. But, his involvement in the school’s soccer program began in 1992 with the girls junior varsity soccer team as head coach, serving in that role until Spring 2021. When the opening for a girls varsity soccer head coach became available in Spring 2021, Coach Cunningham was appointed to it. During the 2020-21 school year, when COVID-19 impacted sports play, he led the girls varsity soccer team to a Section IX champion during the COVID-19 abbreviated season where Fall 2020 sports were played in Spring 2021.
Athletic Director Tim Bult conservatively estimated he had a direct head coach impact on well over 1,000 students; and taught physical education to over 4,000 students during his teaching tenure.
At the Board of Education meeting, Coach Cunningham’s positive impact was reinforced.
‘Teacher, coach, mentor, role model, friend, therapist and father-figure…’
“The greatest legacy anyone can leave behind is to positively impact the lives of others,” said Erin Natalizio, a high school math teacher who was also a soccer player and coached alongside Coach Cunningham. “’Coach C’ was a teacher, coach, mentor, role model, friend, therapist and father-figure all wrapped into one. His patience, support, trustworthiness and charismatic nature are just a few of the countless ways he’s made a lasting impression in his students’, athletes’ and our community’s eyes. He was positive, nurturing, uplifting, and always knew the right thing to say. In speaking with hundreds of former athletes, there is a common theme that is always brought up…and that was…. ‘Coach C’ brought out the best in every one of us.”
Physical Education Teacher Theresa Uhelsky also told the Board: “’Coach C’ was a genuine, appreciated and loved man, one of the kindest and most giving human beings many of us will ever know. ‘Coach C’ constantly did for others and led by example. He is the reason Minisink ‘bleeds green,’ and we can assure you that our lives are all better for having known him.”
Former students and soccer players also took the time to let the Board know their thoughts.
‘He taught me how to be a leader, how to communicate and how to work well with others.’
“There was nobody who could inspire you more than ‘Coach C.’” said Emily Bannon. “He was always calm on the sidelines and patient. He knew what we were capable of and had faith and confidence in our ability to perform to the level he trained us to compete at. We all wanted to work hard for him. Our goal was to make sure he could be proud of us and his hard work and dedication to us didn’t go to waste.”
Former student Beth McKeon agreed, noting: “Although I wasn’t the best player on the team, ‘Coach C’ made me captain. His faith in me was humbling. I worked hard because he made me want to be a better player and teammate. Of course, ‘Coach C’ wanted us to win, but more than anything he wanted us to feel supported and confident in ourselves and our ability.”
Kaitlyn Hansen, another former player, spoke about the important life skills Coach Cunningham taught her.
“’Coach C’ was a great coach, and an even better human being,” she said. “He not only helped me improve as a player, but he also taught me many valuable life skills. He taught me how to be a leader, how to communicate and how to work well with others. He always encouraged me to work hard and to push myself to achieve my goals. These are just a few of the many lessons I have taken away from him, but to me the most important lesson he taught me was to have confidence and to believe in myself.”
Former players also spoke about how Coach Cunningham incorporated his Irish heritage into his coaching work.
Green Skittles and shamrocks
“He always made me feel like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or like the spontaneous four-leaf clover you’d find doing your warm-ups,” said former player Keara Johnson. “The joy and happiness he brought to the game and the care he had for his players was unmatched. I would give anything to receive ‘lucky green Skittles’ before a game or to watch him spray paint a clover in the middle of the field again.”
His involvement in sports extended beyond the school district. He served in official roles with Orange County soccer, basketball, track and field and softball organizations. Coach Cunningham, a U.S. Army veteran, was a long-time member of the Elks Lodge 1097, Wallkill Engine #6 and the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
“This is man who epitomizes what it means to be a teacher, leader, mentor, coach and all of the important roles that help positively shape the character of our students,” added Superintendent Brian Monahan. “For every student he interacted with, we know he’s made their lives better and helped prepare them for being successful adults who will make great contributions to our community, or wherever they live. We’re grateful to have had him be such a positive role model for so many years. The naming of one of our fields in his honor and memory is a joy for us. And, we’ll make sure his beloved shamrocks are included in this recognition.”
The date for the official field dedication will be forthcoming.