Posted: Monday, August 13th 2012 at 11:48pm
S. Habersham field house to be named in memory of coach Cunningham
By Rob Moore Editor
CLARKESVILLE – A Habersham County coach and teacher who influenced countless lives will be memorialized at the school he loved.
On Monday, the Habersham County Board of Education voted 4-0 to name the field house at South Habersham Middle School for Sammy Cunningham, who gave 33 years of service to the school system.
“There’s a lot of community support,” said Superintendent Matthew Cooper.
“Being new to the community, unfortunately I didn’t have the honor of knowing Coach Cunningham,” Cooper said. “Based on the things I’ve been told, I think he’s very deserving of this honor, so I’d make a recommendation to the board of education that we name the field house at South Habersham Middle School in honor of Sammy Cunningham.”
As part of his recommendation, Cooper said the administration, athletic boosters, coaches, and teachers at SHMS will plan “a special day during the football season this year and make this happen.”
Board Member Robert Barron made the motion to adopt Cooper’s recommendation, with Gilbert Barrett providing a second.
“I think it’s a great honor, it’s very well deserved, and one of these days I’ll be happy to tell my kids who that name is,” said Board Chairman Trent DeMore.
“I’m not in favor of naming anything after anybody, but in this case I would go along with it 100 percent,” said Board Member Rick Williams. “He was an honorable man.”
“In all honesty, Sammy took an interest and not only was it on the field, but it was off the field, even up until he passed away back in January,” Barrett said. “Two months prior to that, he was concerned about a family that was living in Habersham County that had students at South Habersham. The dad did not have a job and there were about six kids, and he was concerned about their well-being and their welfare. That’s just the kind of man he was. He was concerned about all aspects of the student, not just athletics.”
Janet Roberts Kinsey then thanked the board for its decision, offering comments about Cunningham’s leadership.
“I am honored to stand before you today, on behalf of South Habersham and the family of Sammy Cunningham, and simply remind you of another Habersham County icon,” Kinsey said.
“Like Coach Larry Black, titled the winningest coach at Habersham Central after an 11-year record of 71 wins and 39 losses, Coach Cunningham is the winningest coach in the history of Habersham County,” Kinsey said. “His football record being 249 wins, 69 losses, 12 ties; his basketball record being 415 wins, 120 losses, 10 ties.”
Drawing a parallel between Capt. Hilliard A. Wilbanks, for whom Wilbanks Middle School was named, and Cunningham, Kinsey talked of Cunningham’s sacrifice for his students.
Cunningham “didn’t do it with an M-16,” Kinsey said. “He did it from the classroom, the football field, and his home, armed with books, a whistle, and a willing heart. He didn’t fly in a Bird Dog aircraft. He picked up kids in an old grey and white Ford with cattle rails and took them for tutoring, or practice, or to his house to get a hot meal that his wife Faye had prepared.”
She also noted when the ninth grade was moved to Habersham Central, he coached the Lady Raiders basketball team from 1992-93 with a 22 wins-6 losses record and a trip to the quarterfinals.
Cunningham retired in 1993. He was inducted in the Habersham County Football Ring of Honor in 2001.
“In 2011, Coach Cunningham came out of retirement to coach one last winning football season beside David Nichols and Jerry Williams,” Kinsey said. “They led the Rebels to a 5-1 record. It was shortly after the football season, on Jan. 18, 2012, that Sammy Cunningham fought his last good fight – this time at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.”
As Kinsey concluded her presentation, she became teary as emotions almost overcame her for a few seconds.
“There is a small white cement building on the edge of an unmarked grassy field,” Kinsey said. “The paint is flaking, the floors are bare. Sometimes you can hear the rattle of the old, uneven washing machine tossing and turning. Worn and torn red and white jerseys hang on hooks for lack of lockers. Helmets are marked with masking tape and a Sharpie. A tiny dry erase board is scattered with Xs and Os. The few bleachers that exist there are metal, the concession stand small, there’s no band playing, and no big lights to attract bugs from miles away. Where am I? I’m at the Coach Sammy Cunningham Field House. Thank you so much for your consideration and your vote. He is well deserving!”
“You will always and forever be a legacy, Coach Cunningham, that forever exists because South Habersham is synonymous with Coach Sammy Cunningham,” Kinsey said.
Almost before she finished, Kinsey received a standing ovation from the board and the audience in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.
SHMS Head Football Coach David Nichols then thanked the board for giving the school the opportunity to honor Cunningham, and to allow the school to preserve its football tradition.
“At South Habersham, there are still 21 boys that are still hurting,” Nichols said. “As we take to the practice fields this summer, we are still constantly reminded that our team is incomplete. As you know, last January we lost someone very special to us. This person was a great teacher, he was a great mentor, and a great family man, and although he certainly excelled in each of those areas, when we lost Coach Sammy Cunningham, we lost much more than that. We lost a piece of ourselves and a piece of our tradition.”
“You can’t mention South Habersham without invoking the legacy of Coach Sammy Cunningham, and his life serves as the centerpiece of a tradition that unites us all,” Nichols said. “It brings the people of South all together in a shared belief that we are part of something special, something much larger than ourselves ….”
Nichols pointed out that Cunningham was much more than a coach, and that he taught life lessons.
“If nothing else, Sammy’s example undeniably taught us two of life’s greatest truths,” Nichols said. “No. 1 is if you really want something, you must be willing to work extremely hard to get it. And No. 2, always have the courage to look others in the eye and tell them the truth, even if it’s not what they want to hear …. Hard work and courage is the legacy that he left us, and as the head football coach at South Habersham, I feel personally responsible for seeing that legacy continue.”
© Copyright 2013 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.