July 11th, 2014

Hyland's Heroes: Debbie Cunningham

Kay Whelan

Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Debbie Cunningham
The Cunningham family / photo provided by the Cunningham family

The following feature is a part of a bi-weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland. "Hyland's Heroes" is a series of profiles that spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports.

Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero”? Send your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

Field Hockey is a late spring – early summer CSAA sport. Though commonly played in the fall, the sport is more easily accommodated during this time period when the various field sites are less in demand and the time constraints of volleyball on the girls does not interfere.

At St. Patrick school the 8th grade field hockey team is coached by Debbie Cunningham, who grew up in New Jersey. Now a resident of Louisville she has brought her knowledge and skills to share with the girls. In her repertoire of experiences, Debbie has also served as the assigning secretary for field hockey officials. This year she concentrated on coaching only.

Debbie enjoyed playing softball and field hockey in her youth, then attended Ohio University as an undergrad. Since college she has earned a Masters’ degree and served in the United States Air Force as an Operations Officer.

Debbie and her husband, Mike, are the parents 3 children: Margaret, their youngest at St. Patrick, Rebecca a graduate of Washington U, and Michael an Army ROTC cadet at Western Kentucky University. Obviously, they have a busy family between work and play – but coaching Field Hockey has proven to be a wonderful way to participate in parish life at St. Patrick.

When and how did you get your start with the CSAA? Why so?  

I started with the field hockey program 13 years ago when my oldest daughter wanted to play a sport. I volunteered to coach because of my playing experience.

Who asked you to contribute or what got you involved?

The parents in my daughter’s class were very involved in volunteering in numerous activities. Coaching was a way to contribute to such a strong community.

What sports did you coach and for how long?

I started coaching 13 seasons ago for a handful of years. I continued with the field hockey program officiating games until my youngest was old enough to play the sport.

What's the connection with your faith (stewardship) & giving your time to young student athletes? 

I am extremely grateful to the community of St. Patrick. The countless volunteers in a variety of activities from church ministries to numerous school events were outstanding role models and mentors to my children. I too, want to contribute to the community and help guide students to learn good sportsmanship, teamwork, and service.

Who was the most influential person on your coaching career? Why? (Could be former coach, parent, teammate, spouse)

My elementary softball coaches were very influential due to their patience and kindness. Softball was the only female sport offered in our town. I was very excited to play, but extremely small physically. They were always positive and encouraging.

What are your major themes/principles as a coach?  

Playing at the grade school level the girls have an enormous opportunity to grow. Each player needs playing time. I try to balance the playing time regardless of skill level or game. I want the girls to have fun, improve individually and support each other on and off the field. Middle school girls need a chance to lead. I am there to organize and guide the team, but I encourage them to work with each other and make it their team.

What does coaching bring to you, your family?

I am fortunate to coach with my older daughter. It has been fun working together and coaching my youngest daughter.

What are the fondest experiences or memories you have of coaching? 

It is very rewarding to observe the young players develop into better athletes with their sportsmanship and playing abilities. The best team experiences are the tournament games won in triple overtime; known in field hockey as strokes. I am a kindergarten teacher and enjoy the balance of working with the girls at a very young age and then again during middle school. My best memories are watching them play their best and enjoy playing.


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