Early in August, Tom Cunningham was hired as Haldane’s new Athletic Director, Dean of Students and Director of Health and Physical Education for grades K-12. Prior to coming to Haldane, Cunningham served as coordinator of fall and winter sports at Somers Middle School. He also taught and coached lacrosse, wrestling and football. He recently spoke with Philipstown.info’s Michael Turton. Questions and responses have been condensed.
Philipstown.info: So, were you a jock in high school?
Cunningham: I played soccer, lacrosse and wrestling. I did pretty well in wrestling. I come from a wrestling family. My dad was a coach and an athletic director.
Philipstown.info: Where did you attend college?
Cunningham: I got my degree in Phys. Ed. at Ithaca College and my Masters in Recreation at SUNY Cortland. I received my degree in Administration from Mercy College
Philipstown.info: Did you take part in intercollegiate sports?
Cunningham: I crewed.
Philipstown.info: How good a job did you do in balancing athletics with school work?
Cunningham: Actually I think sports really helped me develop good time management skills. In high school it was practice after school, then home for dinner, then homework.
Philipstown.info: Why did you move from a higher paying job in Somers to Haldane?
Cunningham: I have certain life goals. I’ve always wanted the job I’m in now. That’s why I earned my degree in Administration. When this opportunity came along I jumped on it.
Philipstown.info: What do you see as your biggest challenge as you take over the reins at Haldane?
Cunningham: I’ll probably be able to answer that better in a few months! Developing a good, daily routine will be important. I taught in the classroom for thirteen years and I coached high school sports. This will be very different — not as “hands on.” I think being seen as a resource for the high school students will be a challenge I’m looking forward to.
Philipstown.info: A 2001 study by the Center for Disease Control estimated that about 5% of high school students use steroids. What has your experience been and how concerned are you about steroid use in this part of New York State?
Cunningham: From my personal experience at Somers I have not seen it. Was it going on”¦? I didn’t know of any of it there. Kids are more educated now because of what has happened in baseball. A concern I have now is the use of supplements available over the counter. With some of these energy drinks a kid may be good for the first half of a game and then crash in the second half.
Philipstown.info: Professional sports are in the media every day. How much of what we see is a good influence on student athletes?
Cunningham: It’s like most news coverage — we don’t see enough of the good news stories. Like the Yankee players who help the physically disabled. We hear about Alex Rodriguez instead.
Philipstown.info: What is your main interest in life outside of sports?
Cunningham: My kids. I have two daughters ages six and eight.
Philipstown.info: What kind of reading do you enjoy?
Cunningham: Most of it centers around sports. I read a great book recently about Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus – two real competitors who became great friends. It was a real tear-jerker actually.
Philipstown.info: As Dean of Students what is your number one priority?
Cunningham: Dealing with discipline and the Code of Conduct. It’s at the top of my list of challenges. I’ve dealt with discipline in the classroom but not as an administrator. This will give me a new perspective on students – from outside the classroom.
Philipstown.info: You’re also the Director of Health and Phys Ed. What do you see as the greatest challenge in the area of student health?
Cunningham: Obesity is one of the biggest problems in our society. Kids have to learn how to eat better, to exercise. We used to play outside a lot. Kids now have to be convinced — to go to a gym, or take karate or to take part in other activities. If students are made aware of opportunities they can find something of interest — like all the trails around here.
Philipstown.info: Who is responsible for ensuring that students on sports teams focus enough attention on their grades?
Cunningham: It’s everybody’s job. It falls to all of us. Teachers, coaches, guidance counselors — and me. It’s important that kids know someone is looking out for them.
Philipstown.info: As Athletic Director do you coach any of Haldane’s teams?
Philipstown.info: When you go home after a rough day — what is your comfort food of choice?
Cunningham: I’m a snacker. I love “Cheez-its.” But for a real meal, I’d say a nice steak done on the grill with a potato and green beans.
Philipstown.info: In Little League baseball and other non school-based sports, it’s not uncommon for parents’ behavior to be less than desirable. Is the same true of school-based athletics?
Cunningham: That’s a tricky question. If there is good communication across the board I believe that will solve most of the problems that might come up with parents. The majority of our coaches are educators and I think that helps.
Philipstown.info: Is there a gender gap in school athletics or do girls now have the same opportunities as their male counterparts?
Cunningham: I think there is equal opportunity now. And not just in schools but in communities. My daughter is eight and she just played lacrosse for the first time. That opportunity wasn’t there ten years ago.
Philipstown.info: Where did you go for a summer vacation this year?
Cunningham: My wife and I went to Bermuda for our tenth wedding anniversary.
Philipstown.info: What is your most memorable moment in sport?
Cunningham: As a junior at Ithaca College my crew team went 12-0, an undefeated season. In our last race we were half a boat-length behind and our coxswain called for an early sprint. It was a photo finish. We won. No one could speak we were so exhausted. It was so great — everyone had to work in perfect unison.
Philipstown.info: On a scale of 1 — 10 how would you rate your skills as a dancer — with a 10 putting you on “Dancing with the Stars”?
Cunningham: Probably about a two! Dancing has never been very high on my list.
(Photo by Mike Turton)