Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

‘Coach Dan’ gets back in the game

09/28/2018 - 2pm
Dan Cunningham

Southwestern Michigan College’s new intramurals coordinator, Dan Cunningham, brings 42 years of educational experience, including teaching, coaching and as a high school principal and athletic director.
Cunningham, of Magician Lake, retired in 2016 after 12 years as principal of 1,800-student Concord High School in Dunlap, between Elkhart and Goshen.
One of his seven grandchildren got him to thinking when she asked at Easter whether he and his wife, Vicky, would be able to accompany them to Disney World that October. But relinquishing his lifelong passion proved tougher than expected.
“Being around students, conversing with them, seeing them participate and have fun, is rejuvenating,” Cunningham said. “I missed that. When you spend 42 years of your life with youth, it’s hard to let it go.”
Cunningham, whose younger brother is an automotive mechanic, was familiar with SMC before applying for the part-time position. “We used to send busloads of students from Concord,” he said. “It’s a hidden gem because there’s so much offered here affordably in a great setting and atmosphere. The facilities are tremendous, too.”
He has already organized four flag football teams. “Games are played on Monday and I referee,” he said. “We had about 30 students on five volleyball teams Tuesday. We played five games and had a blast. It can be competitive, but they were laughing and that’s what it’s about — trying new things, meeting new friends, getting involved.” Wednesdays feature intramural soccer and Thursdays are a wild card. As the seasons change, indoor soccer, floor hockey and basketball will join volleyball in the rotation.
Cunningham’s first physical education and health teaching job led into coaching at St. Joseph High School in South Bend. He evolved into athletic director at Knox High School and at his alma mater, consolidated Owen Valley High School in Spencer, between Bloomington and Terre Haute.
He spent 12 years as high school principal before joining Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C. “It was a great experience at an inner-city school,” he said, but with two daughters in Elkhart and Warsaw giving them grandchildren, an 11-hour drive proved daunting.
“We came back to northern Indiana,” Cunningham said. “I took the job at Concord until I retired to spend more time with the grandkids, who range in age from a junior in high school at Elkhart Central to a 2 ½-year-old. We’ve lived at Magician Lake since two years before I retired. I think we had two nights all summer we didn’t have at least one grandchild.”
Several generations of his wife’s family have summered at the large, deep lake with an island straddling Cass and Van Buren counties. “We’ve been coming up to the north side since the ’70s when we got married. We live in Van Buren County, but I could throw a rock from my yard into Cass County. We’re right on the line.”
Athletics figure in Dan meeting Vicky, who attended St. Joseph sporting events from Holy Cross College to watch her brother play.
“In 1973-74 I coached basketball and baseball at St. Joseph High School, starting as an assistant for three years,” followed by three more as head coach in both sports, Cunningham said. “Then I went to Knox and coached basketball and baseball. The athletic director’s job came open and I did that while still coaching baseball. I probably had the most success in baseball because I had good baseball kids. Kids make the coach.”
His small high school lacked a football program. Cunningham attended Missouri Valley College in Marshall and played basketball. The private four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. He also holds a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend (IUSB).