Best known for his boys basketball coaching tenure at Rogers High School in the 1980s, Earl Cunningham actually has a lengthier resume in tennis, the sport that the South Central graduate played in college at Oakland City.
"I'm a tennis junkie," Cunningham said. "Most people don't know it was the first sport I coached coming out of college. It's a great lifetime sport. I still play a couple times a week."
That playing schedule's going to be tweaked the next couple months as Cunningham has taken the boys tennis coaching job at Marquette Catholic after former Blazers coach Ray Silvas had to resign due to a work schedule change and Cunningham's name struck a chord with Marquette.
"Great guy, a lot of experience, La Porte County through and through," said Assistant Director of Athletics Brad Collignon, who was handling the team with his wife, Katie, Marquette's Director of Athletics, in the interim.
On his way back from Minnesota when he was contacted, Cunningham initially said he'd search for somebody younger for Marquette before committing to it.
"It's a young man's game," the 72-year old said. "I told them I'll give you this year. I won't tell you I won't do next year as long as you assure me you're looking."
Cunningham met with the team for the first time Wednesday.
"They're nice kids," he said. "It's a weird situation because I have to be available in the morning until school starts, then in the afternoon when matches start.
That's the nice thing about being retired. I'm flexible."
In 1969, Cunningham was at Elston when Dave Parry asked him to help with boys tennis. Rogers was already in the process of being built and when it opened on the south side of town, he became the boys head coach as Parry took over the baseball program. He also had a stint as girls basketball coach from '75-'78.
"I was doing insurance on the side to make some extra money," Cunningham said. "I almost quit teaching completely."
When Bill Hahn left for Ball State after the '82 season, Cunningham took over as boys basketball coach, a position for which he actually didn't even apply. He won 137 games, six sectionals and four regionals in seven seasons.
"I made all the basketball players play tennis," he said. "We had the tallest tennis team in the state. The difference between basketball and tennis is the kids are pretty much on their own on the (tennis court)."
Cunningham stepped down from basketball after the '89 season and returned to tennis as an assistant to Norm Bruemmer at City when the schools consolidated and stayed with him until he retired in 2011. Three years later, La Lumiere sought out Cunningham to coach boys tennis, which he coached from 2014 to 2017. He also had a year as City's girls coach in between in 2016.
"Elston, Rogers, Michigan City, La Lumiere and now Marquette," he said.
While some folks may bristle at the idea of Cunningham coaching at the private school in town, it's not an issue for him.
"I'll be known as the Marquette coach who supported the naming of the Michigan City courts for Norm Bruemmer," he said. "I've always gotten along with (Marquette) very good. We always played (basketball) when I was (at Rogers). I lost a player or two them and gained a player. (Marquette) was just another school in town trying to do the best it can. If I lose any friends because I'm coaching tennis at Marquette, then they weren't very good friends anyway. I'm just trying to do the right thing and help them out. People who know me know what my loyalties are."
Marquette's first match will be against Michigan City.