Adam Black, Editor
The Ashland Beacon
“Play hard and have fun,” those are the words Hunter Cunningham and his father used to recite before every game.
Now, the words are still recited but in a different way.
With a passion for baseball in both Hunter and his father Larry Cunningham’s blood, the two had a bond unlike any other. Both played on teams, Larry on the Union 577 softball team and Hunter with the Lumberjacks.
“They were always practicing with each other and playing,” Missy Cunningham said. “Larry was absolutely the best dad to both his two daughters and son.”
One day after work, where Larry was a pipe fitter, he noticed his throat was feeling itchy. After a few doctors’ appointments it was confirmed that Larry had invasive tongue cancer.
“It was devastating news, but Hunter put things in perspective,” Cunningham said.
Hunter’s dad had his tongue removed and a tracheostomy, and was told he would never be able to participate in physical activities again.
“He was a do-er,” Cunningham said. “Even with the trach he played ball with his union team and Hunter, all along still saying play hard and have fun.”
After more complications from the disease Larry had to get his voice box removed, which meant he could no longer speak.
“Again, I was devastated, but one of the first things he learned how to say in sign language was “play hard and have fun,” Cunningham said. “And not long after that the whole Lumberjacks team learned how to sign it.”
Unfortunately, Larry died from the disease, but his memory still lives on with Hunter and his team. Recently the Lumberjacks hosted a baseball tournament in Lloyd, Kentucky, in Larry’s honor where the community remembered their friend and showed their support for the Cunningham family.
“We knew we wanted to do something for Hunter and his family,” Lumberjack’s coach Matt Roy said. “I talked to Missy and came up with a tournament.”
Once the tournament was in the works, teams from across the region signed up to participate in the event.
“It was an amazing thing to witness. They really made my family feel like a part of theirs,” Cunningham said.
During the tournament, which was properly named, Larry Cunningham: Battle of the Sandlot, the Lumberjacks competed against six teams, wearing blue jerseys with the No. 4 on them.
“The boys wanted to honor Hunter and his dad, so they chose to wear them the entire tournament,” Roy said. “The No. 4 was Hunters dads’ number.”
Throughout the tournament, the Lumberjacks would stay true to their saying, playig hard and having fun.
“These boys are a special group of boys,” Cunningham said. “It has meant everything to me the way they have supported Hunter.”
As the tournament came to an end and the final game was played the team followed their friend’s advice and gave their very best, with smiles on their face.
“It was just the perfect ending to this tournament,” Roy said. “They pulled it out and won the whole thing. I know it was for Larry and for his family.”
“It was amazing; my heart is so full of all the support and love from the Lumberjack community,” Cunningham said. “There are no words to describe it.”
Cunningham also wants to spread awareness about the disease that took her husband and share that there is now a vaccine for HPV that both boys and girls can get when they reach the age of 10. She hopes parents and children will take note of their family’s experience and get the vaccine.