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Ken Lipshez

Star sidelined, but the Rams play on

I’ve seen it numerous times over 22 years covering scholastic sports, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever get used to it.

I met Jack Cunningham for the first time last Monday when he was among those chosen to attend the Excellence and Leadership Conference featuring Geno Auriemma.

His exuberance for life was palpable. His eyes gleamed as he spoke of meeting Geno, his anticipation for finishing his lacrosse season and the prospect of playing football in the autumn of his senior year.

Now it’s all gone.

Cunningham was sure enough at Saturday’s home match against Andover (Mass.) High, but he wasn’t in uniform. He was on crutches, and those three letters that every athlete dreads came off his lips slowly like they would in a nightmare — ACL.

My heart sank.

Jack, whose family came to town in 1972 when his grandfather Bill accepted the CHS football post, is a dynamic face-off specialist, so much so that he became the focal point of Andover coach Wayne Puglisi’s game plan.

“We prepared for him being outstanding and spectacular, so we had some strategies for defending that,” Puglisi said. “That’s so unfortunate for him. Missing his senior year is not the way it’s supposed to go.”

Last fall, in football, Cunningham gained 941 yards on 153 carries, 10 for touchdowns.

A great laxman? Yes. A terrific running back. Yes.

He’ll have to get through his senior year without that. But he’s also a great leader, as his participation in the ELC will attest. Hence, he’ll be there for his teammates.

I contemplated the notion of Jack dealing with yet another chapter of adversity in his young life. He dealt with much worse when his older sister Kelly died of mitochondrial disease in January 2005.

What can you say to a boy in his spot? Nothing anyone says can soften the blow.

And through it all, he smiled. No wonder he was among those selected to meet Geno. I just know God has something special in store for Jack Cunningham.


The thought that Cunningham’s team goes into the home stretch at 4-9, needing three straight wins to get in the Class L tournament is unthinkable the way the Rams played against Andover.

The Golden Warriors left town Saturday afternoon with a 13-4 record and ranked among the best teams in Massachusetts’ top division north of Boston. Cheshire was incredibly banged up, yet played them tough.

Rams coach Rich Pulisciano was totally upbeat about the effort, but disappointed in the mistakes that separated the gallant squad from a monumental upset.

Numerous possessions were squandered by either poor decisions or execution, yet Cheshire lost by only three goals.

The Rams met Simsbury (the class of the CCC at 11-0) at home Monday tonight. Xavier (7-4) comes in on Thursday. Then, after a week of inactivity, the Rams visit Fairfield Prep (7-0 against in-state foes).

Pulisciano is undeterred.

“This team can play with any team we have on our schedule, there’s no doubt,” he said. “When we play for 48 minutes, this team is good and I tell them they can play with anybody. We showed we could play [Andover], too. We have to limit our mistakes.”

The Rams could have caved several times after Andover rallies, but they kept coming back. They trailed by three at the half and quickly closed to within one early in the third quarter.

“Possess! Possess the ball,” Pulisciano said. “Make smart shots, work the ball around, find the open guys, dodge, cut, look for the cutters and don’t force the pass. That’s what we did!”

Andover again built the three-goal lead and the Rams fought back once more. Alec Thomas scored to make it 8-6, Alex Trasacco won the ensuing draw and Andover committed two fouls. With 2:58 left in the third quarter, Cheshire had a two-man advantage.

“We threw the ball away,” Pulisciano said, “but now we’ve got to move on.”

He was thinking about the undefeated Trojans.

“We make our schedule to challenge our kids. We’re still up for the challenge, and that’s all I could ask for.”

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