John Cunniffe - JJYL Student Athlete Scholarship Award
John Cunniffe was a 1984 graduate of John Jay High School and its first All-American lacrosse player. To this day, John holds two records at John Jay: points in a season (121), and assists in a season (86). He graduated from West Point and served on the front lines of Operation Desert Storm, receiving a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service along with additional commendations. John was extremely humble. In fact, most people, especially the children he coached, had no idea of his personal and athletic achievements. As former John Jay lacrosse standout and current UNC player, Jack Lambert, said, “Everything we learned about John we found out from someone else.”
After serving in the Persian Gulf War, John retired from the military and entered civilian life. He married Melissa and together they had two children, Eliza and Charlie, and returned to the John Jay area to raise their family.
John became a coach for John Jay Youth Lacrosse before his two children were old enough to play. His top priority was to “pass on the love of the game.” He didn’t care if he was coaching the top team of athletes or those just starting out, he just wanted kids to love the game, honor the game, respect the game, and pass on the game to others. He was known to send emails to his entire team of 25 or so youth players to join him at the turf to throw the ball around on random days off from work. He never smiled more than when he was on the field, as a player or as a coach.
John dedicated countless hours of his time as a member of the executive board of John Jay Youth Lacrosse. Other than being a family man and coaching, those were some of the most satisfying hours of his life. Whether he was evaluating players, creating teams, making plays, or arranging games, being involved with JJYL was some of the most gratifying “work” he ever did.
John’s involvement with lacrosse led him to make connections with many kids and families in our community. When he was stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2010, many of the people who rallied around him were those whose families he had positively impacted through lacrosse. The manner in which John handled his debilitating and terminal diagnosis set an amazing example to all. He led his personal battle with dignity, grace, and a good sense of humor, and he continued to be a fixture on the sidelines of JJYL and John Jay varsity games well into his diagnosis.
In 2011, John was one of the first people, along with Ryan Kamerdin and John’s teammates Craig Mygatt and Marty Kelly, who were inducted into the John Jay Lacrosse Hall of Fame. His retired jersey, number 32, hangs in the John Jay High School gym. He passed away on December 2, 2012. It is a testament to his legacy that several children he coached, including his son Charlie, continue to wear number 32 in his honor.
In honor of John Cunniffe, JJYL has created the John Cunniffe - JJYL Student Athlete Scholarship Award to be presented annually to a member of the varsity girls and boys lacrosse teams. The award will be presented to a player that exhibits all the traits which John lived by, including dedication to the sport, showing humility when faced with success and grace when faced with challenges, and passing on the love of the game to others.