Glenn Cunningham has been bringing his love for hockey to LaGrange for nearly two decades

Published 8:19 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

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LaGrange is not Glenn Cunnigham’s hometown, but it has grown to feel like it. The Boston transplant by way of Minnesota, Cunningham arrived in Troup County back in 2006. The hockey-obsessed Yankee was in for some culture shock at first but quickly adjusted to his newfound home.

“There was a huge culture shock when I first got here,” Cunningham said with a chuckle. “It was nothing like I had been told or it seemed like and now I’m a really strong advocate for the south.”

Hockey-obsessed might be putting it lightly. Cunningham eats, breathes and lives hockey almost 24/7 and without him, hockey might be little more than a whisper in Troup County. With his energy, efforts and wisdom, he has grown street hockey from a dead sport to one that is truly thriving.

“When I first got here they had a program going for about six years and I joined up and played for about two years before it died off,” Cunningham said. “In 2010, I was working out with a guy at the gym and we began talking about how working out on the treadmill was boring and how we would love to play hockey again because he was from Boston too. So we bought 10 sticks and a couple of pucks and began to invite everybody out.”

Word of mouth got a round and eventually, some regulars stuck around. 

It has come a long way since Cunningham first arrived. Early on there were many evenings when Cunningham was at Mike Daniel Center hitting balls into an open net all alone in the rink.

His personal and professional life were going swimmingly but there was an aching desire deep within that longed for a way to still play competitive hockey in some form or fashion. Every time Cunningham walked into the rink here in LaGrange all alone, he would think back to all the times that he would hop on a pond and play some hockey with his friends in Boston growing up.

“I got started growing up playing pond hockey with my friends and we would play street hockey in gym class,” Cunningham said. “I just grew up loving the game and still do.”

Life finds a way and hockey and Cunningham are far from done with each other.

The program has grown tremendously over the last decade and changed. What was once Cunningham alone and feeling jaded about hockey in the area turned into Cunningham leading a program that is now about 50 strong if everybody shows up on a given night.

The numbers are not the only thing that has grown under Cunningham’s stewardship. He helped create the Georgia division of tier 3 in the National Ball Hockey League in which the LaGrange Hooligans are a founding member.

“We are so excited to help bring the NBHL to Georgia,” Cunningham said. “Once a month in May, June and July we will be going up to Peachtree City and play a series of three games each Saturday and then whoever wins the division championship will get to go up to New Jersey and play for the tier three national championship.”

In the fall, Cunningham is partnering with NHL street hockey to bring new branding and uniforms to the youth team in Troup County. It is another way to legitimize and showcase what the LaGrange Hockey program is all about.

“NHL Street Hockey is a program that is set up to bring hockey to communities all across the country,” Cunningham said. “They actually reached out to me after they found my website and said that they would like to partner with us.

“They supply NHL jerseys that are reversible with a home and away side for the kids, they sell gear at a reduced price and they will co-brand with us, so we can use the NHL logo beside our LaGrange hockey logo,” Cunningham said. “It’s a way to really legitimize us.”

NHL Street Hockey is run by the same parent company as NFL Kids, NBA Kids and other professional sports outreach programs.

There are other gears turning as well. Cunningham has pitched a plan to have two multi-use rinks at the site of the old Whitesville Elementary to the Troup County Parks and Rec department. He hopes that he can get the ball rolling on this soon as he brings it forward to other entities.

“It would be two rinks sitting side by side with bleachers in between them and a roof over the top with those giant fans,” Cunningham said.

“This would allow us to host national tournaments and people would come and spend money in our restaurants, hotels, etc.”

The key to Cunningham’s pitch is the multi-use aspect of the rinks.

“It could be used for indoor soccer, basketball, and pickleball as well. You could also have smaller intimate concerts there for a few hundred people.”

Throughout this entire hockey journey in Troup County, the parks and rec department has backed just about every idea Cunningham has ever had.

“They are always all for it and it’s awesome,” he said. “They are all super supportive of what we are doing.”

Hockey and specifically street hockey are certainly niche sports in the South. But over the last 18 years spent in Georgia, Cunningham has seen the sport grow and feels that it is ripe for further expansion as well.

“It’s not like baseball or basketball where you can introduce it to kids as they are growing up here 

Cunningham is not a hard man to find. Want to try out street hockey or introduce your kid to it? You can come out to the Mike Daniel Center on just about any Tuesday or Thursday evening during the year and find Cunningham coaching or playing in the rink in the back. There is no cost and if a kid comes out and enjoys it, they will get free gear provided free of charge after their third or so practice.

“I set up Dynamic, where we raise money to purchase equipment for the kids because my parents could never afford for me to play hockey as a kid and I don’t want the kids to miss out on the same opportunities I did because their parents can’t afford it,” Cunningham said. “

The Mike Daniel Center’s rink has become a home away from home for Cunningham. There is not a single person who has spent more time in that rink than him. 

It has become a found home for Cunningham, much like his beloved LaGrange. Cunningham met his wife here, was saved and found Christ here and has expanded hockey in this area in ways he could not previously imagine. 

He is an adopted Southerner but has proudly indoctrinated his wife into Boston Bruins fanhood. 

“She knew nothing about hockey when we first met, but now she is a rabid Bruins fan,” Cunningham said, laughing. “If I come home late and the Bruins are playing she will already have the game on.”

Passionate people elevate the LaGrange community. Cunningham is one of its most passionate members and has helped mentor multiple generations of youth while giving adults an outlet to fulfill their athletic endeavors. 

“We had a kid that kept asking me to play goalkeeper for three months and one day he came up and asked me if I made a decision yet and I told him that I had and told him to go open a box and inside was all new goalie gear and he just started crying immediately,” Cunningham said. “ I didn’t give it to him right away because I wanted to see how badly he wanted it.

“There are a lot of ways I use hockey to teach them how to build community.”