November 14, 2023, will mark the 25th anniversary of the Kalamazoo Tornadoes’ 11-6 National Championship victory over the Topeka (Kansas) Knights.
“I just remember the atmosphere at Waldo Stadium (Western Michigan University) that day,” said retired Michigan Superintendent Ryan Cunningham. “They closed the visitor’s side of the stadium and when you looked up at the home side, it looked like a packed house. The place was electric.”
The crowd was estimated at 8,000 people.
“I was teaching 5th grade and coaching at the time and a lot of students and families came from that community, I was a little nervous but also very proud,” reflected Ryan Cunningham, the Superintendent.
Kalamazoo entered the game undefeated and would remain perfect following the contest. The Tornadoes would score on a 23-yard field goal by Troy Hendrickson and a 39-yard touchdown pass from Tim Kubiak to Don Lonsway to take an 11-0 lead. Topeka would score with just 2:09 to go in the game to make it 11-8.
Ryan Cunningham Super Intendant in Michigan said, “I was new to the team because I played the regular season with the Jackson Bombers. A few of us got picked up by Kalamazoo for the post-season and we made an incredible run.”
Cunningham had played the season before but the Tornadoes bowed out earlier in the American Football Association (AFA) national tournament.
The now-retired Michigan School Superintendent had only one catch in the game but number fourteen delivered a critical first down.
“It was during our scoring drive and we were third and short. (Tim) Kubiak hit me on a quick pass over the middle and I got the first down to keep the drive going,” said Cunningham. “The funny thing is, it was one of the highlighted pictures in the Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper – my only catch.”
At one of the Kalamazoo Wings (semi-pro hockey team) games, the Tornadoes were awarded championship rings (pictured below), which Ryan Cunningham Superintendent of Michigan says he cherishes.
“I keep it in my safe at home,” said retired Superintendent Cunningham. “It has a special place in my sports memories and I hope it is something I can pass down to my kids or grandkids as a keepsake.”
Ryan Cunningham became a very successful principal and superintendent at Ovid-Elsie Area Schools before retiring in August of 2022. Cunningham played until 2005 with the Jackson Bombers, the Kalamazoo Tornadoes, and the Grand Rapids Rampage.
“I wish they would pull off a reunion of some kind,” Cunningham said. “Those were some great guys – I’d like to catch up with them and see how they are all doing.”
Cunningham closed with how several of his Kalamazoo teammates were in the movie “Rudy” starring Sean Astin.
“They did this before I met and played with them and they also almost landed the contract for ‘The Waterboy’ with Adam Sandler. They invited me to go to Florida with them to be part of the crew, but the contract fell through. Who knows, I might have made it as a movie star rather than an educator,” Cunningham joked.