Freshman football player Ronald Cunningham mourned at St. Aug's prayer vigil

lkeeley@newsobserver.comApril 8, 2014 

In front of a standing-room-only crowd packed into the chapel on St. Augustine’s campus, friends of Ronald Cunningham remembered him for his smile, energy and sunny disposition. He was a little brother to older teammates on the football squad, a prideful young man who wouldn’t let a recent leg injury slow him down. He was a devoted boyfriend and son as well, but most of all Monday evening, he was missed.

Cunningham, 19, a freshman offensive lineman, collapsed Sunday morning and died later in the day. His cause of death has yet to be determined. He is survived by his father and mother, Ronald Sr. and Deborah, and two younger brothers.

“He was positive, that’s the key word,” said Michael Lima, a junior on the football team. “Any negativity that came into his life or even his friends’ lives, he would bring positivity, no matter what the situation was.”

Cunningham, from Dinwiddie, Va., recently had his positivity challenged when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus last month. He viewed the setback as an opportunity to return even stronger and refused the offer to take his classes online, saying it wouldn’t be a problem for him to make it to class on crutches.

Cunningham, listed as a 6-foot-2, 285-pound offensive lineman, played in one game last season, contributing on the defensive side of the ball by recording a tackle and forcing a fumble against Stillman College.

“I never saw him upset. Never,” said Michael Costa, Saint Augustine’s football coach. “I don’t care what you said to him, you could fuss him, and it was always, ‘yes, coach.’ He was that kind of guy.”

Costa and Lima were two of six speakers that offered brief reflections. Lima recalled spending Thanksgiving with the Cunningham family – after the vigil, he laughed as he remembered a bowling trip with Cunningham and his girlfriend, T’keya McKay, that began with Cunningham slipping down the lane as he failed to release the ball in time.

Jeremiah Davis spoke of Cunningham’s willingness to help with the Christian Fellowship organization. Athletics director George Williams shared stories of patrolling the sideline during football games with Cunningham, saying he would have loved to have him as a son. Desmin Moore, another junior /rising/ senior teammate, mentioned his work ethic and drive to become stronger and earn a starting spot.

Cunningham’s mother, Deborah, closed the reflections with thanks and a call for the school community to come together amidst the financial and leadership issues that have made recent headlines. Earlier Monday, the school announced Dianne Boardley Suber was fired as president as the university works through budget issues that have drawn the attention of accrediting organizations.

“When I look out and I see the turnout, I know many of you have felt and shared my joy. You have a smile, you had a hug, you had a joke and a laugh because of some of the things Ronald always brought,” she said. “The way you prayed and embraced my family, we’re going to turn around and do it for our family, St. Aug. … because that’s what families do.”

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