CANAJOHARIE – After the Canajoharie Cougars’ loss to Cambridge in the 2015 Section II Class D semifinals, Coach Ken Sullivan hinted that might be his final game as head coach.
At the team’s season-ending banquet, he made it official, announcing to the team that he was retiring after 17 years as head coach and 19 years in the Canajoharie football program.
“I had the opportunity to see my son Kenny play every game for the last three years and my youngest son A.J. is a sophomore and I saw him run one cross-country meet,” Sullivan said. “It wasn’t the only contributing factor, but it was a big one. I figured I would be able to watch him compete for the next couple of years and then we will go from there.”
With Sullivan’s retirement, the search for a new head coach did not take long as the district had to only look to its sidelines for defensive coordinator Shannon Hyney.
“Shannon did apply and interview, but he has not been officially appointed at this point, but we do anticipate that will happen at the May board meeting,” Canajoharie Athletic Director Brian Dunn said. “As of right now, he is not officially appointed but has assumed the duties of making sure the program keeps on track with everything.”
Dunn said that keeping continuity in the program is important.
“That was something that was important to keep a familiar face for the kids and somebody they are comfortable with,” he said. “Shannon has a great rapport with the kids and he puts his heart and soul into football and helping the kids. He has put in a lot of time here with the kids in the offseason so it was definitely important that he is still involved.”
Sullivan said Hyney being ready to step up made his decision a little easier.
“Shannon Hyney has worked hard and he is ready to take over the program and I am sure he will do an outstanding job,” Sullivan said. “Things just seemed to be coming together with Kenny graduating and A.J. going into his junior year running cross country and Shannon being ready. I will help out as much as they want or keep my distance as he makes it his program. So people said why don’t you coach and then take off when he has a meet. But I can’t ask the kids to make a commitment to be there every day and work hard because as a coach you have to do the same.”
Sullivan took over a program that was coming off a 0-18 streak and guided the Cougars to a two-win season in his first year.
However, low numbers among upperclassmen and promising prospects in the program led to the tough decision of dropping the Cougars to the junior varsity level for a season.
“I do think it was worth it,” Sullivan said. “I had experienced a team program where we moved junior varsity players up to fill the varsity program because we were light at the top. I watched freshmen and sophomores try to play a varsity football game as starters not as subs. There were exceptions where there are standouts, but those kids took a beating playing teams like Ravena and Watervliet in their heydays. The situation came where we had low numbers at the junior and senior levels and we were still competing in the Cs. We had maybe two seniors but had a strong freshman program. We let those kids play at the JV level. It was a gamble, but it worked out. I knew we had good kids coming up through because they did well in the Canajoharie Youth Program and at the modified level, so I knew I had a good core of kids and, more important, I had a good core of parents. So that was the time to do it. I give credit to everyone who helped me, especially Joe Cornish, who coached Canajoharie for years.”
The program turned around and made a trip the Section II Class D championship game in 2007 before falling to Fort Edward 30-13 at Knox Field.
“We never won the sectionals, but we made the sectional championship game against Fort Edward and then that was our 8-1 season also we made it deep in sectionals before losing to Hoosick Falls and finished 7-2.”
Sullivan finished his coaching career with a 69-69 record.
“It was up and down then we had a good run where we made the playoffs regularly,” he said. “I can’t pick one year over another because I enjoyed every year and I enjoyed the kids immensely. I want to say thanks to everybody who has been a part of football at Canajoharie. It has been fun and I really enjoyed myself. I hope the kids took some of the life lessons you can take from the football field and use them in a positive way.”
The final game last October was tough on Sullivan.
“It was tough because I felt bad for my kids because of all the injuries. It didn’t hit me [his final game] until all the equipment was picked up and everything was put away and the kids were signing out to get on the bus,” Sullivan said. “Kenny had broken a bone in his shoulder so we had to get him to the hospital. It really didn’t come into focus until we were on the bus and I started thinking about it. I was thinking more about what happened in the game. I do remember walking back to the locker room by myself and I just kind of looked around and thought about how much fun it has been and all the people I have been associated with through the sport like Gary Vanderzee, John West and John Thompson from Fonda-Fultonville who really got me started in coaching. All the camaraderie and fun.”
Sullivan is appreciative of the support and friendships he developed over his coaching career.
“There are a lot of people I could thank, like the reporters who called all the time and got Canajoharie football in the papers and the conversations with the other coaches I coached against,” he said. “Even the officials. They get slighted and often overlooked but a lot of them do it just to keep the game going. A lot of them get grief and I have gotten on some officials cases, but they are there. Without the officials doing what they do, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
At the season-ending banquet the team presented Sullivan with a Canajoharie Cougars football jersey with the number 82 on it, his number when he played high school football at Fonda-Fultonville.
“We certainly thank Ken for all his years of dedication to the program and for all the time and effort he has put in and all the sacrifices he has made,” Dunn said. “We certainly wish him the best in all that he chooses to do with his free time now.”
Part of his free time will be completing a project he started last summer.
“I can get caught up on some of the projects I started and haven’t finished,” Sullivan said. “I started putting laminate flooring in during the summer and when the season started I put the tools down and they stayed in the same spot the entire football season. I took a week off after the season ended before finishing off the living and dining rooms.”
But most of all he is looking forward to “watching A.J. run and going to the games as a spectator and not losing sleep worrying about stuff. It is somebody else’s turn.”