Panthers' Cunningham Plays Despite Broken Finger He Wore A Cast In The Aaa Semifinal Win Over Manheim Central. He Hopes To Play In The Final.

Posted: December 04, 2000

Mike Cunningham broke his left pinkie in the first quarter of a 14-7 victory over Berwick on Nov. 25 in the PIAA Class AAA state quarterfinals.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Strath Haven linebacker was not about to come out of that game and the injury was not about to deter Cunningham, a senior, from playing against explosive Manheim Central in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals on Friday night to reach a second-straight PIAA Class AAA state championship game.

After undergoing surgery last Tuesday to reset his finger, doctors told Cunningham there was a minimal risk in playing. In Cunningham's mind, though, there was no question he wanted to be on the field at Hershey.

The only real obstacle for Cunningham was wearing a large, lumbering cast that covered the tip of his small fingers of his left hand to halfway up his forearm.

It was the cast that tipped a pass late in the second quarter, with Manheim driving and the Panthers up, 7-0, that possibly changed the course of the game.

The deflection bounced into the hands of Strath Haven nose guard Ben Hopson for an interception, as the Panthers bypassed the threat en route to a 21-0 victory and another shot at the Class AAA state championship against West Allegheny at 7 p.m. Friday at Hershey.

"I might be able to give credit for the cast for that interception," Cunningham said with a laugh.

He finished with 10 tackles against Manheim, but no bigger play than the deflected pass.

Cunningham went to the emergency room of Springfield Hospital on Sunday morning after the Berwick game, where doctors told him he suffered a bad break that would most likely require surgery. Cunningham's choices were this: Get the surgery done with the possibility of playing, or don't get the surgery and don't play at all.

"Everything wound up going well, so the doctors let me play," Cunningham said.

"My doctor told me this is a special situation and he wouldn't let me play under normal circumstances, he would not have let me play against Manheim. He knew we were playing in the state playoffs and going for another state title."

To strengthen the broken area, Cunningham received an oversized cast to protect the damaged area. Cunningham's doctor wanted the finger completely immobilized. Cunningham faces another big challenge tomorrow afternoon when the cast will be taken off and Cunningham's finger will be X-rayed again to see if any bones have shifted. If they have, Cunningham will not be allowed to play in the state title game Friday night and he will have to undergo more surgery.

"It feels good and I don't think anything is wrong," Cunningham said.

"Coach [Kevin] Clancy told me before the Manheim game that if I had any pain at all to let him know, and that I didn't have play. Coach Clancy wanted to put my health first, but I wanted to play so much, I would have put up with the pain during the game. I've been praying a lot and this is done yet. I think I'll be able to play Friday."

Joe Santoliquito's e-mail address is jsantoliquito@phillynews.com

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