High School Sports

Highland hires former SIUE assistant to lead its basketball program

Deryl Cunningham, a former assistant basketball coach at SIU-Edwardsvile, has been named as the new head basketball coach at Highland High School.

Highland athletic director Amy Boscolo made the announcement Tuesday, that Cunningham, 48, will replace Brian Perkes, who resigned following the 2018-19 season after three seasons.

The Highland School Board is expected to confirm the hiring at its Sept. 23 meeting.

A 1989 graduate of Westchester St. Joseph High School where he was a McDonald’s All-American under legendary coach Gene Pingatore, Cunningham coached the past four years at Gateway Legacy Christian Academy in Granite City where he led the program to a NCSAA national championship.

The hiring of Cunningham, who also spent four years as an assistant (2011-15) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where helped in the Cougars transition from NCAA Division II to a D-1 program, comes about two months from the start of the high school season.

“I’m really excited for this opportunity and looking forward to working with these young men at Highland High School,’’ Cunningham said. “From what I understand, Highland graduated a lot of seniors from a very good team a year ago, but in talking to Amy (Boscolo) and other people I trust, Highland had a reputation of a very successful athletic program.

“They’ve had a great deal of success in football and baseball and again have had very good basketball teams the past couple of years.’’

Cunningham takes over a Highland program which has won back-to-back Mississippi Valley Conference championships. Among those who graduated was three-sport standout Sam LaPorta, who currently is a freshman football player at the University of Iowa.

Cunningham has a vast basketball background. After graduating from St. Joseph, he attended Kansas State University where he would eventually become one of the top players in school history. Cunningham is currently No. 7 on the Wildcats all-time list in rebounds.

He spent the next decade playing professional basketball in Europe and the United States, then spent time as a graduate assistant and assistant coach at South Dakota State and three years at Indiana State University.

After four seasons at SIUE and at Gateway Legacy Christian Academy, Cunningham will try to keep one of the top high school programs in southern Illinois among the elite.

“My wife (Maria), my mom, Mascoutah (coach) Justin Love and other people told me they thought this was a position that I should pursue,’’ Cunningham said. “Like I said, I knew Highland graduated a few players.

“Two of the things I was looking for were: does the program have a history of being successful and does it have a chance at competing for a conference championship? In talking with Amy Boscolo, I really felt like she, having competed as a college athlete, really gets it. She realizes that there are going to be ups and downs and that you have to be able to face and overcome adversity sometimes. I really appreciate that.’’

Boscolo said the journey to find a new coach was a long one, but feels she found the right man to take the program forward.

“We have done three rounds of interviews to find the right candidate,’’ Boscolo said. “I was very impressed with Coach Cunningham and I know that he is the right fit for Highland. I am excited for our student athletes and I can’t wait for the season to get started. ‘’