The conscience of Vermont sports
The information booth on Church Street in Burlington lies unmanned. There’s an empty seat along press row at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gym. We’ll never again read one of those precise and straight-to-the-point letters to the editor from this frequent contributor.
That’s because Vermont lost one of its greatest ambassadors and a true character last week when John Cunevalis died of heart problems at the South Burlington home of his daughter.
Cunevalis, 85, was the former sports editor of the Vermont Sunday News, but in the five decades since the demise of that newspaper, Cunevalis played many roles on his stage in the Green Mountain State.
This wiry little man, always packing a camera and a wide smile, was more than a breath of fresh air; he was a great promoter of Vermont — especially the city of Burlington.
Dubbed “the Mayor of Church Street,” Cunevalis received a key to the city of Burlington five years ago. His infectious enthusiasm, easy way of talking to anyone who happened by and his vast knowledge of the city made him a sublime host, welcoming tourists to downtown Burlington.
To many sportswriters and sportscasters, he was more than a newspaperman who was enshrined in the Vermont Principal’s Association Hall or that of Norwich University, or UVM, or wherever, but a role model and a link to the past.
I’m not sure if Cunevalis ever tweeted, but he accomplished the same thing in his columns and stories written through the years with the Vermont Sunday News.
“Names are news,” he loved to say. Cunevalis famously shoehorned as many names into print as was possible. And he paid attention to the entire state. He enlisted Rutland legend George “Mich” Braves to write his weekly column “Pipeline from Rutland,” where Braves promoted athletes from South of the “Middlebury-Dixon Line.”
Even though he no longer officially worked or published his stories, he never quit covering his sports beat. Like a bloodhound, Cunevalis was on everything that happened statewide. He dashed off post cards commenting on various stories written, whether he liked them or not.
Then there were the phone calls: “Hello, it’s Johnny C. here. I just wanted to call to let you know ...”
I treasured those brief conversations, and his frequent messages, but not only the congratulatory missives. I loved it more when he took me or one of my colleagues to task about something we didn’t cover or about the slant of a story.
Cunevalis was the conscience of the Vermont sports world. He elevated our profession with his work and continued to raise the bar because he challenged us to be better by example: He didn’t miss a beat, never left a stone unturned and was always right on a topic.
His uniqueness, his sense of humor and his love of all things Vermont will be missed, and we are all at a loss for his passing.
Chuck Clarino is a retired sports reporter for the Herald.