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Thomas Cutinella

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The Cutinella family and Superintendent Gerard Poole cut the ribbon on the new concession stand as Frank Fontinell and Peter Christ watch. Photo by Kyle Barr

The first two people to place an order from the new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field Concession Stand April 12 were members of the Cutinella family themselves. Frank and Kelli Cutinella, who lost their son from a head injury in 2014, asked for something simple, two small cups of coffee.

Frank Fontinell, a Shoreham-Wading River high school student, was one of two students first to run the stand that day. As the small team inside the new concession stand started making up the family’s order of coffee, Fontinell shouted, “The concession stand is now officially open.” 

There on the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, the concession stand is just another piece of the community coming together to honor the legacy of the young man who died in 2014.

Frank Fontinell and Peter Christ give out the concession stand’s first order. The first cups of coffee went to the Cutinella family, far left. Photos by Kyle Barr

“It’s really a testament to our community, to the Shoreham-Wading River community and to Thomas,” Frank Cutinella said. “This school has been open since 1975, [the new structure] is in 2019, that’s a big accomplishment.”

The new concession stand has been a long time coming. Though the district first broke ground on the project in 2017, plans for the new structure have been ongoing for more than one district administration. Former district board members and now retired superintendent Steven Cohen were recognized for helping get the structure’s plans off the ground.

“The previous board of education, as well as this one, kept it alive, and we’re thankful for that,” Frank Cutinella said.

District officials said the total cost for the new stand was $800,000, though the district estimated 99 percent of those funds came from multiple individuals and businesses, either donating materials, money or time to building the project.

Superintendent Gerard Poole said the entire exterior brickwork was completed by a contractor who wanted no money nor recognition for the deed. Many of the same people who assisted in the project, giving thousands of dollars in time and materials, didn’t ask for recognition for their help. At the April 12 ribbon cutting, the board handed out framed acknowledgments to the people who were involved, yet at the end of the ceremony, many remained unclaimed.

“It came together with a lot of donations,” Kelli Cutinella said. 

A plaque thanking all those businesses and individuals who donated to the project. Photo by Kyle Barr

The stand will be run by two to three students at a time, with an adult supervising, as part of the high school’s career development program. Students can earn vocational credit by helping to operate the new stand, according to Poole.

The Cutinella family and the school have been working hand in hand to help build the new structure with the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation, with the organization helping to add extra funding for construction, according to Frank Cutinella.

The foundation, which was founded in 2015, has since raised over $50,000 in scholarships for students, which goes out to graduating SWR high schoolers and to others from throughout Suffolk County. The family has also had a big hand in changing the rules in New York State for high school football, namely the manner in which tackles are legal out on the field.

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By Bill Landon

The 4th annual Patriot Run hosted by the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation was held Sunday, Oct. 14, at Wildwood State Park in Wading River. The foundation is a nonprofit started in memory of Thomas by his parents — Frank and Kelli Cutinella — with the goal of improving awareness for football-related head injuries. Thomas was a Shoreham-Wading River football player killed as a result of an on-field collision in 2014. The race is held in his memory every year.

The Shoreham-Wading River community and football team mourned the death of teammate Thoams Cutinella. File photo by Bill Landon

By Kevin Redding

Frank and Kelli Cutinella have always been this way. Family members and close friends say the Shoreham-Wading River couple, who were married in 1996 and together raised four kids, have always given back, helped others and been there when  needed the most.

“You can’t meet a more solid person than Frankie,” said Kenneth Michaels, Frank Cutinella’s childhood friend and fellow officer within the Suffolk County Police Department. “He’s a model. He’s someone you want to emulate. I’ve never met anybody like him in my life.”

Mount Sinai’s Theresa Biegert said her sister Kelli Cutinella helps no matter who needs it.

Thomas Cutinella hoped to donate his organs. File photo

“She’s so kind and loving and generous, and goes out of her way for everybody — her family, friends and members of the community,” she said.

So after tragedy struck the Cutinellas Oct. 1, 2014, they didn’t buckle, they didn’t wallow. The reach of their generosity only got bigger and stronger. Their mission in life began.

It’s been more than three years since their oldest son, Thomas Cutinella, died at age 16 from a helmet-to-helmet collision with another player during a Shoreham-Wading River football game. Thomas, a star Wildcat and junior at the time of the accident, had aspirations of serving his country and, like his parents, was always looking to lend a hand, or more.

When he was rushed to Huntington Hospital, and after doctors there told the Cutinellas what no parent should ever hear, they honored a wish their son made on his birthday that year to donate his organs to others. His heart, pancreas, kidneys, liver, tissue and skin all went to those in need.

“When Thomas went to get his driver’s permit that year, they asked if he wanted to be a donor even though he wasn’t old enough to register at the time,” said Maria Johnson, Kelli’s mother. “He was like, ‘Yes! What do you mean? Of course I want to be a donor!’ Thomas was a very giving boy. He had to get that from somebody, and he got it from his parents.”

Since his death, mother and father have taken it upon themselves to never stop honoring Thomas’ memory. And in signature Cutinella fashion, they’re bettering the lives of everybody around them in the process.

Frank and Kelli Cutinella have spoken in front of Suffolk County officials, athletic directors and football coaches from across the state about bringing much-needed changes to the sport that took their son’s life, and the culture surrounding it. Having seen firsthand the illegal hit Thomas took when an opposing player rammed the crown of their helmet into the side of Cutinella’s, and the brief celebration among the players and crowd that followed, Frank Cutinella became determined to make the game safer and reduce the unnecessary dangers encouraged on the field.

A former high school football player himself, Frank Cutinella presented his case to save the lives of young athletes to Section XI members, who, in the fall of 2016, began to implement the Tommy Tough Football Safety Standards across the county. In July of this year, Tommy Tough was adopted at the state level, by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Frank’s next goal is to take it to the  national stage.

Focused on limiting the risk of injury, caused by certain ways of tackling and leading with the helmet, the new safety measures are read before each game by on-field officials and stricter penalties are enforced when it comes to illegal contacts and hits. Educational programs on safety and proper helmet techniques are offered to coaches.

“Frank wanted to make a difference to the game and not let Tommy’s death go unnoticed,” said Tom Combs, executive director and former football chair of Section XI. “These standards make the game safer, bring an awareness to what is an illegal hit and what isn’t, what’s acceptable on the field and what isn’t. It’s helping coaches and players and officials get on the same page and understand that this game can be as safe as possible if we follow certain standards. Frank’s amazing. I don’t think I could’ve found the strength to do what he’s done.”

Frank and Kelli Cutinella sit on Wading River Elementary Schools new `buddy bench,` which was donated by nonprofit Kaits Angels, which was created in memory of Mattitucks Kaitlyn Doorhy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Kelli Cutinella has shared Thomas’ story, and advocated for the lowering of the organ donation registration age across the state, speaking at local school districts like Harborfields and East Islip, colleges like Hofstra and Stony Brook University, and in Albany to support the passing of a law permitting 16- and 17-year-olds to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry, which was rolled out in February 2017. She is also a frequent contributor at events put on by LiveOnNY, an organ donation network, and a nonprofit called Long Island TRIO, standing for Transplant Recipients International Organization.

Dave Rodgers, a leader at Long Island TRIO, said he had been following Thomas’ story since the day his death was reported, and was honored to have his mom join his cause. Within the nonprofit, Kelli Cutinella speaks to high school and college students about what organ donation and transplantation means from a parental perspective.

“It’s truly amazing what she’s able to do,” Rodgers said. “She takes it full circle from raising her son and what he and his loss meant to her, to the transplantation process of another person getting that life and then being in contact with all the recipients of Thomas’ organs. Her story is quite compelling.”

Not only is Kelli Cutinella friends with Thomas’ heart recipient, she has been running alongside her at the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk in New York City since 2015.

Karen Hill, a 25-year-old Washington, D.C., native, received Thomas’ heart three days after his death, while she was a student at Fordham University. When she was 11, Hill was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease, and had been regulated with medication until she turned 21 and got on a waiting list for a transplant.

“It’s crazy because when I found out I needed a transplant, the first thing I wondered was, ‘Whose heart am I doing to get?’” Hill said. “There is no word in the dictionary that described just how fortunate I was to be able to receive the heart of such a well-loved person. I feel like since the transplant and meeting the Cutinellas, I’ve become a better person in my own life.”

Hill first met the Cutinellas in May 2015, along with the recipient of Thomas’ kidney and pancreas. She has been in frequent communication ever since and has found a real kinship with Thomas’ mother.

“Kelli is almost in a way like a second mom,” Hill said. “She has such a wonderful and warm personality. She and Frank both still have the most positive spirits and are great people to be around.”

Through The Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation, the parents are also extremely hands-on and charitable within their son’s school district, granting a special scholarship in Thomas’ name — more than $14,000 in 2016 — to students of Shoreham-Wading River and beyond who exhibit characteristics of kindness, modesty and selflessness. The couple oversaw the building of the new memorial football field, and Frank Cutinella is spearheading the construction of a concession stand and bathroom on the property. Thomas was honored in the form of a buddy bench installed at Wading River Elementary School. At the high school, alongside the football field, a bust was created along with a special seating area by local Eagle Scout Thomas Leda.

Kelli Cutinella, right, and Karen Hill, left, after Hill received Cutinella’s son Thomas’ heart through a donation following his death. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

“It’s overwhelming for them, but they want to give back to the community because the community gave back to them in their time in need,” Michaels said. “Thomas loved that school and that’s where they felt they could truly carry on his memory. The [Cutinellas] were dealt a bad hand, but they’ve turned that bad hand into a royal flush.”

Biegert agreed.

“Kelli and Frank didn’t crawl in a hole and cry about this,” she said. “They opened their arms and thought of what they could do to make it better and make a difference.”

Kenny Gray, a family friend, said the Cutinellas encompass the small-town feeling of Shoreham-Wading River with their strong family values and love of community.

“I know that they will never fully recover from this and it continues to be a struggle for them, but they’re strong and keep life normal for the other three kids,” Gray said. “This tragedy has led Frank and Kelli to do even more for community and friends.”

Kevin Cutinella, 18, their second oldest child who also played on the high school football and lacrosse team and currently attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said he’s most proud and admiring of his parents’ strength.

“I love that they haven’t changed at all — they stayed just as stable and strong as a rock,” he said. “It’s just what they’ve always been: strong, focused and helpful. It’s definitely rubbed off on us all.”

By Kevin Redding

Since the untimely passing of Tom Cutinella in October 2014, the memory of Shoreham’s beloved student-athlete has lived on within the district, from the dedication of the high school’s athletic field in his name to a life-size bust and memorial wall close to it.

But perhaps no remembrance captures the kindhearted spirit of the fallen football player quite like the newly built “buddy bench,” to be installed on the playground at Wading River Elementary School.

“Character is what sets us aside from one another. This ‘buddy bench’ will inspire you all even more to be like Thomas and Kaitlyn … to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.”

—Kelli Cutinella

Adorned with the inscription “Be A Friend Make A Friend” underneath the dedication “In Loving Memory of Thomas Cutinella,” the bench serves to eliminate loneliness and promote friendship among children — when those feeling alone or bullied sit on the bench, other students are encouraged to take a seat next to them and ask if they want to be friends.

It was donated in Cutinella’s honor by Kait’s Angels, a North Fork-based non-profit started just weeks after Mattituck resident Kaitlyn Doorhy, a 20-year-old college student at Sacred Heart University, was struck and killed by a car in August 2014.

So far, the organization has installed more than 10 benches in her memory at every elementary school on the North Fork, including Cutchogue East and Greenport, as well as a senior center in Southold. This is the first one built in someone else’s name.

“This bench defines what Tom stood for,” Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s mother, told students, administrators and parents packed into the elementary school’s gym for the bench’s ribbon-cutting ceremony June 16. Speaking directly to the students, she said, “character is what sets us aside from one another. This ‘buddy bench’ will inspire you all even more to be like Thomas and Kaitlyn … to do the right thing, even when no one is looking … have that character that sets you aside from everyone and always let your peers know they have a friend and are never alone.”

“Their legacy has come together for a special reason and Kaitlin and Thomas will always be remembered here. Even though they’re not here in the flesh, their spirits live on.”

—Darla Doorhy

It was during his years at the elementary school that Cutinella started being recognized as someone special, who took the school’s teachings about trustworthiness, respect and caring to heart.

He was a kind, selfless kid who was quick to help others and make friends with anyone he crossed paths with, no matter who they were.

“[Tom] was a friend to everyone, and I mean everyone,” said Cutinella, who was joined at the event by her husband, Frank, and their children. “He was a natural helper and a best buddy.”

Cutinella’s life was was tragically cut short nearly three years ago following a head-on collision with an opposing player on a football field during a high school game.

Darla Doorhy, Kaitlin’s mother, reached out to Kelli Cutinella around Christmas time to discuss collaborating on the dedication, which took about six months to come to fruition. The bench was purchased by Kait’s Angels from Belson Outdoors in Illinois.

She said Tom and her daughter — who had been a Girl Scout ambassador, National Honor Society member, multi-sport athlete, musician and organizer for countless fundraising efforts — were very similar in their generosity towards others, right down to being registered organ donors.

“Their legacy has come together for a special reason and Kaitlin and Thomas will always be remembered here,” Doorhy said. “Even though they’re not here in the flesh, their spirits live on.”

“The truth is that every one of you has the power to transform the world in the decisions you make. If you see anyone sitting on that bench, that means you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can you come and play with me?’

—Louis Parrinello

Cutinella agreed there’s a special connection between their children, and said she was humbled to be approached by Doorhy and Kait’s Angels.

“Certainly there’s a commonality of the tragedies,” President of Kait’s Angels, William Araneo, said. “Although physically there will always be an empty chair, her presence remains strong … she continues to find ways to bring us together and this is one example of that. And just like Tom, Kaitlin reserved a place in her heart for those who may not have been popular, and persevered to make friends with those who might be developmentally challenged.”

Wading River Elementary School Principal Louis Parrinello called on a few students from each grade, starting with second, to place notes they wrote earlier in the day into a large basket next to the bench.

Scribbled on the notes were ways in which a student could make friends with another; one student wrote, “I can make a friend by playing with them,” while another student’s note said, “I can make a friend by talking to them about what they like.”

A small group of students who knew Cutinella personally were called up to cut the ribbon and be the first to sit on the bench.

“We learn about people in history, like Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross … people who have transformed the world,” Parrinello said to the room of students, “but the truth is that every one of you has the power to transform the world in the decisions you make. If you see anyone sitting on that bench, that means you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can you come and play with me?’ It’s about opening up and starting something new.”

A closer look at the life-size bust of Thomas Cutinella that rests in front of the wall along the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

It was a huge undertaking, and there may have been some doubt, but Shoreham Boy Scout Ryan Ledda was able to complete his Thomas Cutinella memorial wall.

Ledda, a junior wide receiver on the Shoreham-Wading River football team, decided to dedicate his Eagle Scout project in memory of Cutinella, who died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014.

The Thomas Cutinella memorial wall was made possible by Boy Scout Ryan Ledda. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The Thomas Cutinella memorial wall was made possible by Boy Scout Ryan Ledda. Photo by Desirée Keegan

His plan was to build a wall with pavers that would be purchased by members of the community, with the option of them being engraved, and a bronze statue of a football or helmet. What Ledda ended up getting from the project was even greater.

“I was able to do everything I hoped to do and more,” he said. “It started out as a helmet and football, then just a chest-up bust of Tom, and now it’s a waist-up life-size bust of Tom.”

His father Rich, who is also one of his troop leaders, liked the original idea, but had some reservations.

“I thought it was a big undertaking, but I also thought it was a great tribute to a member of the community,” he said. “I had some doubts at first, and Ryan assured me along the way, telling me ‘Dad, I got this.’ And he did.”

What made the project that much more special, was the community’s support.

“It was heartwarming,” Ledda said of seeing the hamlets, Shoreham and Wading River, and even surrounding communities, continue to rally together to support Tom. “I realized how close our community is. It feels amazing knowing that our community came together to do such a wonderful thing. And it makes me feel really good about myself.”

Shoreham Boy Scout Ryan Ledda came up with the idea for the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall, as his Eagle Scout project. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district
Shoreham Boy Scout Ryan Ledda came up with the idea for the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall, as his Eagle Scout project. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Ledda had some help along the way.

Ed Walker, owner of and sculptor at Carolina Bronze Sculpture Inc. in North Carolina, remembers his first interaction with the junior.

“The call was from a Boy Scout telling me about an Eagle Scout project, and I had never heard of an Eagle project like the one he proposed,’ Walker said. “I gave him a cost, and there was a gasp before he told me he’d get to work on it. I didn’t think I was going to hear from him again.”

But five months later, he did.

“The young boy said ‘Well, Mr. Walker, I have the money, but here’s my dad, because I’m too young to sign a contract,” Walker said, laughing. “I was surprised to say the least, and feel honored we were chosen to complete the project. I was very touched by Tom’s story.”

Walker went online to read articles and study photos of Tom. He was in contact with Tom’s parents, and worked to produce the best, most accurate depiction of Tom that he could.

“Any time I work on a portrait, I like to find out all that I can about the person,” he said. “In our consumerous age, when everything gets thrown away, this is something that lasts forever. This has a lot of meaning and will for a long time. It’s a very satisfying thing to do this line of work.”

For football teams to come, the $38,000 wall and bust, which rests on the side of the new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, will be a place teammates will pass before touching a monument rock, as the guys take the field. Funds were raised through a Go Fund Me page, and Ledda also enlisted donations from Emerald Landscaping. It took three years to raise the money, but just a few days to construct the project.

The Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall was constructed with the help of funds raised from a Go Fund Me page, where pavers were purchased and engraved. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The Thomas Cutinella Memorial Wall was constructed with the help of funds raised from a Go Fund Me page, where pavers were purchased and engraved. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It adds to the field, and it shows future football teams how close we are,” Ledda said. “I think it sets a precedent for our football program. Now it’s a place they could go to remember Tom and think about all of the good things he did in his life.”

For Kevin Cutinella, Thomas’ younger brother, who is a senior and quarterback of the Wildcats football team and midfielder on the lacrosse team, the piece has an even greater meaning.

“I think the final product is gorgeous,” Cutinella said. “I never expected it to be as big as it later came out to be, and [Ledda] did an outstanding job and is an amazing person. Seeing the community, once again, support Tom’s legacy, memory and life — it means everything to me and my family. We are very grateful for everything the community has done and continues to do. I am grateful, honored and humbled that this monument was built. I feel happy because Tom deserved to be noticed and respected every day.”

The Suffolk County sheriff's department's emergency response team leads the racers out of the gates. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The annual Patriot Run is more than a fundraiser, it’s a Shoreham-Wading River community get together and healer.

On Oct. 30 at Wildwood State Park, over 400 runners gather for the second annual Patriot Run to honor Thomas Cutinella, the Wildcats football player who was fatally injured in a football game in October 2014.

The 2.54-mile run — 54 being Cutinella’s jersey number — is sponsored by the Shoreham-Wading River’s athletic club. Memorial shirts and prizes were awarded to the top finishers, and there was a barbeque following the race.

Runners stop for the National Anthem before competing.
Runners stop for the National Anthem before competing.

“We don’t advertise this, and if we did, we would have a thousand people — [The event and the turnout] is remarkable and we’re happy to be here, it’s a good time,” said Frank Cutinella, Thomas’ father. “People don’t want to forget Tom, and it’s a way to stay positive.”

In a show of solidarity, the Suffolk County sheriff’s emergency response team led the race, carrying the American flag.

“We just wanted to show that the Suffolk County sheriff’s department supports the local community,” said Michael Poetta, one of the nine members to carry the flag. “We wanted to come out and honor Thomas Cutinella’s [memory].”

There were awards given out in four categories — girls and boys under 18 years old, and girls and boys over 18. Runners of all ages enjoyed the unusually pleasant temperature for the race that cost $25 to run in. All proceeds benefited the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation and scholarship fund.

“It’s real nice that the community does this,” said Kevin Cutinella, Thomas’ younger brother. “It was [John] Regazzi’s idea — he put it together and it turned out well, so this is the second year the community comes out [to continue to do] good things for our family.”

Eric Dilisio crossed the finish line first. Photo by Bill Landon
Eric Dilisio crossed the finish line first. Photo by Bill Landon

Regazzi, a local community member, said he organized the event because he just wanted a nice community outing to support a worthy cause and remember Thomas Cutinella’s legacy.

“It’s a wonderful community,” Regazzi said of the area. “I wanted to bring people together to do something positive in honor of Thomas Cutinella. He was a positive person, a leader in the community, and I wanted to keep that spirit alive.”

First across the line was Shoreham resident Eric Dilisio, a sophomore at Shoreham-Wading River. He crossed the finish line in 14 minutes, six seconds, which was well ahead of the second-place finisher. The top finisher for the girls was Emily Cook, and first across the finish line for the adults was Alana Philcox and Jeff Kraebel.

Kraebel, of Rocky Point, said he only heard the race less than a couple hours before the start, and jumped on his motorcycle to cruise over, sign up and run in the race.

“I’m a firm believer in contact sports and letting the kids play, but after the tragedy I loved the community’s [response] — how everyone rallied — it didn’t terminate their season, it drove the kids to play better,” Kraebel said. “It’s the power of positivity, so it was my pleasure to drop $25 to come here and run today.”

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By Bill Landon

As senior quarterback Kevin Cutinella walked onto his home field, his heart weighed heavy.

Although his Shoreham-Wading River football team picked it back up where the Wildcats left off last season, extending their winning streak to 25 games with a 56-0 win over Center Moriches, things looked a bit different this time.

Down the field, between the 35-yard lines on both sides of the field, read “Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.”

On the evening of Sept. 9, in front of a standing room only crowd, the field was dedicated to the former Wildcat who died in October 2014 from a head injury sustained during a game at John Glenn.

“A lot was going through my mind,” Cutinella said. “It’s extremely sentimental that this field, in a football game, is officially dedicated to Tom. This is a team sport and we leaned on everyone to make a contribution, and that’s what Tom would do and that’s what Tom would want.”

Kevin Cutinella sprints through an opening on a keeper play during the home opener against Center Moriches on Sept. 9 on the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo by Bill Landon
Kevin Cutinella sprints through an opening on a keeper play during the home opener against Center Moriches on Sept. 9 on the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo by Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River senior running back Chris Gray struck first on a muffed punt by Center Moriches, scooping up the ball and going the distance. Three plays later, freshman cornerback Xavier Arline intercepted a pass and took the ball to the end zone for the Wildcats’ second score. Unable to move the chains, the Red Devils punted the ball away, and again mishandled the kick. Shoreham-Wading River senior fullback Chris Sheehan scooped up the live ball and zig zagged across the field until he too reached the end zone. Kyle Boden, a junior running back, answered next on a handoff, bouncing outside and racing toward the finish line. The point-after attempt by junior kicker Tyler McAuley was good in three our of the four attempts, to make it a 27-0 game just eight minutes into the contest.

Senior quarterback and captain, Cutinella, struck next on a keeper play. He scored on a 54-yard run, his brother’s jersey number, along the left sideline, and McAuley’s kick put the Wildcats out in front 34-0 with two minutes left in the first quarter..

“I had no expectations, but we practiced hard all week and we came out flying,” Cutinella said. “Because we came out playing 150 percent, the score was a result of that.”

“It’s extremely sentimental that this field, in a football game, is officially dedicated to Tom. This is a team sport and we leaned on everyone to make a contribution, and that’s what Tom would do and that’s what Tom would want.”

—Kevin Cutinella

Gray scored again 90 seconds into the second when he shot through a hole up the middle and strode into the end zone untouched. He said despite big losses from last season, his new team, including the players who didn’t know Tom, have been dedicated to keeping their winning ways and “Tommy Tough” motto alive.

“We came out hard and maintained that momentum the whole game, and that really helped us,” he said. “Yeah, we lost 18 seniors to graduation — [Chris] Rosati, [Dean] Stalzer [Jimmy] Puckey [and Jon] Constant — but we have players that’ve been waiting their turn and they work hard in practice and that shows on the field.”

The Red Devils’ running game was extinguished by the Wildcats’ swarming defense. As a result, Center Moriches endured multiple three-and-out situations, and Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser leaned on his bench the rest of the way.

“With tonight’s atmosphere, the kids just came out ready to play and this team wasn’t going to let anyone stand in their way on this field tonight,” he said. “The breaks went our way early with the blocked kick and the good field position, and Xavier with that interception and took it back to the house, and after that, the kids relaxed a little bit and they played very loose, so it was a perfect storm for us.”

After a touchdown from senior running back Christian Aliperi, the Wildcats took a 47-0 lead into the halftime break.

Unable to mount any kind of a running game, the Red Devils were forced to throw deep, and Shoreham-Wading River junior cornerback Kyle Lutz intercepted a second-half pass. There was buzz along the sideline that another touchdown and extra-point kick would bring the Wildcats’ lead to 54, but a bad snap by Center Moriches left the quarterback chasing the loose ball into the end zone, where he was tackled for a safety that put Shoreham-Wading River out in front 49-0.

A memorial plaque rests in front of the extrance to the gate of the new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo by Bill Landon
A memorial plaque rests in front of the extrance to the gate of the new Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo by Bill Landon

Sheehan fielded a free kick cleanly and plowed his way to the goal post for six more points, McAuley’s foot made it seven, for the 56-0 win.

Shoreham-Wading River hasn’t lost a game since November 2013, when the team fell to Babylon in the second round of the playoffs. Last season, the Wildcats claimed their second consecutive Long Island championship title.

Although it’s a new season with a new field, the expectations within the team remain the same.

“We’ve talked about ‘Tommy Tough’ for years now — what it means by how we play and how we carry ourselves,” Millheiser said. “So I think it was important, especially tonight, to play with that intensity and play with that execution and play with heart — and they did that from the opening play.”

For Kelli Cutinella, Thomas and Kevin’s mother, she felt both exhilarated and heartbroken during the first game on the newly-dedicated field.

“Emotionally I felt excitement for them, but it makes me sad that the field is named after my son,” she said. ”I wish that he was here with us, but Kevin is an amazing person — he made us feel excited for tonight — he has that kind of influence on us. I’m humbled by how the community came out, supported us and supported the football team and for the beautiful tribute to my son.”

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