Shoreham-Wading River High School’s “Tommy Tough” slogan is not only changing the culture of the Wildcats football team — it’s changing the community.
When Tom Cutinella passed away from an on-field collision last year, sophomore Ryan Ledda was right in the middle of thinking about what he should do for his Eagle Scout project. Ledda didn’t know Tom, but his sister Gabriella did, and after seeing how the loss affected her, coupled with what he saw during a Clemson University football game, his memorial idea was born.
“Before each game, the Clemson team comes onto the field touching a memorial called Howard’s Rock, and I figured I could do something similar to that,” Ryan Ledda said. “That the team could come out and touch the memorial for good luck before each home game. My goal is that everyone in the school could be connected to Tom without him being there. So no one will forget him.”
First, Ledda presented the idea to high school Principal Dan Holtzman, before going to the board of education.
“I thought it was an impressive one,” Holtzman said. “It was well-received by the board of education and they gave Ryan the go-ahead. I think it is a meaningful and thoughtful project and one that I hope encourages students at all grade levels to engage in community-oriented projects.”
The proposal was a 4- by 20-foot retaining wall on a pre-existing hill on the field that would have a concrete base with pavers stacked on top. In the middle will be a pedestal with a bronze bust of Cutinella. The bronze piece will be life size.
“I thought it was a very big project — I was very nervous,” Ledda’s mother Jennifer Ledda said. “I myself didn’t know the Cutinellas, but after Ryan went to the board and got approval I met Mrs. Cutinella. I found out how the boy was outstanding in every aspect of what he does. It reminded me of all of the kids who do good.”
According to Ryan Ledda, the project is estimated to cost $30,000-$40,000. The approval was quick by the board, but the approval by Boy Scout Troop 161 in Shoreham took longer.
“You need to fill out a long application and they send it back with improvements and revisions,” he said. “But they thought it was a great idea. A lot of the Eagle board members knew Tom’s family so they wanted to help out. Once they heard how much it was going to cost they got a little freaked out, but I told them how I was going to raise money and how important it was because of how Tom affected the community.”
To help fund the project, bricks are being sold that can be engraved, to rest atop the base. Smaller bricks cost $125, while larger ones cost $250.
“Those who went to school with him will always remember him, but kids to come that didn’t know him might not, so hopefully this can help them honor Tom,” Ledda said.
The sophomore created a website where the bricks can be purchased, and he handed out flyers in front of the school that were donated by a local printing company. To purchase a brick, go to www.bricksrus.com/order/bsatroop161. There is also a GoFundMe account raising funds for the base of the memorial and bronze statue.
The goal is to reach $20,000. Currently, 34 people have donated a combined $3,271 in the last month. Fourteen of those people have donated $54 or $154, representing Cutinella’s jersey No. 54. To donate to this project, go to www.gofundme.com/tomcmemorial.
For Shoreham-Wading River varsity football coach Matt Millheiser, he thinks all projects done in Cutinella’s name have been beneficial for the community.
“Outside of football, you see so many projects and so many things done — whether it’s a run or a blood drive or this Eagle Scout project — that are done in Tom’s name, he said. “It really shows the impact he had as a person and some of the good things that are being done by his friends and family and even people that didn’t know him, in the things they do throughout their lives. I think it is part of his long-standing effect.”
As for the memorial, the head coach knows it will only add to the field.
“I think it’s a great, worthy cause and idea — they’re all good things to remember their friend and brother who was lost,” Millheiser said. “‘Tommy Tough’ kind of changed the culture of Shoreham-Wading River football and the way the kids viewed how they went to work, how they practiced and how they prepared and how they carried themselves, and it really speaks to his legacy.”