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Ryan Ledda

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.”

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A memorial will rest on the pre-existing hill on the new Tom Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo from Ryan Ledda

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.”

Ryan Ledda, whose Eagle Scout project will raise money to fund a memorial in Tom Cutinella’s name. Photo from Ryan Ledda
Ryan Ledda, whose Eagle Scout project will raise money to fund a memorial in Tom Cutinella’s name. Photo from Ryan Ledda

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.”