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.
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.”
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.
“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.”