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Shoreham-Wading River High School

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SWR student John Basile works on the Wildcat Pause 2020 senior issue. Photo from Jean Branna

It was months before the start of the crisis, and the editors of the Wildcat Pause school newspaper at Shoreham-Wading River High School were anticipating the school year’s end and the annual senior issue. Last year, printing troubles resulted in only a few copies getting published. This year was supposed to be different. 

‘I will miss the relationships I have created with teachers and peers. Some of us went to kindergarten together, so it’s not easy to recreate the same type of relationship.’

—Brianna Cohen

Quoted in SWR 2020 senior issue

Then the pandemic happened. The schools were closed. Students started learning at a distance online, and for the editors of the Pause, a new concern popped into their heads. What would happen to the senior issue, the one supposed to cap off both their and their fellow student’s final year?

“It became obvious that we needed to have it ready,” said high school journalism teacher Jean Branna. The newspaper is planned to be available online and will be printed in time to be handed out alongside the yearbook.

What became apparent to both the teacher and school newspaper editors was this senior issue, the last of their K-12 careers, would mark a defining moment for so many of their classmates. What they were experiencing was historic, a disruption to traditional schooling not seen in more than a century.

It was a marking point for a graduating class which editors said has become tight knit through adversity, such as the students who came together in the 2018 high school walkouts, protesting gun violence in schools after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“The senior class is very close, we went through a lot of stuff in the past several years,” said Heather Tepper, co-editor-in-chief of the Pause. “To see the last three years taken away from a lot of people, you really see them react with deprivation and disappointment.”

Tepper, along with co-editor-in-chief Sasha Medvedeva, SWR senior John Basile and Branna have taken to the task of producing the senior issue come hell or high water.

Of course, nothing comes easy, especially in a crisis. The school newspaper crew is unable to use Adobe InDesign from home, as Branna said the program does not meet the data privacy and security requirements by state law. Instead, thanks to the technical expertise of Basile, the editors have started laying out using Google Docs. Normally just a tool for straight text formats, using tables and cells the students have learned to format the papers, despite limitations of the program.

The fact the students and teacher have had only three weeks to put together issue meant some long hours compiling pictures and senior comments, then laying everything out. Tepper said there was one night she logged on to see Branna was still working on a page at around 11:30 p.m. She told her teacher to “go get some sleep.”

Doing this project, she said, is as much for the students as it is to show appreciation for her teacher.

‘Be yourself and don’t sweat the small stuff. The years go by way too quickly to worry about the little things, and one day you’ll look back on those things and realize how stupid they were. Also, be yourself and never change for anyone because you’re happiest when you’re you.’

— Mike Casazza 

Quoted in SWR 2020 senior issue

“Branna is so invested with journalism in general, she’s so into her work, and I felt like I wanted to go out with a bang,” Tepper said.

But the hours have been worth it, as students from the journalism class take in the massive number of quotes from seniors. In previous years, when student-journalists would get comments from seniors wandering the halls, comments had been terse or simple platitudes. Now, while students are forced online, seniors became more verbose. To read some of their quotes is to understand the mindset of those graduating seniors, hurtling themselves into the many unknowns the pandemic has produced.

“I’ve learned about how their friendships, their experiences have changed with other people,” Medvedeva said. 

The senior was planning to attend Binghamton University to study neuroscience, but she still does not know if the college will even have a fall semester, or what shape it will take. Tepper was set to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and study advertising with a goal of going into public relations. Similar to her fellow editor, she also does not know what the future may bring. It is possibly the most daunting and most uncertain time for a person to graduate since the 2008 financial collapse.

Though in writing the senior issue’s editorial, co-written by both editors, what became clear was just what this issue of the Wildcat Pause meant to the graduating students. Medvedeva in hearing some of the anecdotes from seniors has “learned about their friendships with other seniors, of how some experiences throughout their high school career have changed them. It has just warmed my heart to hear those.”

Tepper, who shared in her fellow seniors’ anxieties over the future, added this Pause issue may memorialize the shared experiences of her classmates.

“I still think there’s something to celebrate, as things were taken away from us,” she said. “I think that given the unfortunate circumstances, we can appreciate what we had even more.” 

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Goals are hard to come by in soccer, and one was all it took for Shoreham-Wading River when 9thgrader Graceann Leonard crossed to junior Ashley Borriello who buried her shot minutes into the second half. John Glenn was unable to answer and the Wildcats won 1-0 Oct. 24 as they conclude their regular season at 11-1-2, one game behind Div. II leader Hills West.

The win bodes well for the Wildcats as they’ll play the opening round of the playoffs at home Oct. 29. Game time is set for 4 p.m.

This post was amended Oct. 28 to reflect new start times for the first playoff game for the wildcats.

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File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River High School was one of 362 schools recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019 as announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Sept. 26. The distinction is the second time the school has been honored, being one of the early honorees in the 37-year-old program as a 1987-88 Blue Ribbon School.

“This honor points to the collaborative efforts of our administrators, teachers, students, families and larger community in helping to encourage, engage and educate students who graduate from our high school as productive members of society,” said SWR High School Principal Frank Pugliese.

In her remarks via a video message to the honorees DeVos stated the schools important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives.

“As a National Blue Ribbon School, your school demonstrates what is possible when committed educators hold all students and staff to high standards and create vibrant, innovative cultures of teaching and learning,” she said.

The department recognizes all schools in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, student subgroup scores and graduation rates:

• Exemplary High Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools are measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.

• Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.

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Cadets in the Naval Academy’s Summer Navigation and Seamanship Training Block toss a line as they prepare to dock in Port Jeff Harbor Aug. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

From the west, a storm came in. Five U.S. Navy boats watched the clouds sweep in from the opposite direction they sailed, with lightning flicking out of dark skies. 

With the direction of the officers on the small 44-foot crafts, they knew what to do.

Two made it into Port Jefferson Harbor through the night of Aug. 7, while the other three stayed out in the Sound beyond the harbor. People on the vessel Valiant said they saw gusts of wind driving them at 38 knots, then staying in the mid 20s for a time after that. With two reefs in the mainsail and no jib, the boat, carrying eight midshipmen and two other officers, was as light and fast as a bird over a rough swell.

The Intrepid sailing into Port Jeff Harbor on Aug. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We did hit that storm for a little while; for an hour and a half it was pretty rough,” said senior officer first class Joe Llewellyn, laughing, “It was a bit of a thrill … these guys,” he looked to the other young midshipmen, “handled the boat great though.”

The rapid entry into Port Jefferson Harbor was part of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Summer Navigation and Seamanship Training Block, where Lt. Matt Vernam, a commanding officer on one of the vessels, took around 40 young midshipmen (despite the name, it consists of both men and women) from Annapolis, Maryland, to Delaware Bay into New York City Harbor, where the cadets watched the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower roll by, before climbing up the Hudson and visiting the USS Intrepid. The boats then sailed down the East River and made good sail until they came outside Port Jefferson during the storm. 

The program that Vernam helps run, called the Offshore Sail Training Squadron, is meant to give cadets a leadership experience. Four midshipmen are up on deck at a time and are instructed to listen to advice as they carry out operations of the vessel, even getting the vessel safely into dock through their own muscle and sweat.

“We try to let these guys run the boat and exercise leadership,” Vernam said. 

George Hoffman, cofounder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, had helped suggest Port Jeff as a place the sailors could visit on their tour. When the boats came in the Thursday morning, they did so with a police boat escort.

Vernam, a graduate of Shoreham-Wading River High School and a Wading River native, said it was nice to be back to his home on the North Shore. His father, Don Vernam, was acting on the Valiant as a civilian volunteer, and his family reunion would include his mother who came up to greet them both on the harbor.

“It’s nice having two local bodies to plan this,” he said.

Rob LoScalzo, a Wading River resident, helped contact the Navy to have the midshipman take their boats into Port Jefferson. His son Mike, a fellow SWR graduate, had just graduated from the Navy academy in May. 

LoScalzo said he has been trying to get the Navy to Long Island for years, originally trying with the Village of Patchogue but the keel was too long for the harbor. 

“With all the naval history that’s around here, with the Culper Spy Ring, to the Taylor Brewster, to the shipbuilding — its rich history — we’re just so excited that we could piece it together.”

The Town of Brookhaven allowed the visitors to use the dock space, and the public was able to visit for tours on the vessels.  

People on the Port Jefferson Tall Ship Committee, who have been working to bring tall, masted sailing ships into Port Jefferson Harbor, watched the tall ship Lady Maryland sail away on the morning’s tide, listening for the cannon shot to announce its departure. Chris Ryon, village historian, said he expects the historical schooner Amistad to make its appearance once again in PJ Harbor some time in the near future.

 

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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.

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The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats varsity football team blew out Center Moriches 41-12 on the road Sept. 21. The win improves the Wildcats’ record to 2-1 this season. SWR will host Elwood-John Glenn Sept. 28 at 6 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

East Islip’s boys soccer team traveled to Shoreham-Wading River Sept. 1 and defeated the Wildcats 1-0.

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As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, a new drop-off point was added at Wading River Elementary School, where Principal Louis Parrinello can be seen greeting a student. Photo by Kyle Barr

An ongoing bond referendum project has aided in Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s makeover. Thanks to the $48.5 million bond voted on in 2015, repairs and expansions have led to many changes across the district, including renovations to the middle school library by the end of this summer, and a new cafeteria and kitchen addition by Jan. 1, 2019.

“It’s been a very exciting time for the district with the bond work and the renovations,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Opening up the schools this fall was great with those new vibrant spaces for our students, so we’re looking forward to the work this summer.”

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, school classrooms, like those at Principal Christine Carlson’s Miller Avenue School, were expanded to include bathrooms. Photo by Kyle Barr

The construction is being headed by South Huntington-based Park East Construction, and according to Poole, the district is currently in phase three of four and right on schedule.

The middle school’s library will see an internal redesign. Currently, the library walls only reach three quarters of the way to the ceiling, and the plan is for the new walls to go all the way up. The overhead lighting and circulation desks will be replaced.

“I think part of it is modernizing it, and the other part of it is redesigning it into an instructional space,” Poole said. “The library is the heart of the building, so modernizing it is going to be great for the instruction of the students.”

The extension for the kitchen and cafeteria will include a new freezer and utilities. The kitchen, and its staff, will provide a health-based menu much like the cafeteria at Wading River Elementary School, that was completed in summer 2018. Poole said that the kitchen may provide opportunities down the road for culinary classes.

“Whenever you make a space in the school, people seem to make use of it,” Poole said. “I wouldn’t rule it out.” 

“We had students where the only bathroom they could use in the whole school was the one in the nurse’s office. It was bad, because those students just wanted to be like everyone else. This has definitely made a difference.”

— Christine Carlson

The middle school is also scheduled to receive parking improvements with the addition of 20 spots in the rear of the building and main office, guidance department and nurse’s office quarters.

Cracked track asphalt and roof repairs were already completed last summer. Water fountains, carbon monoxide detectors, a phone system and additional AEDs were also added at Prodell.

Bond construction work to date

Phase one of the bond project was completed in 2016 with the reconstruction of Shoreham-Wading River High School’s tennis courts and roof. The high school’s football field was also upgraded with new turf.

Phase two of the project included renovations at both Miller Avenue and Wading River elementary schools.

Outside, Miller Avenue’s parking lot was reconstructed with additional parking in the front as well as a new bus loop that goes to the rear of the building. Inside, the school was expanded by the addition of new kindergarten classrooms, and some pre-existing classrooms were enlarged to fit internal bathrooms. Bathrooms in the front of the school have also been made handicap accessible. Miller Avenue Elementary School Principal Christine Carlson said the change has helped students feel less segregated from their peers.

“We had students where the only bathroom they could use in the whole school was the one in the nurse’s office because it was the only one accessible to them,” Carlson said. “It was bad, because those students just wanted to be like everyone else. This has definitely made a difference.”

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, asphalt was replaced on Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s track. Photo by Kyle Barr

Wading River Elementary School also saw the construction of new classrooms and renovation of several existing ones. The school’s floor was redesigned and part of the roof was refurbished. The main courtyard had major flooding issues, so a new water filtration system was installed.

The building also saw the addition of a new kitchen and cafeteria. Kitchen staff arrive early in the morning baking bow-tie pasta with fresh basil pesto, grilled chicken, steamed carrots and fresh fruit.

Wading River Elementary School Principal Louis Parrinello said that the renovations have made a huge impact on the morale of the school.

“When you’re not focused on facilities, of floods in the courtyard or a bad roof, you can turn your attention to the things that really matter — the students,” Parrinello said. “Now we can look to work on new programs and activities going into next year.”

Phase four of the bond project is expected to start next year. Those plans include a redesign of Shoreham-Wading River High School’s parking lot and traffic circle. The district still has to finalize the draft for the plans and get state approval, before receiving bids from potential construction companies.

Shoreham-Wading River High School students gathered in front of the road leading to the school to protest gun violence and gun-control legislation during #NationalHighSchoolWalkout day April 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it has been close to 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, for Shoreham-Wading River High School students who participated in a school walkout on the anniversary April 20, the threat of gun violence is still all too real.

Shoreham-Wading River High School junior Kelly Beagen, on right, voices her opinions during the walkout. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We don’t want to be numbers of slain students in a newspaper,” junior Reese Manghan said to the group of students standing in front of the road leading up to the school. The close to 20 students who participated organized on social media and braved the cold winds of early spring to protest gun violence and current gun-control laws.

“If we’re apathetic to this issue, then were simply ignoring and consenting to the thousands of deaths that have been caused by gun violence in America,” junior Mahdi Rashidzada said.

Rallys and walkouts were hosted all across the country for the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, a school shooting where 15 students were killed and 24 were seriously injured. Though Columbine shocked the nation and brought more attention to violence in schools, the Washington Post reported that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine.

“I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight.”

— Jordan Carroll

“Even though Shoreham-Wading River is such a small school, we have all been personally connected to these shootings, wherever it is,” junior Kayla Napolitano said. “I have three younger siblings, and I know a lot of us don’t show appreciation to our siblings, but when that time comes I don’t want to see them be shot or hurt in any way.”

“The world is such a violent place,” junior Jordan Carroll said, opening up about his feelings following the Orlando gay nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded. “I was horrified of coming out because all I see in the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be [identifying as] straight. I don’t want violence whatsoever.”

Students argued that there should be restrictions on gun sales in America. Some students pointed to places like Australia, which banned the sale of assault rifles and had a massive gun buyback program in 1996.

“I think that it’s important to think about other parts of the world — and I feel like for some people, there’s this culture in our country that we have to be different from other parts of the world, like simply being different makes us better than them,” junior Kelly Beagen said. “But there is evidence that different countries that have different gun laws don’t having mass shootings, at least not at the rate that we have them.”

Shoreham-Wading River students protested on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students stood behind a barricade that was guarded by both school security and Suffolk County police.

“With what we want it shouldn’t be harder for a responsible gun owner to get a gun,” Manghan said. “What’s going to be harder, hopefully impossible, is for somebody who’s mentally ill or mentally incapable from getting a gun and shooting people.”

Students said that the walkout was much more organized than the one hosted March 14, and that that the school administration supported the students to a much better degree.

“I felt more confident than last time — last time it was just a bunch of people walking in solidarity, but that became a conflict with the school,” Rashidzada said. “Today, definitely, the school is in support of us as long as we follow the general rules — we feel pretty good about that.”

“At the very least they respect what we’re doing,” Manghan said.

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.”