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Tom Cutinella

Last year, tragedy struck after 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella, a former Shoreham-Wading River High School football player, suffered a fatal head injury after colliding with another player during a football game on Oct. 1. Cutinella died later that day.

To honor his memory, community members from Shoreham-Wading River gathered on Sunday at Wildwood State Park in Wading River for the first Patriot Run. The event was sponsored by the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcat Athletic Club.

John Regazzi, a physical education teacher at Wading River Elementary School, created and organized the event to honor Cutinella. Alice Steinbrecher, a second grade elementary school teacher at Miller Avenue Elementary School also helped, and said the two decided to call the event the Patriot Run to honor Cutinella’s own patriotism.

“One of [Tom’s] biggest loves was his country, besides his family,” Steinbrecher said. “He cared so much about the men and women fighting for our country.”

According to Steinbrecher, more than 300 people attend the event to either show their support or run the race. Cutinella’s former football number, 54, was also considered when they determined the length of the race. The number was included as the race was made a 2.54 mile run.

Those who wanted to participate had to register to enter the race. The fee was $20 for adults and $15 for children if residents register before or by Sept. 4. Those who registered the day of the event paid an additional $5. Although everyone who registered for the event received a ticket for the barbecue that followed the race, only those who pre-registered received a T-Shirt in support of the event.

According to a friend of Cutinella who wanted to remain unidentified, the money is going toward the Tom Cutinella Scholarship fund.

“I knew him for a while… and he just, he’s the kind of kid you’d see in the hallway and no matter who you are… he’d say hi,” the friend said. “He didn’t see social barriers. He [was] just a friend to everybody. I think that’s why the whole community was united [after his death].”

A total of $70,545 has been raised for the scholarship before the event, but it is still unclear when Regazzi will know how much money they raised at the Patriot Run. The Cutinella family didn’t speak regarding the event or the loss of their son as the media was asked to respect the family’s privacy.

Jim Madden of Wading River is a parent of a student who went to school with Cutinella. Madden says the incident reminds people that unexpected events can happen.

“He was hurt on the football field and many of us have children that participate in sports whether it’s football, lacrosse, baseball,” he said. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare when something like that happens. It’s chilling to all the other spectators and the other parents and it’s a reminder to everyone that things like this can happen. Life really is very fragile you have to cherish every day.”

The event is one of several scheduled for this year. The Thomas Cutinella Memorial foundation is also support Cutinella in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Run in New York City on Sunday Sept. 27 and the first golf tournament fundraiser in his name on Monday Oct. 12 at the Baiting Hollow Country Club in Baiting Hollow.

The hope is that these events, including the Patriot Run, will help those Cutinella cared about while keeping his memory alive.

“He was a great kid,” Steinbrecher said. “Last fall was a big tragedy for our community so this year we wanted a chance for the community to come together in a positive way. The Cutinella family [is] asking people to go out and do acts of kindness in his honor and so this was our way of getting the community together.”

 

Editor’s note: This online story was updated to name the correct title for John Regazzi.

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Jimmy Puckey and Kevin Cutinella carry Tom Cutinella’s jersey onto the Stony Brook University field for the Long Island Championship game. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Following a 2014 season that began in tragedy and ended with the program’s first Long Island Championship, the Shoreham-Wading River football program returns to the field well-prepared to contend for another title.

The Wildcats persevered to complete a perfect 12-0 season while coping with the loss of teammate Tom Cutinella, who died following a collision during a game at John Glenn High School on Oct. 1.

“It is an incredible story, but one I’d never want to live through again,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “In the end, we lost Tom, and although the season ended miraculously and kind of storybook, it’s something we wish we didn’t have to go through.”

Millheiser said it was difficult for everyone following the loss of Cutinella, but from a coaching perspective, it was particularly hard to handle.

A sign with Tom Cutinella’s jersey number sits above the press box above the soon-to-be old Wildcats athletic field. File photo by Bill Landon
A sign with Tom Cutinella’s jersey number sits above the press box above the soon-to-be old Wildcats athletic field. File photo by Bill Landon

“It’s not something that you can even find anybody to ask advice on how to handle that as a coach or as a person or a friend,” he said. “So we kind of did our best to be there for each other and get through it.”

To keep his memory alive, Shoreham-Wading River will name its new multipurpose athletic field after Cutinella. While construction takes place, the Wildcats will play home games at Rocky Point High School. Millheiser said he wants future Shoreham-Wading River athletes to know who Cutinella was.

“He lived his life in a certain way that we want our players and our team to live up to that and remember that always,” he said. “And naming the field after him is a constant reminder of how we want to do things and how we want to act. His name and his legacy will carry on.”

The Wildcats picked up right where they left off last year in their season opener Friday night in Riverhead against McGann-Mercy, besting the Monarchs in a 35-0 rout. Cutinella’s brother, Kevin, scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

“They play with a lot of enthusiasm and our kids matched that and were able to make some big plays early then stay in the lead,” Millheiser said. “It was a good game between two good teams, and fortunately we made a few more plays than they did.”

Millheiser said his team’s hard play was a positive but would like to see some improvement on blocking.

The game was also the first test for new quarterback Jason Curran, who replaces All-County quarterback Danny Hughes. Though Hughes was a special player, according to Millheiser, he has the utmost confidence in Curran’s abilities.

“I think he has the ability to do the things that Danny did, but he’s gaining experience,” he said. “He’s still going to have to learn the football side of it. You don’t just walk into a huddle and have the kids follow you. You got to kind of earn that from them. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will, but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

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Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Now it’s up to the voters.

Port Jefferson school board members adopted a 2015-16 budget on Tuesday night that would raise the tax rate 1.62 percent, matching the state-imposed cap on how much it can increase.

The $42.4 million budget proposal has not changed much since it was first presented to the community earlier this year. It would increase staffing levels — bringing in additional teachers for English as a second language, a groundskeeper and teaching assistants — and put $1.25 million toward constructing a new elevator at the district high school.

The elevator project is so costly because in order to build a lift that is up to code, the district will have to construct a wider elevator shaft as well as new lobbies on each floor.

Another driver of the budget increase is funding to have an ambulance present at Port Jefferson lacrosse and football games, a safety measure proposed in response to the death of a Shoreham-Wading River High School student-athlete following a football game against John Glenn High School in the fall.

But it won’t be all increases — the school district is expecting to see a 4 percent decrease in state teachers’ retirement system contributions next year.

Although the tax levy would only go up 1.62 percent, the budget-to-budget increase would top 5 percent, due to staffing and capital costs. However, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister explained during a budget presentation on Tuesday, the district would draw $1.3 million from its debt service fund to offset the increase. That fund contains leftover monies from completed bond projects.

If voters approve the budget in May, the tax rate would increase to $144.67 for every $100 of assessed value on a property.

Also on the ballot will be a proposition to create a new capital reserve fund aimed at replacing roofs at the three schools. Leister said the district would put surplus dollars leftover at the end of each school year into the new capital reserve fund to support roof replacements, which would be staggered so that those new roofs don’t eventually have to be replaced all at once.

According to Leister’s presentation, the district would need a community vote to use money from the fund, once it is established.

The district will hold a budget hearing on May 12 in the high school auditorium.