$1M in anonymous donations to upgrade Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field

03/24/2016 6:00 AM |

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These days, most sports fields, arenas and parks bear the name of a particular corporate sponsor.

Remember Shea Stadium? Its newest incarnation, built in 2009, is called Citi Field. The Meadowlands? In 2010, a replacement stadium was briefly known as The New Meadowlands. Then MetLife purchased the naming rights at a reported annual cost of $17 million to $20 million.

But in the Shoreham-Wading River school district, the opposite is taking place.

At the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, named to honor a high school junior who died in 2014 from injuries sustained during a football game, a reported 12 to 15 individuals are donating $1 million in time, labor and materials toward a major upgrade.

And instead of having their names touted as project sponsors, the mystery donors — who are involved in local construction and landscaping businesses — prefer to remain anonymous.

Ken Gray of Wading River, who addressed the district’s Board of Education on the donors’ behalf last Tuesday, insisted that they are motivated to do good for the community and not by the prospect of recognition.

“They’re doing this for Thomas,” Mr. Gray said after the meeting. “In memory of Thomas and for the community.”

On Oct. 1, 2014, the 16-year-old offensive lineman for the Wildcats was running what seemed a normal play when he was struck by an Elwood/John Glenn defensive player. He was taken to Huntington Hospital, where he later died of his injuries.

Ever since, the community has continued to rally around his family and his team, who lost a son, brother and friend.

The Wildcats, whose motto is “Tommy Tough,” went on to win the 2014 Rutgers Trophy, which goes to Long Island’s best football team. Last fall, they won the Class IV Long Island Championship. The team hasn’t lost a game since Thomas died.

Learning of the $1 million donation was “overwhelming,” said his mother, Kelli. “These people stepped forward and are looking to add on to it to make it even more amazing. For us, we’re just honored that people continue to think of Tom.”

Mr. Gray said a few community members had spoken with Ms. Cutinella months ago about doing some landscaping around the field. Since then, the plan has snowballed.

“Since that initial meeting, that plan has exploded in both the number of people that are willing to participate and also the magnitude of the project,” he said.

Plans for the area around the field now include a landscaped entrance leading from the southern end of the parking lot to the field and a second new entrance leading down from the top of the hill.

A memorial stone honoring Thomas would be featured in an adjacent 7,000-square-foot plaza, which Mr. Gray said is expected to include restrooms, a concession stand, trees and an expanded “landscape plan.”

R0324_field2_NS_C.jpgThe plan may also involve relocating the pole vaulting space and providing more bleacher seats on both sides of the existing press box. Shoreham-Wading River athletics director Mark Passamonte declined to comment on the project, saying he didn’t know enough about it yet and didn’t want to influence “how this would play out.”

The project has purportedly been in the works for months and the donors have consulted with BBS Architects, the same firm used by the district. Mr. Gray said the Patchogue firm drafted designs and a site plan for the group at no cost and is committed to working with the benefactors throughout the project.

“Our architect is working with this group, but not on behalf of the district,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen, who referred to the proposal as “a giant donation.”

The district’s school board voted unanimously to accept the donation at its meeting Tuesday night.

“I want to thank everyone for their donation and I want to thank the community for this incredibly ambitious project,” said school board president John Zukowski. “It’s for an incredible cause, so we wish them absolutely the best and anything we can do to make it possible, we will.”

According to Dr. Cohen, any construction companies involved in the effort will need to meet the same requirements as contractors hired by the district itself. Eventually, the donors will be legally required to disclose the names of any vendors working on the project.

He also said the proposal incorporates many ideas the district had long hoped to implement at the field but ultimately decided against, not wishing to overspend.

Ms. Cutinella added that the donors’ desire to remain anonymous reveals their true intentions.

“It just speaks that they’re coming from their heart,” she said. “That just speaks volumes about how Shoreham-Wading River is as a community. We are never looking for a pat on the back. Tom was never looking for a pat on a back.”

Ms. Cutinella, who helps run the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation and works to spread awareness about the same kind of organ donation that allowed her son’s death to save lives, said she hadn’t yet seen the latest plans for the field. She had only heard “rumblings” about what the overhaul would look like.

She said it’s “heartwarming” to know people across the community and beyond are still touched by the story of Thomas’ life.

“It’s humbling to go somewhere and someone recognizes your child and talks about the impact their passing had on their lives,” she said. “I think [the field] is going to be beautiful. I think at the end, when everything’s completed, Shoreham-Wading River is going to be proud of the project.”

Ms. Cutinella said her son often sat on the hill above the field that now bears his name to gather his thoughts. That same hill will now be a focal point of the project’s overall design.

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Captions: Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field was recently constructed. New additions will be forthcoming, courtesy of anonymous donors. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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