A Thursday evening vigil has been planned in memory of a Shoreham-Wading River athlete who died after being injured during a football game Wednesday evening.
Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old junior, was “beloved by everyone who knew him,” said Superintendent Steven Cohen during a press conference at the school Thursday morning.
“I can only imagine the grief his family must be feeling,” the superintendent said. “We will do everything we can to support them and all of Tom’s classmates during this terrible time.”
Cutinella was hospitalized after colliding with another player during the third quarter of the team’s game at Elwood/John Glenn High School. He was taken to Huntington Hospital at 6:05 p.m., 20 minutes after the hit, and later died.
Mr. Cohen called the football play a “freak accident.” Cutinella had played football since entering high school two years ago, and this was his first year on varsity, according to the superintendent.
Cutinella also played lacrosse and was a member of the Natural Helpers program, Mr. Cohen said. Cutinella was the oldest of four siblings. He has two younger brothers and a younger sister.
High school principal Daniel Holtzman said Cutinella was an “amazing student.”
“He connected with many students in the building and many teachers in the building, myself included,” the principal said.
Tonight’s vigil will begin at 4:30 p.m. on the Shoreham-Wading River High School athletic field.
Brian Baker, who coached Cutinella in lacrosse at Shoreham, described him as a role model and a leader.
“Tommy didn’t have a best friend, he had a ton of best friends,” Baker said.
Baker recalled one time after a tough loss Cutinella coming up to him and saying: “Hey coach, don’t worry, it’s just a lacrosse game.”
“Tommy was a role model not just for his peers, but for everyone that came around him,” Baker said. “He comes from a great family.”
Athletic activities at the district high school and middle school have been cancelled today, and an open house at the middle school has been postponed, according to a notice posted on the school website.
Flags at high school flew at half-staff Thursday morning.
School board president William McGrath said he didn’t know Tom personally but heard from those who knew him that he was “highly admired by everybody.”
“It’s just a complete and total tragedy,” Mr. McGrath said. “Everybody is devastated by this. They’re going to need their time and space to deal with this. The cacophony of media around here has me concerned.”
Grief counselors have been made available for students and staff.
Mr. McGrath said he wasn’t aware of what happened Wednesday night, since it was an away game. He said that medical professionals and the district’s athletics trainer are at all the home football games.
According to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, there were eight deaths of high school football players in 2013 from direct contact.
Nationwide there have been an average of 3.1 deaths per football season in the last 10 years. The report is compiled by The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.
ESPN reported that Cutinella was the third U.S. high school football player to die from injury in the past week.
Dr. Rosanna Sabini, a brain injury and concussion rehabilitation physician at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Southside Hospital, said the recent tragedies brings to light the dangers of a high-impact sport.
“I think that three having happened in such a short period of time is probably a random scenario, but certainly having had three happen at once will hopefully bring and shed more light on the potential for injury, and the severity of the injury that one might sustain in such a sport,” she said. “I just hope it opens more eyes.”
Cutinella is the first local athlete to die from an injury during a sporting event since Ronan Guyer, a cross country runner at Southold High School, died during a state meet practice near Buffalo in 2012.
Members of the Elwood School District, where the accident occurred Wednesday, said they were “extremely shocked and saddened.”
“We offer our most sincere condolences to Tom’s family and friends during this difficult time,” officials wrote on the district Facebook page. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Shoreham-Wading River School District community.”
The Elwood School District has also cancelled all athletic activities Thursday “out of respect and support for the Shoreham-Wading River community,” according to a district statement.
Cutinella’s death affected districts across the North Fork, where administrators posted messages of support to families and employees.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Shoreham-Wading River HS students, faculty and staff and especially to the family of Tom Cutinella who passed away during a football game yesterday,” the Greenport school district wrote on its Facebook page.
In a memo, Mattituck-Cutchogue school district athletics and health director Greggory Wormuth said district officials should be prepared to support students and will continue to “put a focus on safe play.”
“Nothing will bring this boy back to his family but maybe we can do little things to prevent a serious injury or even death by proactively moving forward,” Mr. Wormuth wrote. “Please keep Tom Cutinella, his family, and the entire community of SWR in your hearts and prayers.”
The game at John Glenn was played earlier than normal in the week because of Yom Kippur Saturday. Half the games in Suffolk County were Wednesday and the rest scheduled for today.
Shoreham was leading Glenn 17-12 when the game was suspended in the third quarter.
WITH CARRIE MILLER