Dylan Rebeor wasn’t around for his team’s finest moment on the football field.
Diagnosed with colon cancer in spring 2010, the 16-year-old from Columbia, Tenn. didn’t live long enough to see his Columbia Central teammates win a state title.
But before he died, he made a pledge to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for his team to receive new uniforms.
Since his passing, Russell Athletic has honored his memory by awarding a $50,000 uniform and equipment grant to a high school that overcame a challenge or triumphed in the face of adversity while embodying Dylan’s spirit and courage.
On Sunday, the “Fight Like Dylan” award was presented to Shoreham-Wading River High School, whose football team finished its first unbeaten season last month as Long Island champions, despite the October death of lineman Thomas Cutinella, who died hours after suffering an on-field injury.
“We had an extremely difficult decision this year with hundreds of quality submissions across the country for the ‘Fight Like Dylan Award,’” Robby Davis, senior vice president and general manager for Russell Athletic, said in a statement. “All of the judges were deeply touched by Tom’s story, and we are honored to present this award to the entire Shoreham-Wading River community.”
The award was presented during an on-field ceremony at the Russell Athletic Bowl game between Oklahoma and No. 18 Clemson in Orlando, Fla. A press release issued by Russell states SWR won the award for “demonstrating determination through adversity.”
“Following the tragic incident, Tom’s family, friends, teammates and coaches decided that the best way to honor his memory was to play the rest of the season for their beloved teammate, and that is just what they did. Behind the motto of ‘Tommy Tough,’ the Wildcats went on to finish the season with a 12-0 record and their first-ever championship,” Russell wrote in its press release.
Assistant coach Tom Fabian accepted the award for the Wildcats team.
“[Cutinella] not only shined on the football field, but throughout the halls of our school and in his community,” Fabian said in a statement. “He always put the team first, and wanted nothing more than to win for those guys on the field next to him. We are so honored to be receiving this prestigious award.”
Super Bowl winning former NFL head coach and current NBC Sports football analyst Tony Dungy and pro football players Mark Ingram, Pierre Garcon and Colt McCoy served on the “Fight Like Dylan Award” selection committee, along with Dylan’s mother, Heather Rebeor, and former Columbia Central High School head coach Vance Belew.
The award is presented to a school and benefits athletic programs, not just individual teams. Past recipients of the award hailed from Kentucky, Maryland and Colorado and were honored following the deaths of athletes who played football, volleyball and tennis.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated the “Fight Like Dylan Award” is given to high school football teams, but it is in fact open to “any high school athletic program in the United States that is affiliated with an official athletic association,” according to the organization’s website.