It’s one thing to say that the memory of a life lost too soon won’t soon be forgotten.
It’s quite another thing to raise over $100,000 in donations to keep that memory alive.
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of the Shoreham-Wading River community, and so many others, the memory of Tom Cutinella will live on for years to come, his mother, Kelli, said.
At Tuesday night’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting, Ms. Cutinella accepted a check for $106,000 from the local athletics booster club to kickstart the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation, a program set up to honor her son, a Shoreham-Wading River junior who died last year after suffering a traumatic head injury while playing for the varsity football team. He was 16.
“I have to thank you guys for beginning this process and for memorializing Thomas,” she said after a standing ovation from the audience.
“This deposit will be made into the foundation,” she continued, holding the small envelope near the locket with Tom’s picture that hung around her neck. “And the foundation will be paying it forward through scholarships.”
Families from the Shoreham-Wading River district, and from other school districts across the country, poured in support for Cutinella’s family after his death.
“Over the course of the past five months we were able to raise a substantial amount of money,” said Ed Troyano, president of the Wildcat Athletic Club. “This money ensures that Tom’s name will live on.”
“The generosity in our community is beyond words,” added school board president William McGrath.
In the wake of Tom’s death last fall the Wildcats rallied together in storybook fashion to win the school’s first Long Island football championship, capping its first undefeated season. Suffolk coaches later voted to award the team the Rutgers Trophy, reserved for the top team in the county among all four divisions.
Throughout the season, the players wore Tom’s number, 54, on their helmets, towels and wristbands.
But on Tuesday, Ms. Cutinella described her son as so much more than a talented athlete. He was a generous, caring young man, she said, who touched the lives of many of his fellow students.
His social media accounts constantly receive messages from friends and classmates, people Ms. Cutinella never knew cared so much for Tom.
She said the new foundation — run by his family and a board of directors — will keep his spirit alive.
That starts with a series of scholarships, three for Shoreham-Wading River seniors and six for students outside the district. Ms. Cutinella said the family wants to spread Tom’s legacy far outside the Shoreham-Wading River community.
The foundation will also encourage people to volunteer or do good deeds in his memory. In addition, the foundation has already set up a golf outing for Columbus Day, the first of many events, Ms. Cutinella said.
“This is just the start,” she said.
Students at John Glenn High School contributed to the scholarship fund earlier this year, raising more than $4,500. Tom’s fatal injury came during the Wildcats’ game at John Glenn High School. The Glenn students also donated a “54” plaque that now hangs in Shoreham-Wading River’s gymnasium.
Shortly after Tom’s death, the initial goal of raising $25,000 was quickly surpassed.
Tom’s memory remains strong throughout the high school, from the gymnasium plaque, to a flag flying his number on the football field to his jersey hanging in the front of the school amid the team’s championship memorabilia.
Shoreham football coach Matt Millheiser said in an interview earlier this year that when people look back on the team’s season, he hopes they remember Tom first and foremost.
“He wanted to serve his country,” Mr. Millheiser said. “He worked hard to be a good person, a good brother and a good son.”
For more information on the foundation and Tom Cutinella’s life, as well as the scholarship application, visit Tom54.org.
WITH JOE WERKMEISTER