Slowly, but surely, a theme emerged during the press conference that introduced the 2020 class of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown on Tuesday.
It seemed that each of the inductees had unique connections with another honoree, which included Bob Szymanski and Paul Koretzki, the boys and girls cross-country coaches at Shoreham-Wading River High School, respectively, and late Shoreham football player Tom Cutinella.
Former Newsday sportswriter Mark Herrmann was one of the first students that Szymanski had at Center Moriches High School many years ago.
“I was in his high school health class,” Herrmann said. “He doesn’t even know this. His grade in his class made he salutatorian in my class. So, I am doubly indebted to him.”
So were a couple of legendary soccer coaches to Koretzki.
Brentwood High School boys soccer coach Ron Eden and University of Connecticut men’s soccer coach Ray Reid played for Koretzki way back in the day at Brentwood Ross.
“He gave me my first job at Brentwood in 1978 as his assistant,” Eden said. “He taught me something about movement in the back, which I still appreciate to this day. I just want to thank him publicly for having the foresight of bringing me in as a coach.”
Eden has recorded 385 wins as a coach and numerous county and state titles. Reid, who has turned UConn into a national powerhouse, gave thanks to Koretzki for opening the door for him to play. Reid remembered how when he was 11 construction cones mysteriously disappeared in the Brentwood area and wound up on a practice field.
“In 1971 soccer wasn’t quite what it is today,” he said. “It gave us an opportunity to play when there was no real opportunity. When I walked in, it brought back great memories for what he did for me as a young man and thank you.”
Szymanski remembered when he talked to Cutinella, before the Shoreham football player who died from a traumatic head injury in a game at Elwood/John Glenn High School on Oct. 1, 2014.
“I would see Tom and joke around,” he said. “I am a big [Detroit] Lion fan and I had a year of eligibility left. I could play defensive back and he would laugh. I would tell Tommy I still have the Barry Sanders move … When I heard the news [that Cutinella had died], I broke out crying.”
The induction ceremony will be May 26 at Watermill Caterers.
Cutinella will be inducted into the Hall posthumously. His parents, Kelli and Frank, will accept the award. Kelli Cutinella, who attended Tuesday’s press conference, is keeping her son’s legacy alive through the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation.
Days after he passed away, Cutinella’s parents had donated his heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, bones and skin tissue.
“He saved the lives of so many people,” Kelli said. “We have been so blessed to actually have all of his recipients in our lives. At 16 years old, he knew how precious life was and he was such a giver. We knew we had to continue Thomas’ legacy that way.”
She called her son “a wonderful, remarkable, 16-year-old boy. What he taught us in 16 years is remarkable. What he is doing now is even more amazing. We are grateful you guys are honoring him. Tom will continue to live on.”
It is remarkable in another way on how Szymanski and Koretzki have worked together for so many years, both in cross country and track and field.
“We never had a major fight, but we had different teams we liked,” Szymanski said. “I liked the Lions, he likes the Giants. He likes the Mets, I like the Yanks.”
If opposites do attract then, it is a perfect marriage between the two coaches.
“He does all the talking and I don’t,” Koretzki said. “Bus rides are very interesting because all he does is talk. So, I try to keep the bus rides under an hour.”
But seriously, folks.
“He’s really a good guy. He’s very good with kids,” Koretzki said. “I’ve only seen him upset with kids twice all the years he has been coaching. That’s really what his strength is.”
Koretzki was honored that three of his former players will be inducted, including Stony Brook University women’s lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina.
“I’m happy that all the kids I coached are getting in,” he said. “That’s probably my most important thing.”