There was pouring rain and a remarkable outpouring of emotions Friday night on a slick, muddy practice football field at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
More than 300 people braved the conditions to attend a vigil in support of a beloved favorite son, Thomas Cutinella, 16, who died after colliding with another player in a game a year ago Thursday while playing for SWR at John Glenn High School.
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First to arrive, fittingly, was Maria Johnson, Cutinella's grandmother. Her daughter Kelli, Thomas' mother, organized the vigil and spoke using a bullhorn in the center of a huge circle of humanity -- a veritable circle of life to honor a death.
Bundled against the cold in layers of clothing and carrying an umbrella and folding chair, Johnson proudly wore a camouflage SWR football hat with Thomas' No. 54.
"I would have been the first one here, rain or shine, no matter what," she said, adding that she wasn't surprised at the cars that streamed into the parking lot as the rain fell heavily. "This community has been wonderful and very supportive. They've been helpful to my daughter, my son-in-law and the kids."
Kelli, with her husband, Frank, at her side, acknowledged the community's spirit during a short speech that she read to the crowd, turning constantly so that everyone caught a snippet of sound from the bullhorn.
"Thomas was a special person. He was a winner. He was a supporter. He was a friend and he was a leader," Kelli said. "His ability to touch a person and make a difference in this world was, and still is, amazing . . . We want to continue to keep Thomas' memory and Thomas' legacy alive. We ask each and every one of you to continue to talk to him and to continue to be the best person that you can be. Stay Tommy Tough."
"Tommy Tough" is a motto adopted by the SWR Wildcats football team last season, when they went undefeated and won the Long Island Class IV championship. There were dozens of those shirts on display Friday night.
When Kelli's speech ended, the Mount Sinai football team, Shoreham-Wading River's opponent Saturday, made a special presentation -- home and away No. 54 Mount Sinai jerseys, which Mustangs coach Vinny Ammirato said will never be issued by the school again as a tribute to Thomas.
Ammirato presented a check to the Cutinellas for a scholarship fund in Thomas' name, the money collected by the football team and matched by the school's booster club.
Miller Place's football players also presented a check. Thomas played youth football on the Long Island Sharks with kids from the communities of Shoreham, Wading River, Mount Sinai and Miller Place.
"You could tell that the situation affected not just the football team but a whole community. We came together. We're strong together," SWR junior lineman Ethan Wiederkehr said. "A lot of people knew Tom and cared about Tom. Tom cared about everybody and this shows how many people he affected."
SWR quarterback Jason Curran was a close friend of Thomas' and called the vigil "a little emotional. But seeing everyone come together like this means a lot to me."
Ethan's father, Hans, an assistant coach and family friend of the Cutinellas, said: "It's an absolute testament to Thomas that so many people would come out in this kind of inclement weather . . . It's a testament to what's really, really important -- the value of human beings."