A 15-year-old from Huntington so beloved in the school district that his high school football team helped him score a touchdown this fall while fans in the stands held signs that said “Eli” and “bELIeve,” died early Monday at home.
Eli Mollineaux was diagnosed with Pearson syndrome — a rare genetic disease that disrupts the normal DNA structure — when he was 1. He wasn’t expected to live long enough to attend kindergarten. But he went on to his sophomore year at Huntington High School despite the disease affecting his vision, hearing and ability to walk.
High school Principal Brenden Cusack has called Eli the “mayor” of the school, where the teen told a “joke of the week” each week over the public address system. “I have hundreds of notes for the family from kids here,” written after he announced Eli’s passing to students, Cusack said Monday.
The district’s Woodhull Intermediate School, which Eli previously attended, instituted an “Eli’s March Madness” annual faculty basketball game six years ago as a fundraiser for Eli when he was a student there. The event will continue to be held each year in Eli’s honor and will raise money to create an annual college scholarship in his name, to be presented to a boy and girl from Huntington, Woodhull Assistant Principal Jarrett Stein said Monday.
“He really is my hero,” Stein said Monday of Eli. “He made such a profound impact on my life on living each day to the fullest.”
In September 2015, Suffolk County Legis. Dr. William Spencer presented Eli with a proclamation of “Eli’s Law,” denoting September as mitochondrial disease awareness month in the county. “Eli, because of the life that he lived, he was a beacon of hope,” Spencer said Monday. Spencer is also a physician who commended Eli for bringing attention to rare diseases.
Eli’s paintings of bats and of the night sky were part of the Arts Council’s annual “Nightmare on Main Street” student art exhibit last Halloween. “The whole school just adored him, top to bottom,” said Maureen Starr, public relations manager of the arts council and whose daughter was a grade ahead of Eli in the Huntington schools.
Eli’s touchdown on Sept. 17 was covered by Sports Illustrated. It happened during a brief break at the beginning of the third quarter of the game between Huntington and Smithtown West, with Blue Devils football team members pushing Eli in his wheelchair and running along with him while Eli held the ball.
“Eli’s positive attitude, kindness, compassion and perennial smile were infectious,” the Huntington Union Free School District posted on its website on Monday morning. “He had the rare ability to bring an entire community together . . . He loved Huntington and all in Huntington loved him right back. Eli reminded us routinely to bELIieve — to believe in ourselves and in what we can accomplish together. His spirit and legacy will live on in all of us.”
Eli is survived by his parents, Ellen and Jeff, and two brothers, Joshua, 18, a Huntington High School graduate, and Samuel, 11, a sixth-grader in the district.
Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Temple Beth El in Huntington.