In 1973, Neil Vigliotta, a seventh-grader at the time, remembers voting on the mascot and school colors for the newly formed Shoreham-Wading River School District.
Vigliotta, now 50 and living in Massachusetts, was part of the first class to spend their entire high school career in the new high school building on Route 25A in Shoreham. And he said the wildcat was always a source of great pride.
“We could have chosen something that was closer to the community,” he said, like a native animal. “But we were kids. I remember there was a form and pictures and we liked the wildcat.”
Vigliotta graduated in 1979 and in the years afterward, a friend of his, Richard Anderson, created a wood statue of a wildcat that was installed in front of the school, where it perched in a bed of landscaping until about seven years ago, when it was stolen from the spot.
The statue was found damaged in the woods, and brought into the high school basement for storage but eventually thrown out.
Now, the wildcat pride is coming back to SWR in the form of a new wildcat statue to be installed in the same spot and unveiled before commencement on June 25.
Vigliotta said talks of getting a new statue began in 2008, when he and three other alumni were organizing a 30-year reunion for the first three classes to graduate SWR. Having had such a rich experience in the district, the group felt they should give something back.
“It was unique to go to a really small school and be in one of the first classes in a brand-new building,” he said. “It was really special and something I’ll always hold dear.”
He said he wrote something on Facebook about the idea, and was contacted by Robert Caskie, who graduated a few years after Vigliotta in 1981.
Around that same time, Caskie had given up working as an architectural drafter and had decided to pursue his passion, wood carving, full time. Also deeply proud of his alma mater, Caskie, 47, now living in Calverton, volunteered to take on the project.
“They went above and beyond their call of duty,” he said. “We were always evolving, never afraid to take on new things. That was instilled in us as children.”
After spending years looking for the right piece of wood, Caskie finally got his hands on a “beautiful stump.” Roughly 5-feet tall, 30-inches wide and from a maple tree, the stump was given to him from Fink’s Country Farm in Manorville.
Caskie and high school social studies teacher Kevin Mann, with whom he’s been coordinating the effort, suspect that the stump was from a towering maple tree that used to stand in front of the historic Horn Tavern, in Wading River, where George Washington once stayed, because it was felled from that exact location by the town. They are trying to confirm the story with historians in Brookhaven and Riverhead.
Caskie said he has worked on the statue in his garage for at least two days every week since receiving the wood in the fall. As graduation nears, he’s been pulling 15 hour days working on the intricate hand carvings around the cat’s face, paws and tail.
Mann said the school board will vote to accept the donation at its meeting Tuesday and they hope to install it before the commencement ceremony.
Caskie said the cat will sit on a mount that reads "The Pride is Back" and he’ll also carve into the bottom of the statue "Never Stop Wondering," a lesson he said he learned at SWR.