Balloons of blue and gold -- the school colors for Shoreham-Wading River High School -- danced in the breeze, tethered in pairs and attached to dozens of handmade signs that lined the blacktop path that winds downward to the Wildcats' athletic field.
Each sign depicted SWR students performing good deeds in the name of Thomas Cutinella, the former Wildcats football and lacrosse player who died Oct. 2 at age 16 from injuries suffered after a collision with a Glenn player during a varsity football game.
"People don't want to forget him," Frank Cutinella, Tom's father, said Saturday morning before SWR defeated Sayville, 14-5, in a Suffolk League III boys lacrosse game that featured a poignant message delivered at halftime by athletic director Mark Passamonte and a moving postgame tribute.
Cutinella's retired No. 54 football jersey hangs on one side of the stadium. On the other side Saturday, his No. 2 lacrosse jersey, helmet, cleats, gloves and stick were arrayed on the scorer's table, providing the perfect backdrop to a spontaneous postgame photo op.
"This day is a testament to Thomas," said his mother, Kelli. "This absolutely does my heart good. He would've been the first to organize something like this in memory of someone else."
The idea for such a tribute in lacrosse season came from first-year coach Mike Taylor, who said: "I never met Thomas, but after hearing so much about him, it kept resonating with me how he intrinsically did wonderful things for people. We wanted to honor him, so we came up with the idea of 'Walking With Thomas.'
"We challenged our varsity and JV kids to do 54 good deeds in two months. It spread to the elementary school and throughout the community. Once a week, everyone is going out of their way to do some kind of random act of kindness. That's what these pictures show. The response was amazing. We hope to make it an annual event."
Signs depicted activities from car washes to fundraisers to helping out senior citizens to cleaning up nearby Calverton National Cemetery as the communities of Shoreham and Wading River continue to embrace and honor their favorite son.
The largest sign, which greeted visitors as they entered the stadium, read, "A Friend is Someone Who Reaches for your Hand and Touches Your Heart. Thomas was a Friend to All and will be Forever in our Hearts."
Not that the result of the game mattered to the hundreds of fans or the players, but it would've pleased Thomas immensely. Two of his longtime neighbors and friends starred. Chris Gray had six goals and an assist and Jon Constant scored five goals as the Wildcats improved to 9-1. Ryan Bray added a goal and three assists and Jason Curran registered four assists.
"Today was a great day. We're always playing for our brother," Gray said. "It was very emotional because we knew he was watching. This team has a lot of good chemistry and we can run when we get going."
Constant, who said he's known the Cutinellas since he was 3 years old, noted: "We play for Tom, whatever the sport. We play the way he did: We're always making the extra pass to get someone else an easy look."
Kevin Cutinella, a sophomore who wears his brother's No. 2, fittingly scored the game's final goal.
"That felt good. This was a day for Tom and it felt like it did in football," said Kevin, a member of the Wildcats' 2014 football team that honored Tom by posting a 12-0 record and winning the school's first Long Island championship. "This community is the best. What they've done for our family is unimaginable. On a memorial day like this, I'm feeling happy instead of sad."
When the game was over, the varsity and JV players gathered at midfield. Taylor gave out game balls as he usually does, then flipped one into the air and said, "For Tommy."
The players, each of whom held a set of blue-and-gold balloons to which personal memories of Tom that they had written were attached, released them in unison. As the balloons soared majestically into the cloudless blue sky, they all gazed upward, certain that Thomas Cutinella was watching.