A member of the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team died Wednesday night after colliding with an opponent and collapsing during a game in Elwood earlier in the day, authorities said.
Junior Tom Cutinella, a guard/linebacker, was pronounced dead at Huntington Hospital after sustaining a head injury during the afternoon varsity game against John Glenn High School, part of the Elwood school district, police and school officials said.
The shocking news that Cutinella -- playing guard just hours before for the Wildcats -- was gone blindsided students, coaches and parents assembled in the hospital's intensive-care waiting area.
Then when a hospital representative told them that No. 54 -- their schoolmate, a good student in a peer-help program -- was dead, students cried out. Two people fell to the ground, weeping, and dozens of friends and teammates consoled each other.
Shoreham's head football coach, Matt Millheiser, sat alone in a corner with his hands folded, his face frozen.
"He was a great kid," Millheiser said before leaving the hospital late Wednesday night with some of his football staff.
A spokeswoman for both districts, Deirdre Gilligan, confirmed Cutinella's death, saying he had been in the intensive-care unit Wednesday night after undergoing surgery.
"It was a big hit," Millheiser said shortly after his player was taken off the field by an ambulance last night.
The coach was among 60 friends, relatives and teammates who spent hours at the hospital waiting for news of Cutinella's condition.
Before news of his death broke, the waiting area had been silent for much of the night.
Many of Cutinella's friends and teammates -- decked out in the blue and yellow of Shoreham-Wading River -- paced the hallway or watched television.
Hours earlier, they watched Cutinella and the Wildcats battle the Knights of John Glenn High School in Elwood.
He collapsed at about 6 p.m. and sustained a head injury, Suffolk police said.
The Suffolk Division IV game was halted in the third quarter with Shoreham-Wading River leading 17-12.
"His health and safety is more important than any high school football game," Glenn coach Dave Shanahan said shortly after the game stopped. "And our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the entire Shoreham-Wading River team and community. I asked my team to pray for him."
Jack Costas, a member of the Shoreham-Wading River school board, said, "We're a small community and we're all devastated. It's always tragic when someone so young and so full of life has their life ended. It's going to be a very, very difficult road ahead from this."
Costas said safety will likely be discussed Tuesday when the board meets.
"I think that, obviously, we're expecting to get a full report, find out exactly what happened and do an audit of our equipment and, if there is some way to ensure safer play, then, obviously we're going to have to make some adjustments," he said.
In a statement, Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen offered condolences and said grief counseling will be provided for students and staff.
Cohen said Cutinella had played football for the district since ninth grade. He became a member of the varsity team this season and also was a lacrosse player, Cohen said.
Cutinella was a member of the Natural Helpers program, which focuses on peers helping peers by giving advice or just a sympathetic ear, district officials said.
"He excelled academically, had a great sense of humor and was just a great individual overall," Cohen said. "He was well-liked among students and staff and he will truly be missed."