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Tough decisions after death of football player

Members of the Locust Valley football team pause

Members of the Locust Valley football team pause for a moment of silence to remember Tom Cutinella of Shoreham-Wading-River prior to a game against Mineola on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Scary, nerve-wracking, worrisome -- those are just some of the words parents used Thursday to describe watching their children play football in the wake of the death of Tom Cutinella, the Shoreham-Wading River football player who collapsed after an in-game hit at Glenn High School on Wednesday.

Despite concerns, parents at football games at Locust Valley and William Floyd High Schools said they support their children's desire to play and that, though awful, Cutinella's death was an anomaly.

"As a parent, the fear is there," said Lauraine Calfa, a Mastic Beach resident whose son Christian plays football for Paca Middle School in the Floyd district. "But it's a sport and a kid could very easily get hit by a car standing outside his front door."

She added that the incident underlined that athletic trainers need to be at all games and an ambulance must be near the field. There was medical personnel at Cutinella's game but it took emergency responders 10 minutes to get to him, a Glenn school official said.

Both the Floyd and Locust Valley football games had ambulances at the ready.

Rocco Belfiore, a Glen Cove resident whose son Daniel is a defensive lineman for LIU Post, said he has been watching him play football since he was 7.

"I've always been worried, but I never pushed him into it," he said. "He loves it, [but] when I see him go down, I always pause for a second to make sure he gets up."

An additional element to Thursday's games was the decision whether to play. Coordinators for Nassau and Suffolk said individual districts made the final decision. Joseph Lee, who coaches Locust Valley boys soccer and attended Thursday's football game, said the decision was a difficult one.

"It's one of those things where you don't know for sure what the right thing to do is," he said. "If it was my family, maybe I'd feel differently. But I know how good this is for these kids, how much they love football."

Amanda Arena, a senior on the Locust Valley cheerleading team, said she has witnessed gruesome injuries in her own sport, but never has been deterred.

“It's so sad what happened, and you know something bad can happen to anyone in competition,” said Arena, 17. “But that's always in the back of your mind, even before this tragedy. You know there’s a risk, but you keep going because you're doing something you love. It’s probably the same with football players.”

Floyd coach Paul Longo called the decision "a call I don't make" and said he was deeply shaken when he heard of Cutinella's death.

"It's a coach's worst nightmare,'' he said, "and it's something we all worry about."

Mineola football coach Dan Guido empathized, adding that he was nervous when his son Dan, now 29, played.

"It's a scary thing, but you can't live your life in fear," he said. "From what I understand, it wasn't an unusual or tremendous play . . . just a regular hit and he collapsed. It could happen anywhere."

Lucy DeVito, the aunt of Locust Valley senior offensive lineman Michael Capobianco, called football "always worrisome."

"It's Michael's senior year, so thank God he's almost done with it," she said. "But it's what these kids love. If I was a boy, I'd probably want to play football, so I understand."

Markell Lingard's son Malcolm plays defensive end for Longwood, which defeated Floyd on Thursday. His concern for his child's safety was exacerbated by a recent concussion, he said.

"It's scary," he said. "But they play football at the peewee level, JV, varsity and the NFL, and I don't remember hearing it ever happen like this . . . . We really don't know what happened [Wednesday]. We don't know if there was an underlying condition or something else."

Though he cautions his son to stay hydrated and to not go too hard, Malcolm, he said, is undeterred.

"At this age, they don't know fear," he said. "All they know is the love of the game."

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