Eli Mollineaux will never be forgotten by his hometown. The Huntington High School sophomore passed away late last month. The Blue Devils celebrated his life during a Thursday afternoon pep rally in Louis D. Giani Gymnasium, where it was announced that Russell Athletic is awarding a $50,000 grant in sports apparel and athletic equipment as a tribute to the teenager and the varsity football team that he inspired with his courage.
Mr. Mollineaux passed away following a lifelong battle with Pearson Syndrome. He was 15 years old. Just six weeks earlier he was the star of Huntington’s football game against Smithtown West.
The two teams joined together on the field before a crowd of nearly 2,000 for a second half play that saw Mr. Mollineaux dart 50 yards in his wheelchair and score a touchdown while wearing his No. 40 Blue Devil football jersey.
Huntington went on to topple Smithtown West that day, 42-20. The Blue Devils won five of their final six regular season games to qualify for post-season play. Players said they derived inspiration from Mr. Mollineaux and his brave fight in the face of a devastating illness.
One of the world’s great athletic apparel manufacturers and marketers, Russell Athletic officials were so inspired by Mr. Mollineaux’s compelling story and the interaction between him and the Blue Devil football team that it named Huntington the 2016 recipient of the company’s “Fight Like Dylan” Award.
“The Fight Like Dylan program is one that is very near and dear to our hearts at Russell
Athletic in the spirit of team,” Vice President of Marketing Matt Murphy told the packed gym. “In our sixth year, the program honors a high school sports team that has demonstrated inspiring determination and perseverance through sports utilizing teamwork. The namesake of the program is Dylan Rebeor, whose mom, Heather is here today. Dylan was a high school football player whose last wish before passing away in 2011 was for his teammates to receive new uniforms. We are proud to be the brand that gives voice to such amazing stories of communities that have struggled, but still found success through teamwork. The support for Eli and his determination to beat the odds is what made the story so profound, proving that the power of team can make a difference in not only one life, but an entire community.”
There weren’t many dry eyes in Blue Devil Stadium the day Mr. Mollineaux scored a 50 yard touchdown and was mobbed by players of both teams and given a standing ovation by fans.
“Our team adopted Eli into our family the first day he took the field and we celebrated as teammates when he scored his touchdown, just as we now celebrate his life,” head football coach Steve Muller said.
Many teachers and students became emotional during the pep rally. Mr. Mollineaux was beloved throughout the school community, which took up his fight against a terrible disease and stood beside the young man throughout his ordeal.
“We are here today to celebrate our school community, our varsity football team and our own Blue Devil, Eli,” Principal Brenden Cusack told Thursday’s pep rally crowd. “On September 17 of this year, many of us came out to Blue Devil Stadium on a beautiful day to be part of an extraordinary experience. On that day, our varsity football team joined with Eli as an honorary member of the team as he scored his first touchdown ever. Close to 2,000 people joined us at the home opener at Blue Devil Stadium to see Eli score his touchdown. I have heard it said so many times: if Eli has anything to do with it, you know it’s going to be big! And this day was a perfect example of this. I will simply never forget the Smithtown West Bulls in their Eli jerseys and our Huntington Blue Devils marching down the field together with Eli as he made his way to the end zone. The character, solidarity and class shown by everyone involved was just outstanding.”
With the gym packed to the rafters and Mr. Mollineaux’s family in attendance on Thursday afternoon, pro football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, who headed the award selection committee, spoke to students and staff via a special video presentation. Senior Charlie Ehrman’s poignant short film, “bELIeve,” which emotionally documents Eli Mollineaux Day was also shown, bringing tears to the eyes of just about everyone. The Huntington pep band played throughout the event.
“This was a special day, honoring a very special young man and a simply outstanding group of 1500-plus students at Huntington High School,” Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “The entire Huntington community should be beyond proud!”
In addition to Mr. Dungy, the Fight Like Dylan Award judges included Dylan Rebeor’s mother, Heather and representatives from the five previous award recipients.
“The story of the Huntington football team is proof of how a group of spirited individuals can make a lasting impression,” said Heather Rebeor, who attended Thursday’s pep rally and award presentation. “It has truly been a rewarding experience to have Dylan’s legacy continue through the Russell Athletic Fight Like Dylan Award.”
Mr. Mollineaux and his Blue Devil football teammates are now etched in the record books and known across the country. “Each year I continue to be amazed by the incredible stories of our high school athletes,” Mr. Dungy said. “The Huntington High School football team has proven that you can inspire an entire community though the acts of goodwill, character and teamwork.”