By Jano Tantongco
The Huntington High School community converged at the high school’s gymnasium to celebrate at a pep rally Thursday the life of inspiring Blue Devil Eli Mollineaux, who died Oct. 31. Diagnosed as a toddler with Pearson syndrome, a mitochondrial disease, Mollineaux battled his whole life against the odds and inspired many.
Huntington principal Brenden Cusack recounted the “extraordinary experience” when Mollineaux scored his first ever touchdown as an honorary member of the Blue Devils football team in their match against Smithtown West in September.
“If Eli has anything to do with it, you know it’s going to be big,” Cusack said.
Cusack added that the “magic of filmmaking” allowed the entire community to share in that momentous occasion through a video produced by Charlie Ehrman, a senior at the high school.
Ehrman wanted to capture Mollineaux’s moment from a unique angle by mounting a camera to the 15-year-old’s wheelchair.
“I wanted to have this moment forever,” Ehrman said.
He had previously interviewed Mollineaux for the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education.
“I walked right into [his] room and saw all of his art, I saw the ‘bELIever’ posters he made,” Ehrman said. “That immediately inspired me, and I had a connection with him.”
After the video was played, Matt Murphy, vice president of marketing for Russell Athletics, took to the podium. He announced the awarding of a $50,000 grant to go toward uniform and gear for the Blue Devils. Each year, the company selects a school with a sports team that has conquered adversity to bestow the Fight Like Dylan award. The award was established in 2011 by the company in the honor of Dylan Rebeor, a 16-year-old Tennessee football player with terminal cancer whose last wish was new equipment for his teammates.
“We believe that team means much more than just the players that wear the uniforms,” Murphy said. “A team to us is the coaches, it’s the family, it’s the fans. It’s the community…”
The chairman for the committee to select the award is none other than Tony Dungy, former NFL coach who guided the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
“We received hundreds of applications… but you at Huntington were the winners. It was an awesome story the way you honored Eli and how you fought through that adversity was just something that took hold of everyone here on our panel,” Dungy said in a video that was played during the rally.
Huntington football coach Steve Muller said that, in his 20 years coaching and his time spent in the Huntington School District as a student, he had the “chance to be involved in a lot of special moments.”
“And this is one that, for me, tops it all. This is something that I’ll never forget,” Muller said. “These are moments in life that just go on forever.”
Keiron Byrams, a running back on the football team, echoed his coach. He called the day “very emotional.”
“We wrote number 40... and bELIeve on our cleats,” the senior said. “We dedicated the season for him.”
Huntington Union Free School District Superintendent Jim Polansky expressed his pride in the community for embracing Mollineaux as a Blue Devil.
“I’m not sure how many people in this room realize that that event… the video that went along with it is now one of the marquee, signature representations of sportsmanship throughout the entire State of New York and New York State public high school athletics.”
A local delegation of elected officials was also on hand to honor Mollineaux.
Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards said, “I only met Eli a few times, and I can tell you that he made a profound effect on my life. So, I can imagine what he has done for yours.”
Councilwoman Susan Berland said there was so much positivity in the Huntington community, advising everyone to “keep paying it forward.”
“Take today as the sounding board, as the day that you’re going to keep bringing Eli’s light and your own light into our town, into our country.”
State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci said that, as the community readies for Thanksgiving, “we should all be very thankful and keep Eli’s family in our prayers and remember what a positive impact he had on us.
“Going forward, even though he’s no longer with us, his stories and his good spirit continue."