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Worries About Football Safety Mount After L.I. High School Player's Death

SHOREHAM, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There was new fallout Friday following the death of a 16-year-old high school football player on Long Island after a collision at a game.

As CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan reported, parents, coaches and players voiced their concern over the dangers of the sport on Friday in the wake of the boy's death.

Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old junior at Shoreham-Wading River High School, died Wednesday after he collapsed following a collision with an opponent during the third quarter of the game at John Glenn High School in Elwood.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said Thursday that Cutinella, a guard and linebacker, had an "immediate reaction," stood up and then collapsed.

On Friday, parents of child athletes on Long Island were flooding sporting goods stores in search of newer helmets and thicker padding, with their minds on the football field tragedy.

"My husband accuses me of being an overprotective mother, but it is very necessary," one parent said.

"Safety is very important," another said. "It's crazy that kids are getting tackled and pummeled on the field."

Medical experts explain that necks of high school athletes are not as strong as those of adults. Their brains also are not as developed, and thus, whiplash from a hit can cause serious injury.

"More commonly an athlete will just they don't feel well; they have a have headache; they feel sick to their stomach," said Dr. Jose Prince of Cohen Children's Medical Center. Those are the cues we need to pay attention to as coaches, parents, and players themselves -- and be honest that it's time to come out of a game"

Cutinella's official cause of death has not been given. A police report said it resulted in a head injury, and Shoreham-Wading River High School has not commented on its investigation.

But the school did outline protocol for equipment, yearly tests and evaluations, and said helmets must meet federal requirements.

Whether Cutinella had a history of injuries or a preexisting condition remained unknown Friday.

Cutinella's death came at a time when football – whether at the high school, college or NFL level – was under increased scrutiny amid concerns about injuries and brain damage.

Cutinella also became the third high school football player nationally to die in a week, and two more football-related deaths occurred within the past month in New Jersey and on Staten Island.

Last year, 1.25 million children were seen in emergency rooms for sports injuries, according to Safe Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to child injury prevention.

"Our goal is to communicate with parents, to communicate with coaches, to communicate with the athletes the importance of being prepared," said Rosemarie Ennis, director of Safe Kids for New York State.

Now, Cutinella's community has been left to come to terms with the sudden death of a star student and a loving son who was selfless on and off the field.

Meanwhile, Cutinella's reputation for helping people has continued in death, as all of his organs were donated. Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, director of the transplant center at North Shore-LIJ Health System North Shore University Hospital, said cases like Cutinella's help a lot of people.

All Organs Donated After L.I. High School Football Player's Death

"We can donate up to eight organs. We can cut the liver in two pieces and help both an adult and a child, but it doesn't stop there," Molmenti said.

He said up to 50 people can be helped by donated tissues.

Molmenti called the Cutinella family heroes.

"They're able to help other individuals – people they've never met before," he said.

Cutinella's wake is planned for Sunday and Monday, his funeral for Tuesday morning.

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