Now in its sixth year, the annual award honors high school sports teams that have used inspiration to achieve success through teamwork in the face of challenging odds.
The Huntington High Blue Devils football team’s inspirational honorary teammate was Eli Mollineau, who suffered from Pearson syndrome, a serious disorder caused by a mutation in the mitochondrial DNA that inhibits the ability of the body’s cells to make energy.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy chaired this year’s panel of judges, who reviewed submissions from around the country before choosing Huntington High School, which is in Huntington on Long Island.
In addition to the award, Russell Athletic will present Huntington High with a $50,000 grant for sports apparel and equipment at a celebratory event hosted at the school, acknowledging its football team for drawing inspiration from an honorary teammate battling a terminal illness and transforming what had been shaping up to be a mediocre season into a spot in the league playoffs.
Pearson syndrome affects the hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow that produce both red and white blood cells and platelets, causing anemia, neutropenia, or thrombocytopenia respectively. The disease also affects the pancreas, resulting in frequent diarrhea and stomach pain, difficulty gaining weight, and diabetes.
Eli’s parents were told by his doctors that he wouldn’t live past kindergarten. The 14-year-old’s ability to rise above the pain and limitations the condition imposed with charisma and courage motivated the Blue Devils, who adopted the mantra “#bELIeve” this season in his honor.
The team lost its first three games. But its season took a 180-degree turn in September during a game dedicated to Eli. The Blue Devils were facing their Smithtown West rivals, and in a tribute to Eli and his courage, the team invited him onto the field to score his first touchdown while 1,500 fans chanted “bELIeve,” and with players from both teams running alongside him, cheering him as he made the touchdown. The Smithtown West team graciously wore Eli’s No. 40 jersey with his name on the back while fans waved #bELIeve signs.
Motivated by Eli’s example, the Huntington High team won that game 42-20 and went on to win five of their next six games, clinching their spot in the season playoffs.
Tragically, Eli died in late October, but the team and the community continue to draw inspiration from the bravery and heart he displayed during a life cut short too soon.
“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. After careful review of all the submissions, we are proud to have Huntington High School as our 2016 Fight Like Dylan Award recipient,” Matt Murphy, Russell Athletic’s vice president of marketing, said in a press release.
“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,” he added.
Huntington High’s head football coach Steve Muller said the 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.”
The Huntington High football team and Eli Mollineaux are examples of the team message Russell Athletic advocates through the company’s “Team On” campaign launched during the 2016 football season.
Russell Athletic believes that sports teams can find an uncommon strength in facing adversity that they celebrate each year with the Fight Like Dylan Award. As with the previous five award recipients, the story of Huntington football and Eli exemplifies how a team can find strength and inspiration in their community.
The Fight Like Dylan Award commemorates its namesake Dylan Rebeor, a high school football player with a terminal illness whose last wish was for his teammates to receive new uniforms before his death in 2011. To learn more about Dylan’s story, visit http://www.FightLikeDylan.org
Tony Dungy, Heather Rebeor (Dylan’s mom), and a representative from each of the past award recipients served on this year’s selection committee.
“Each year I continue to be amazed by the incredible stories of our high school athletes,” 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.”
“The story of the Huntington football team is proof of how a group of spirited individuals can make a lasting impression,” said Heather Rebeor. “It has truly been a rewarding experience to have Dylan’s legacy continue through the Russell Athletic ‘Fight Like Dylan’ Award.”