The long standing tradition for many during the holiday season is to spend time in the warm indoors with family and loved ones. For the College of Staten Island and men’s basketball coach Tony Petosa, it isn’t much different. But most recently at CSI, the holidays have served as a chance to reflect on the unfortunate events of September 11, 2001, when three former student-athletes, Terrance Aiken, Scott Davidson, and Tom Hannafin, died in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. Now in its ninth year, the annual CSI Tournament of Heroes gives us all a chance to reflect on the heroism and sacrifice of all on that fateful day, and this year’s installment is set for Tuesday and Wednesday, December 28 & 29, at the Sports & Recreation Center. Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, it appears as if the show will go on at the Sports & Recreation Center this week.
Folks who want to catch the action can do so on television, radio, and the internet. WSIA, 88.9FM on Staten Island will have the call live at courtside with coverage of all four games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Coverage will begin at 5:30pm on both days. The radio call is also available on the web at www.wsia.fm. Those who watch to catch the action televised can do so live on Time Warner Cable through Staten Island 76. This weekend the games will also be available through InDemand.
On Tuesday, December 28th, visiting squads Anderson University and Richard Stockton College will tip off at 5:30pm, followed by the College of Staten Island and University of Dallas at 7:30pm. A brief ceremony to commemorate the lives of Aiken, Davidson, and Hannafin will take place in-between games one and two. On Wednesday, the Consolation Game will be played at 5:30pm, with the Championship Game set for a 7:30 tip. More than anything, the basketball that highlights the evening serves as a backdrop for an emotional night inspired by the three fallen heroes.
“What made them special was that who they were as basketball players echoed to who they were away from the court,” commented Petosa, who coached both Aiken and Davidson and played side-by-side with Hannafin. “Tommy, even in the tough games, had that humor, that light disposition. Scott was always intense, on or off the court. Terrance was always happy, always smiling.”
Aiken, 30, was a computer consultant working on the 97th floor of WTC Tower I at the time of the attacks. Davidson, 33, a member of FDNY Ladder Company 118 was one of the first to arrive on the scene on that fateful day. Hannafin, 36, a member of Ladder Company 8 based in Greenwich Village, also perished heroically at the scene. His unit was one hit hardest by the attacks.
In January of 2002, just over four months after the attacks, the jersey numbers of Aiken, Davidson, and Hannafin became the first ever retired in men’s basketball history in a stirring ceremony during a regular season contest against Baruch College. To keep their memories alive even further, the annual tournament was brought on the following season. Petosa hatched the idea for both events and has been the biggest driving force behind the tournament since. It’s a labor of love that he is all too eager to take on.
“One of the nicest things ever said to me was by former player, Kassim Nesbitt, after we beat Baruch on the day of the initial ceremony,” Petosa said. “He said to me, ‘Coach, I didn’t realize what it was like or how important it was to be a part of the CSI family. It means so much to so many.’ I really appreciated that.”
Indeed, many have come to learn the true meaning behind the tournament, thanks to the efforts of Petosa and his support staff. This year, as in year’s past, the college will host a post-game reception for families of the three fallen heroes and alumni at the conclusion of Tuesday’s games.
“We’re very pleased that the tournament is still getting support from the community as we enter our ninth year,” he said. “Our goal when we started the tournament was to ensure that Terrance, Scott and Tom, and all of 9/11’s fallen heroes, would always be remembered in the way they would have wanted. As always, we look forward to welcoming back friends and family members for what has become a yearly tradition for us.”
CSI has never come away with the championship trophy, but it hardly seems to matter, especially when some of the nation’s top NCAA intercollegiate programs choose to make it a part of their schedules each year. Bill Harris, head men’s basketball coach at Wheaton College, whose tournament CSI participated in to start the 2008-09 season, and whose team was nationally-ranked and took the 2006 tourney installment, was quick to acknowledge the effort made by CSI with their annual tournament.
“It was a great experience. CSI greeted us with a warm hospitality and we felt welcomed and appreciated the entire way,” said Coach Harris after the tournament. “We stayed near Ground Zero and it made the significance of the event so much greater. It was a real pleasure and we were happy to be a part of it.”
“Every year, the tournament is another reminder of how great it is to be a part of something special here at CSI,” said associate athletic director David Pizzuto, who normally coordinates the tournament ceremony to honor the three heroes each year. “The memories of those three gentlemen are on our minds every single minute of the tournament when we do it each year, and it becomes so much more important than basketball.”
Petosa is quick to deflect his efforts on the creation and sustenance of the tournament, yet enjoys having had the event become such an important function at the college each year.
“It’s been real nice to see it become so successful,” he noted. “My first goal was to make it to five years. My next goal is another five, and to keep making it into a well-received event on Staten Island.”
So far, mission accomplished.
Tickets to the 9th annual Tournament of Heroes are $5 for adults, $2 for children 10 and older and free for those 10 and under. All funds generated are used to perpetuate the tournament for years to come. For more information on tickets, please call (718) 982-3160.
Links to Tournament of Heroes Multimedia
Tribute to Heroes – Dedication Ceremony – January 26, 2002 – PART I
Tribute to Heroes – Dedication Ceremony – January 26, 2002 – PART II
Tournament of Heroes – SportsJam Coverage (2002)
Tournament of Heroes Slideshow (2006)