A little over ten years ago, in the wake of the tragedy surrounding September 11, CSI Head Men’s Basketball Coach Tony Petosa had received the horrifying news that three of his former teammates and pupils had died in the attack at New York City’s World Trade Center.  From that point forward, CSI’s longest tenured coach thought of ways of honoring the fallen trio, and in January of that year, A Tribute to Heroes followed, a night to retire the jerseys of Tom Hannafin, Scott Davidson, and Terrance Aiken.  From there, the coach brought an annual tournament back to the College of Staten Island, appropriately titled, Tournament of Heroes, beginning in 2002.  The four-team, two-day tournament, is the crown jewel of the basketball season at the Sports & Recreation Center, and was recently highlighted on NY1 News, as part of an ongoing tribute dedicated to the 10 year anniversary of the tragedy.  The piece, covered by NY1 News reporter Mara Montalbano, is available here.

“How I knew them as people, were how I knew them as basketball players,” recalled Petosa when he reflects on the tournament.  “It was fitting to do something like this in their honor, because they loved being a part of CSI basketball and the school was a second home for them.”

The initial Tribute to Heroes ceremony featured a full house at the Sports & Recreation Center and was televised live on Time-Warner Cable locally on Staten Island.  Arguably, there was not a dry eye in the house, as family members, including the fallen’s seven children, helped Petosa unveil their commemorative jerseys, which now stand affixed in the arena’s concourse for all to see and admire.

“It was probably the most important thing I’ve done in my coaching career at CSI,” said Petosa, who was overwhelmed with the community’s response to the event, and the fanfare the tournament has gotten since.  “One of the nicest things ever said to me was after our initial ceremony by former player Kassim Nesbitt.  He said, ‘Coach, I never realized how important it was to be a part of the CSI family.  It means so much to so many.’  I really appreciated that.”

Petosa and the staff at CSI did more than just invite teams back year after year to play a pair of midseason basketball games to commemorate the initial event.  Each year, families of the three heroes and alumni are welcomed back to a post-game reception after the initial day of the tournament, which also features a ceremony prior to CSI’s tip-off on Day One.  The tournament itself is one that CSI has never won, mainly because the nation’s finest basketball programs clamor to become a part of it, often taking their teams that travel from every corner of the nation to Ground Zero during their stay.  Petosa himself is the cog in tournament’s wheel, organizing sponsors, soliciting donations, and making final preparations on gameday.  In 2011, after Staten Island got rocked with 16 inches of snowfall two days prior to the tourney, Petosa was the lone soldier in the CSI offices, insuring the visiting squads had a safe passage and a friendly face to greet upon arrival.

“What Tony has done to perpetuate the tournament has been nothing short of amazing,” said David Pizzuto, Associate Athletic Director who helps organize the tournament each year.  “He doesn’t show it on the outside, but the tournament means a great deal to him and the legacy he has had here. It makes it that much more important to us to see it through each year.”

No matter who comes out the winner each year, the tournament does more to commemorate the lives of Hannafin, Davidson, and Aiken than it does anything else.

Just 30 years old at the time of death, Aiken began a computer consulting job at Vital Computer Technologies on the 97th floor of Tower I exactly one week prior to September 11.  Born on Christmas Day, Aiken spent a single season at CSI, playing on a 1994-95 squad that received an at-large bid to the NCAA National Tournament.  He is survived by his wife Kimberly and his three children.

Davidson, 33, was described as a fiery, emotional player, and was a senior on Petosa’s first-ever squad at CSI in 1989.  A firefighter at Ladder Co. 118 in Brooklyn Heights, Davidson is survived by his wife Amy and two children.  He won two CUNYAC Championships at CSI and was a part of the last team to win an NCAA Tournament game.

A teammate of Petosa’s, Hannafin is one of CSI’s most accomplished players, ranking among CSI’s all-time leaders in assists and steals as a three-time CUNYAC Champion.  A firefighter in Ladder Co. 5 in Greenwich Village, Hannafin, 36, was one of the first to arrive at the scene on September 11.  He is survived by his loving family that includes two children. 

This year’s installment of the Tournament of Heroes will take on Thursday and Friday, December 28-29.  Matchups have yet to be set but visiting teams will include Vaughn College (NY), Bethany College (WV), and Illinois-Wesleyan.  Game times are 5:30pm and 7:30pm on both nights.  A ceremony will take place prior to CSI’s game on the initial day of the tourney at 7:30pm.

For more information on the tournament or to find out how to donate or get involved, please call (718) 982-3166 or (718) 982-3169, and God bless all of our September 11 heroes.