It promises to be an exciting week of men’s basketball action next week as the College of Staten Island will be ushering in its 14th annual Tournament of Heroes. Against the backdrop of the holiday season, the tournament serves to honor the memory of former Dolphins Terrance Aiken, Scott Davidson and Tom Hannafin, who along with so many others perished during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. CSI will host Westminster College on Tuesday, December 29, immediately following tip-off between SUNY-Canton and Connecticut College at 5:30pm.
As in year’s past the competition promises to be fierce as once again the Dolphins will be welcoming in some tremendous talent into its Staten Island location. That said, the tournament has a long-standing history of allowing folks the chance to reflect on the heroism and sacrifice of all on 9/11, and once again allows many friends, family and loved ones a chance to get together at a home away from home.
On Tuesday, December 29, visiting SUNY-Canton takes on Connecticut at 5:30pm, followed by the College of Staten Island and Westminster College at 7:30pm. A 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. All games will be video streamed via CSI SportsNet at www.csidolphins.com/CSISportsNet.
The three visiting teams this weekend are making their first entries in the tournament. In the first leg of competition, SUNY-Canton will be putting its undefeated, 8-0, record on the line against Connecticut which is also rolling, having won its last five games to improve to 5-2. Westminster has won two out of its last three games in December before taking on host-CSI, who have now won three-straight to improve to 6-2. CSI’s last loss will be more than a calendar month ago, having last fell to NCAA Division I Wagner College on November 28. More than anything, however, the basketball that highlights the afternoon on Sunday serves as a backdrop for an emotional day 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 (13), Davidson (15), and Hannafin (25) 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 fourteenth 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.”
This year’s tournament has a new twist. CSI is looking to rebound in the tournament. After 12 years, CSI scored a championship in its own tournament in 2013, but last year fell to William Paterson in the Championship Leg. CSI’s struggles in the tournament make sense given the fact that some of the nation’s most prestigious men’s basketball programs have chosen to take part in the tournament each year. Bill Harris, head men’s basketball coach at Wheaton College, 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 lucky to be a part of it.”
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. Petosa was named the Staten Island Advance’s Sportsman of the Year in 2011, received the Staten Island Joe Ryan Memorial Award in 2012, and was named to the Staten Island Hall of Fame a year ago, all in large part due to his efforts with the tournament.
“It’s been real nice to see it become so successful,” he noted. “Our goal for the tournament was to make it into a well-received event on Staten Island. We’ve had local business support the tournament and it’s become a great community event. Remembering that time and how we have persevered since then serves as a nice reminder this time of year. To remember Terrance, Scott and Tom in the process makes it even better. It’s an emotional couple of days, and I think our kids appreciate it and everyone knows the overlying theme.”
Tickets to the 14th 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