The holiday season brings with it family values and tradition, and that will be at the forefront at the close of the week as the College of Staten Island men’s basketball team gets set to usher in the 15th Annual Tournament of Heroes on Thursday, welcoming in three teams that hold national prominence and a winning tradition when they enter the Sports & Recreation Center. The Dolphins will play Bridgewater College on Thursday at 7:30pm, proceeding a 5:30pm game between No. 17 Illinois-Wesleyan and Middlebury College. In-between games, CSI will honor heroes fallen from 9/11, among them former Dolphins Terrance Aiken, Scott Davidson, and Tom Hannafin.
The basketball promises to be fierce, as the Dolphins are defending a championship going in, but the tournament has a long-standing history of allowing folks the chance to reflect on the heroism and sacrifice of all on September 11, and once again allows many friends, family and loved ones a chance to get together at a home away from home. After Thursday’s games, the action continues on Friday, with the Consolation Game played at 5:30pm, and the Championship Game set for a 7:30 tip. All games will be video streamed via CSI SportsNet at www.csidolphins.com/CSISportsNet.
Two of the three visiting teams this week are making their first entries in the tournament. In the first leg of competition, Middlebury will enter as the hottest team in the tournament, having won four-straight and entering with a 7-1 overall mark, putting them on the fringes of the D3hoops.com Top 25 in the “Others Receiving Votes” category. They will face off against Illinois-Wesleyan, ranked No. 18 nationally by D3hoops.com, entering at 7-2 overall. The Titans are the only visiting team with Tournament of Heroes history. They took the 2011 Championship thanks to a 90-79 victory over CSI that year. CSI would go on to win 19-straight games from there and land in the NCAA Division III Sweet Sixteen, will Illinois-Wesleyan went on the Final Four that year.
CSI’s first-round opponent will be Bridgewater College, coached by Staten Island native Shawn Postiglione. The Eagles are 5-4 this season and are on a two-game win skein coming into CSI. It will be the first meeting between the two teams in school history. More than anything, however, the basketball that highlights the evening on Thursday 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. “They all enjoyed playing basketball at the College of Staten Island and we never want their memory and all of the victims of September 11 to be forgotten.”
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.
“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.”
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 Thursday’s games.
Of course, there is also some excellent basketball to take in. “When we first started the tournament, we thought it would be nice to have it going for five years or so,” Petosa said. “But now it’s become a really nice event on Staten Island and we have prided ourselves on bringing nationally-prominent programs in from around the country to make this a high-quality tournament.”
Petosa couldn’t be more right. The competition affiliated with the tournament has been so tough that the Dolphins have only claimed two championships in the 14-year history of the event. The two titles have come in the past three years. This year, the Dolphins are looking to defend a title, as they walloped a previously undefeated SUNY-Canton team last year in the Final.
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 in 2014, all in large part due to his efforts with the tournament.
“It’s been real nice to see it become so successful,” he noted. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without the support from local businesses and establishments that support it. Many of these establishments keep 9/11 near and dear to their hearts. 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 15th annual Tournament of Heroes are $5 for general admission and 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