In honor of Alex
Bennett Memorial tourney still brings friends, family together 10 years later
Bruce Bennett has had two major fears since his son Alex died in a car accident in 2003: that he will forget something about Alex, and that people will forget about Alex.
Sunday, during the 10th annual Alex Bennett 3-on-3 Memorial Basketball Tournament at Colorado Mesa University, Bruce was able to put both fears to rest.
He views the number of teams in the tournament, around 65 in all from youth to adult, as a tribute to his son’s legacy. To Bruce, it’s Alex’s lasting mark on basketball in Grand Junction.
Being able to bring about 20 close friends and family members together for the tournament ensures he doesn’t forget Alex.
“I live north of Chicago,” Bruce said. “My daughter lives in Honolulu, and my son (Doug) lives in New York. It’s rare that I get to bring my family together at the same time, but at this tournament, every year, we’re able to be together.”
Charlotte Bennett, Bruce’s daughter, said being able to travel back to Grand Junction with a network of friends and family has helped her cope with the loss of her brother.
“I love having everyone together, especially to come together for an event like this,” Charlotte said. “I mean usually our immediate family gets together for this, but this year it’s so great to have some cousins here. My aunt came out this year. Friends of the family from all over came out for this, so it’s amazing to see everyone coming together and supporting this. It’s really amazing that it’s stayed as big as it has for this long. It’s really amazing for us.”
For a short period of time leading up to the 10th tournament, Bruce feared the tournament — and the two scholarships the tournament raises money for — wouldn’t continue.
Every year, the tournament has awarded a $2,000 scholarship to a Colorado Mesa University basketball player, and a $500 scholarship to a high school basketball player.
But when former CMU men’s basketball coach Jim Heaps, someone Bruce considers an integral part of the tournament, took an administrative position in the CMU athletic department, Bruce said he wasn’t sure the tournament was going to continue under new CMU coach Andy Shantz.
Heaps said he had a conversation with his former assistant about continuing the tournament, and it was a no-brainer.
CMU basketball players will continue to help set up the tournament and referee games, something Heaps said allows the players to connect with young tournament-goers.
“I had a conversation with (Shantz) about it, but it was really, ‘Heck yeah, let’s keep it going,’ ” Heaps said. “He really believes in it as much as I do and wanted to keep it going. It was never a question.
“What’s really great about it is that the CMU players get out here and they get their first exposure to local youth. It helps kids relate to the guys as people, rather than just players. They get involved with this thing and people get to meet them and see them, and everyone comes together for a really great cause.”
Tournament Director Steven Irion said the tournament drew many of the regular participants from past years. A number of returning basketball players had played for the past nine years, Irion said.
Some play to honor Alex Bennett, and some play to see the basketball talent in Grand Junction.
Everett Robinson, a former Grand Junction High School basketball standout, played in the 2013 tournament. It was his first tournament since returning from Bellevue College (Neb.), where he was a member of the basketball team. Robinson said he played in the tournament during his four years in high school. This year, he competed in the men’s open division of the tournament.
“It’s a cool event,” Robinson said. “It’s just a good Sunday playing basketball. There’s a lot more teams here than there were in like (2009). It’s fun to see more people getting involved in this. You see more people, get more competition and see what Junction basketball is about.”
Ultimately, Bruce Bennett said seeing the tournament reach its 10th year was special. Bruce said he has returned to Grand Junction for every tournament, and he plans to return for future tournaments. He also takes part in reviewing the required essay for the high school scholarship.
“How many times do you see the first annual of something and there is never another one?” Bruce said. “The fact that it’s reached the tenth is just amazing to me. And Andy told me that he wants to keep it going with Alex’s name on it, so I’m happy to say there will be an 11th.”