A new, noble tradition

The passing of a respected Gaels alum inspired an annual memorial game. Tomorrow, Queen’s will tip off in his honour

Tomorrow night at the ARC, Queen’s men’s basketball team will host the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the fourth annual Marco W. Alessio Memorial Alumni Game.
Tomorrow night at the ARC, Queen’s men’s basketball team will host the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the fourth annual Marco W. Alessio Memorial Alumni Game.
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Alessio played for the Gaels from 1986-89. Today, the team awards a scholarship in his name to a current Queen’s player.
Alessio played for the Gaels from 1986-89. Today, the team awards a scholarship in his name to a current Queen’s player.

Men’s basketball alumni will be in town tomorrow to remember and celebrate the life of a fallen teammate.

The Gaels will take on the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the fourth annual Marco W. Alessio Memorial Alumni Game.

Marco “Mark” William Alessio, ArtSci ’89, played for the Gaels from 1986-89. He was killed on vacation in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Feb. 23, 2009, from gunshot wounds while protecting his girlfriend from invaders.

Actor and former teammate Tom Cavanagh, ArtSci ’87 and BEd ’88, told the Journal via email that Alessio was — and still is — his best friend.

“The longest lasting group of friends I have began at Queen’s with my basketball teammates,” Cavanagh said. “And from our first day of practice it became clear that these were to become friendships to be reckoned with.”

The tightly-knit relationships formed on the court some 25 years ago keep Cavanagh and the rest of Alessio’s teammates returning to Kingston each year. They come to honour the memory of their charming, guitar-strumming, coffee-brewing teammate and friend.

“Our team … has been honoured by the current Queen’s men’s basketball edition’s willingness to include our friend as part of their own legacy,” Cavanagh said.

The memorial game was established in Feb. 2010. Along with it, a men’s basketball award for academic achievement and athletic excellence was renamed in Alessio’s honour in 2009.

“Mark honoured Queen’s with his charisma, his staggering athleticism, his ferocity, his humour and sportsmanship, on and off the court,” Cavanagh said. “When we lost Mark from our ranks, one clear way to honour him was to go back to the beginnings, and include the Queen’s men’s basketball team.”

Before tomorrow’s tip-off, Cavanagh will address the crowd, tell his friend’s story and present the award to this year’s recipient.

Last year, fourth-year forward Bernard Burgesson won the award as a 2010-11 Academic All-Canadian and co-captain in his final year on the team.

“It wasn’t just getting a faceless, nameless scholarship,” Burgesson said. “It was good to have that background a couple years before I got it.”

Along with the members of this year’s basketball team, Burgesson will once again have the opportunity to speak with alumni tomorrow afternoon.

The current crop of players will learn of Alessio’s character, just as Burgesson has done in the past few years.

“[Alessio] was all about going out there and trying things, and questioning things — not just being a yes-man,” Burgesson said. “I’ve been trying to live my life like that for a while, in terms of setting goals for myself and just striving to be the best I can be.”

After his time on the court from 2008-12, Burgesson is now helping out from the sidelines, but said he remembers when the first Marco W. Alessio Memorial Men’s Basketball Award was given out.

“It was fresh after the passing of Mark Alessio,” he said. “From the dedication [the alumni] showed, and now coming back year after year, I could tell how important it was to them.”

The Gaels are also in action tonight, when they take on the top-ranked Carleton Ravens.

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