Tre Cunningham Memorial Tournament brings communities together to honor former Jeannette 3-sport star

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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | 8:42 PM


In Jeannette, the Tre Cunningham Memorial Basketball Tournament honors the memory of one of the many Jeannette High School standout athletes, and on the fourth anniversary of the annual event, the Cunningham family again was showered with unbridled compassion.

How good does that feel? Just ask Steve Cunningham, the father of the tournament’s namesake. Tre, who was 20 at the time, died in a 2020 accident while operating a motorcycle that collided with another vehicle on Route 130 in Penn Township.

“I hope it goes for the next 30 years,” Steve Cunningham said Saturday as his smile grew larger. “By the way, this is the first time Jeannette has made the finals. How about that?”

Along with wife, Tracy, and daughter Tatiana, the Cunningham family was feeling the love as the three-day boys basketball tournament wrapped up with a championship game featuring defending champion Belle Vernon and Jeannette.

The Jayhawks fell short, but it didn’t matter in the big picture.

Trevor Kovatch returned to the court after skipping a portion of the tournament to take a soccer recruiting visit to West Virginia University earlier in the day and scored 23 points as Class 4A Belle Vernon repeated as champion with a 68-57 victory over Class 2A Jeannette at Jeannette High School.

A total of 12 teams converged Thursday on the tight-knit Westmoreland County community of 8,500, bidding for a chance to make the championship game. The tournament sites were split between the high school and McKee Elementary School.

“We’re blessed to be able to play in this,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “Any time you play in an event like this, you want to win it. But we’re playing for a kid that passed away and deserves a lot of praise because of the way he was. That’s the main focus.”

Salvino is a former longtime boys coach at Class A Monessen, where his teams faced Jeannette on numerous occasions, so he can relate to the makeup of both similarly structured communities.

“The fans here are supportive regardless of what sport it is,” he said. “They’ve always supported their kids. It shows what a great community Jeannette is.”

Two teams — Class 5A Gateway and Monessen — were forced to drop out after Thursday’s first round because neither school was able to produce five players for the next round.

Joining the finalists in the remaining field of 10 teams were Class 6A schools Hempfield and Norwin; Class 4A Greensburg Salem and Yough; Class 3A Apollo-Ridge, Steel Valley and Westmont Hilltop; and Class 2A Greensburg Central Catholic.

But the chief purpose of the event is to offer a small token of scholarship funding in the name of Tre Cunningham, a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball at Jeannette from 2013-17.

He was a junior pitcher at La Roche when he died.

“We’re hoping to raise upwards of $7,000 (to aid in scholarship funding),” said tournament director and Jeannette City School Board member Tim Carney, who is also a member of the nonprofit Jeannette Educational Foundation, an affiliate of the school district.

“Tre was a wonderful young man, a great student and a great athlete,” Carney said. “We’re honored to be holding this event every year in his name.”

While the foundation serves as the event’s presenter, funding in part comes from its main sponsors, including AHN Hempfield Neighborhood Hospital, Boston’s Harbor & Cape, Hoffman Wealth Management, Jeannette Fraternal Order of Eagles, Jeannette Polish Club and Seton Hill University.

In the lobby at Jeannette High School, red, white and blue balloons hung near an entrance to the gymnasium to highlight Olympic bobsled team member Jasmine Jones’ presence Saturday, when she greeted fans during a photo opportunity.

Jones, a Jeannette native, moved to Hempfield before the start of sixth grade and went on to become an elite sprinter for the Hempfield track team, later earning All-America honors in college at Eastern Michigan.

She said she’d been intrigued by bobsledding, which uses many of the same muscle movements as track. She decided to pursue the sport after receiving several phone inquiries, including one from Mike Dionne, a coach with the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

She lives in Lake Placid, N.Y., home to the Olympic Center sports complex.

Jones said she was acquainted with Cunningham. She is a 2014 graduate of Hempfield.

When Jones wasn’t entertaining her visitors earlier in the day, she was peeking through the doorways of the high school gym to get a glimpse of the games and also to check on her 3-year-old daughter, who was biding time while her grandmother — Jones’ mother, former Jeannette basketball and track star Christine (Graves) Vincent — helped with the scorekeeping.

“It just makes me feel proud that they even asked me to be here,” Jones said. “It definitely feels like a blessing to be here, especially with the accident that happened. I know Tre was a great athlete as well. Everything in this community is so tight-knit based. It didn’t just affect the family, it affected friends and family. Being able to be here, my mom being here, to be able to give back and just be able to know that we’re all from the same community is a real blessing.”

Jones, who has been working out at the Olympic Center in preparation for a chance to compete in the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Games in Italy, has signed a six-year contract with the Air Force, where she’s in the midst of serving three years. She’s been cleared to delay her final three years until after the conclusion of the ’26 Games.

With the fourth edition of the tournament complete, Carney and others wrapped up equipment and headed outside into the sweltering heat.

“It’s worth it,” he said. “This is worth the time we put into it. It’s worthwhile to do this every year, and we hope to continue to honor the legacy of Tre Cunningham for many more years.”

In the tournament championship game, Tommy Davis added 19 points for Belle Vernon. But Jeannette’s Jayce Powell, a nephew of Jones, led all scorers with 24 points. Kymon’e Brown added 14 for the Jayhawks.

“When I was growing up, we would go to the high school and watch (guys), and we loved it,” Steve Cunningham said, gazing into the bleachers. “When I see these kids now, some of them looked up to Tre. I’m sure they’re looking at all these teams from everywhere now coming into Jeannette and feeling the same way I did when I was their age.

“It’s amazing to get these teams together like this.”

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