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Kenney fundraiser moves well without ball

GENEVA – Sean McCurtain surveyed the upstairs dining room at Old Towne Pub & Eatery on Saturday afternoon and couldn't help smiling.

Dunking chicken tenders instead of basketballs wasn't what he initially had planned, but it sure seemed equally fulfilling.

Without enough players to field the planned 3-on-3 basketball benefit for his late friend and fellow Geneva alum, Matt Kenney, McCurtain and the Kenney family ad-libbed. A few phone calls transformed the tournament into a less frenetic fundraiser, though the event hardly lacked for camaraderie.

"It's a little bittersweet just in the fact that we couldn't get the tournament going this year," McCurtain said. "But, to be honest, this is fantastic. The turnout is great. It just shows that people care about the cause more than just playing basketball."

For three hours, Kenney's family and friends ate, drank and dished on old stories. A former Vikings basketball player who also vividly watched and discussed the sport, Kenney joined the Air Force after graduating from Geneva in 2002. He died in a car accident two years later, at age 21.

Raffle tickets for sporting events and gift cards to notable Geneva and Tri-Cities shops and restaurants were on sale to benefit a Geneva scholarship fund in Kenney's name. Recent Geneva graduates Mark Becker and Rachel Hinchman were the respective recipients of the 2012 awards, separate $1,000 scholarships for a male and female student who displays success in athletics, leadership and community involvement.

Even without a tournament, event T-shirts were popular sellers. The true staying power of this year's Kelly green model, however, may not be known for a few years. Patti Reeder, Kenney's older sister and a chief fundraiser coordinator, is amazed how frequently she sees shirts from the first five tournaments.

"We'll randomly be at church or shopping and you'll see a kid wearing an old shirt, and you're just like, 'Wow,'" said Reeder, the second of five Kenney siblings. "Or people tell us, 'Hey, I just saw some kid at the Cubs game wearing a Matt Kenney shirt.' That's cool. Just the fact that people remember him, that's the most important thing. We don't ever want to lose that."

Reorganizing the tournament into a lunchtime gathering backed the family's dedication. McCurtain, who graduated one year earlier than Kenney, said only eight teams spread across multiple age levels had registered by the July 6 deadline.

McCurtain fielded a late wave of calls before the weekend, but it was much too late. The group declined to pursue a tournament, referees and concessions after the turnout lagged.

One silver lining: the revamped fundraiser attracted scores of non-basketball players, which got Reeder to thinking ahead to next year.

"Even if we did a party after the tournament," she said, "then we could all get together like this. Most of the people here right now don't usually come to the tournament, because they don't play. So it's kind of a nice event for them, too."

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