BENNINGTON —; From playing catch in the backyard with his father to playing pickup basketball games in the driveway with his sisters, the memories that Owen Iannotti made with his family still live on after Owen passed away in a car accident last year.
On Saturday, the Iannotti family, with help from Owen's friend Hunter Stratton, helped create an event to honor their son called the OPI Classic, a basketball tournament that featured many local athletes with the proceeds of the event going towards Owen's scholarship fund at his alma mater, Mount Anthony Union High School.
"Owen touched a lot of people's lives and it's amazing they keep his legacy alive doing events like the OPI Classic," said Owen's mother, Amy Johnson. "He always rooted for the underdog and his goal was always to help people. He was a great kid and you can see that through the love and support we have gotten since his passing."
Many have done a lot over the past year to honor their friend, including just last month, when his friend and former MAU basketball player Kyle Callanan created a team for The Basketball Tournament, an event where teams across the country compete for a grand prize of $2 million. If they had won the event, they would have given $50,000 of the winnings towards the scholarship.
OPI unfortunately did not win the tournament, but Owen's cause gained major attention around the area.
"I saw people while playing college basketball this past season have OPI written on their shoes and have seen people walking around Bennington wearing the OPI shirts that were made for the TBT," said Owen's sister, Abby Iannotti, who plays for Holy Family University in Philadelphia. "It's great to see how far [we] have been able to keep his memory alive."
For the OPI Classic, teams competed in either the varsity or intramural divisions, with the winner of each division getting a trophy and a T-shirt that had the phrase "Fly High." That phrase described Owen, as well as the letter O on the back, to signify his nickname — The Big O. Also on the T-shirt was Owen's jersey number, 23.
As part of the two-day festivities held at Southern Vermont College and at Hoosick Falls Central School were a three-point, dunk and knockout contest that people were able to participate in along with a DJ playing music all tournament long.
"Owen loved sports and we felt that this tournament would be a great way to get people who knew him to come out and honor his legacy," Stratton said. "Owen was like a brother to me and our group of friends, so it's been so fun being able to hang out with all of them and honor him."
All throughout the tournament, Stratton said he couldn't have gotten better help as many of Owen's family came out to support the cause.
"We had family from all over the area come help out at the event and it was very special to have all of them here with us to honor Owen," said Owen's father Pat Iannotti. "I couldn't be prouder of my son. He touched so many people and this was a great event to honor his legacy."
Just like after Owen passed away, many from the Bennington community came out to support to the OPI Classic to honor him one more time and show their love for him and the Iannotti family.
"We couldn't have asked for a better turnout," Stratton said. "We had tons of people come throughout the tournament to show their support for Owen's family. We had a lot of businesses help sponsor the tournament because of the great person they knew Owen was. It's just a great thing to be a part of."
Because of the success of the OPI Classic, Stratton hopes to continue to have the tournament every year and is also looking into setting up another event for Owen with a wiffle ball tournament instead.
"Anything they want to do for Owen, we're there," Pat Iannotti said. "His friends meant so much to him and to see what they have all done to support our family after his death is more then anything you can ask for."
He touched many lives and the OPI Classic was proof that even though Owen is gone, his friends and family will continue to support his legacy for the rest of their lives.
"I can't describe how much it means to my family and the support we have gotten from Owen's friends and the Bennington community," said Owen's sister Anna. "It's just awesome to see so many people come out to honor my brother. I never forget it."