By CASEY CROUCHER
JOHNSTOWN -- Friends of Lester Rivera will always remember his love for basketball, his bright smile, and his passion for life.
"Lester loved basketball; it's sad he's not here right now. He'd love to be playing," Charles Beekman, long-time friend of Rivera said Saturday during the second annual Lester Rivera Memorial 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
Rivera was a star running back for Amsterdam High School's 1995 New York State Class B championship football team as well as a member of the Rams' varsity basketball team while in high school. He died in January 2013 in an automobile accident, leaving behind his teenage son, Dante Rivera.
Todd Cetnar, a friend of Rivera's, organized the tournament the past two years. He said he started the event to "celebrate the life of Lester and help raise money for Dante's scholarship."
Cetnar said Rivera always told him he wanted Dante to go to college, so Cetnar created the Dante Christopher Rivera Scholarship Fund to help raise money for Dante's future.
Saturday's day-long tournament featured three age groups -- 10 to 13 years old, 14 to 17 years old, and 18 years and up. Each player had to pay $20 to participate and Cetnar said 42 teams signed up.
"We're definitely going to exceed what we raised last year," Cetnar said. "We raised nearly $4,000 last year. We'll hopefully reach $4,000 or more this year."
Cetnar, Beekman and Dante all participated in Saturday's tournament.
Dante said it felt special seeing so many people come and play in honor of his father.
"My dad was really good at football but he loved basketball," Dante said. "That's why we chose a basketball tournament; that's what he would have wanted."
Cetnar said he grew up two streets away from Rivera as a kid and met Dante when he was born.
"[Dante] and I are separated only by location since I live in Boston and he's here in Amsterdam," he said. "We text a lot and we're close; we'd hang out more if I lived closer, but we're practically family."
Beekman said he knew Rivera since he was 7 years old and he learned a lot from him.
"He always said, 'Never worry about what people think of you,' and I've always remembered that," he said. "I'll always remember his smile, too -- that smile could light up a whole room."
Beekman said the tournament is important to him because he wants to raise money for Dante's college education.
"[Rivera] always said he wanted to see his son go to college and we're going to make that happen so that when Little Dante goes to school his dad can look down on him and smile," he said.