AUGUSTA — Katie Rollins remembers being in elementary school and hearing about Chrisanne Burns. And hearing about her in middle school. And in high school, when she was starring at Cony as the best girls basketball player in the state.

The name had a message that went with it. Burns played for Cony before she was killed in an alcohol-related car accident in 1993. Her parents, Gary and Carolyn, began running a memorial basketball tournament and scholarship with an indelible slogan: “Please think…it could happen to you.”

At every stage of her career growing up in Maine, Rollins heard the creed.

“If you think about future Cony basketball players hearing that twice a summer every summer from third grade up to high school, then you have this tournament and you’re telling us this message, it gets drilled into you,” she said. “You can’t put a price tag on how impactful that’s been.”

There are changes coming to the annual event, however. Saturday marked the 25th edition of the Chrisanne Burns Memorial Tournament, which raises funds to give to Cony female athletes as scholarship money, but it’ll be the last one with Gary and Carolyn Burns as the face of the event and Cony athletic director Paul Vachon, Chrisanne Burns’s coach, as one of the tournament’s chief organizers.

All three said the time, particularly with the anniversary, was right to step aside.

“We talked about it last year. We said ‘Okay, we’ll do 25, and that should be enough,'” Carolyn said. “I think it was more getting up for it every year. … Every year, you’ve got to think about it. You’ve got to think about what I’m going to say, am I going to say much? … We just decided it was time to let it go.”

Vachon, who helped grow a tournament concept he said was Roger Katz’s creation, echoed those thoughts.

“It’s been difficult on all of us giving the message over and over and over,” he said. “We’re getting older, myself, the Burnses, and we just feel that it’s time that someone else takes it over.”

Running the tournament each year also means an annual dive back into the tragic events from that Thanksgiving weekend 25 years ago, and the emotional grind had taken a toll.

“Every year, it’s a reminder that at Thanksgiving time she headed out on that Saturday night, never to come home. A tournament’s not going to change that,” Gary said. “What we feel good about, where we’ve done some good is with sending the message out to all the kids who read the paper or read the news, is don’t screw up like our daughter did. That’s what we emphasize.”

That message won’t stop. Both Gary and Carolyn, as well as Vachon, affirmed that the tournament and the scholarship will continue, though it is in need of new people to take on the responsibility of leading its organization.

“That’ll be up to the principal,” Gary said.

The money for the scholarship is still strong. Originally a $500 amount awarded to Angela Beaudoin in 1994, the scholarship gave $1,000 apiece to four athletes last year. A total of $51,750 has been given to 39 graduates, and the Burnses said that there was still $5,000 in the fund going into Saturday.

“When we started this, we didn’t know if it would go a year or two,” Carolyn said. “And the money kept coming in.”

The message has resonated in the Augusta community. Vachon said he has seen the ripple effects in clinics and speaking engagements as the tournament has grown.

“With myself and the Burnses, I think we’ve reached over 30,000 kids,” he said. “With 30,000 kids, in my mind, I think we might have reached one or two. I always tell the Burnses that. That alone inspires all of us.”

Gary said he heard on Saturday alone anecdotes proving the message was working.

“We have two parents here today that said to us their son or daughter was at a gathering and alcohol was there. Nineteen, 20 years old. They said ‘Remember what Mr. Burns said,'” he said. “The good news is they used their phone to call somebody for a ride. I said ‘Good, I’ll take that.'”

The tournament will have a different face going forward, and on Saturday, dozens of the 39 scholarship winners, along with other former Cony athletes, showed up to pay tribute to the Burnses. While Gary, Carolyn and Vachon spoke for the last time, there were also speeches from Chrisanne’s brother Pat and mayor David Rollins — Katie’s father — while Cony field hockey coach Holly Daigle, the 1999 scholarship winner, and Julie Veilleux presented a quilt made from past tournament T-shirts.

The Burnses acknowledged that emotions were high, especially given the community’s reaction.

“We’re just so happy that so many of these scholarship winners and other players came,” Carolyn said. “Because we didn’t expect this many people to come.”

The scholarship winners acknowledged the impact the Burnses’ mission has had.

“It is great to have that financial component for girls to continue on their dreams in college, but it’s also them passing on the message that you need to pay attention. … Sometimes one mistake can be detrimental,” Beaudoin said. “As a result, Chrissane has become timeless. Her name is timeless. Her message is timeless, regardless of who’s giving it.”

“I think if you ask anybody in Augusta, it is so much more (about) the message,” Rollins, the 2005 recipient, said. “I think it’s up to all of us as alumni and the current basketball team to keep that word alive and make sure it is still falling on sound ears.”

• • •

The Chrisanne Burns Memorial Tournament brought four schools to the Cony High School gym. The Cony girls beat Belfast 54-46, while the Bangor boys beat Cony 73-50. The Hall-Dale girls then beat Belfast 50-37 and the Hall-Dale boys lost to Bangor 73-50 to wrap up the early session. In the later games, the Cony girls beat Hall-Dale 56-38 while the Cony boys beat Hall-Dale 81-63.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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