Drowned tennis star remembered at Cleveland High

Banners with Alex Rovello's name hang inside Cleveland High School in Portland. He died in a diving accident on May 12, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
Banners with Alex Rovello's name hang inside Cleveland High School in Portland. He died in a diving accident on May 12, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Friends and family are mourning the loss of a local tennis star.

Alex Rovello, 21, died in a diving accident in Linn County this weekend. He hit the water and sank; friends couldn’t pull him out.

Alex Rovello smiles in a University of Oregon head-shot. (KOIN 6 News, University of Oregon)

Rovello won four state tennis titles while at southeast Portland’s Cleveland High School before going on to the University of Oregon, where he was in the midst of a successful tennis career.

Monday marked a tough first day back for the staff at Cleveland High School in Portland. On Sunday many of them learned that Rovello, the well-known and well-loved graduate, had died.

Cleveland Principal Paul Cook keeps thinking “It’s just a bad dream, it’s just a bad dream.” But it’s not.

The Rovello he knows, while flipping through the Cleveland  yearbook, makes him smile: “He was just so humble,” Cook said. “…People got excited around Alex.”

The fond memories of Rovello are many.

“Every time I close my eyes I see his little face smiling, ‘Hi Mrs. Van Kopp,’” said Jennifer Van Kopp, the freshman counselor at Cleveland High.

Inside Cleveland High, mementos of Rovello are everywhere.

“There is the state champion banner here, 2010 his senior year, then the second banner over from the right,” Cook said.

On Saturday Rovello’s legacy was cut short.

As the Pacific Northwest hit its highest temperatures of the season, locals headed to the water. Rovello and a group of friends headed to the “Blue Pool” at Tamolich Falls on the McKenzie River.

Blue Pool is a popular place for cliff diving — about 90 miles northeast of UO’s Eugene campus, according to the CBS affiliate in Eugene.

Like so many others, Rovello attempted the 60-foot cliff jump — but after landing on his chest and face, he kept sinking. The water, at 37 degrees Fahrenheit, was too deep and too cold for friends to get to him.

“I was devastated, sick to my stomach.”

Now those who knew him struggle with the death of “an all-around amazing solid kid who had an amazing future ahead of him,” said school counselor Van Kopp. “And that’s what makes me most sad.”

An Alex Rovello Memorial Fund has been set up through Wells Fargo Bank. All money donated will go toward improvements at Berkeley Park in southeast Portland. It’s the park where Rovello first started playing the game of tennis.

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