50 years on the sidelines

A half century ago, Rege Costello of Emsworth offered to fill in when the Avonworth football team needed someone to hold the sticks on the sidelines. Friday night marked the 50th season that Rege has spent with the Antelopes. Photo by Tom Steiner

Rege Costello walks six miles each day, weather permitting, two miles after each meal, mostly along the streets of his hometown, Emsworth, on into Ben Avon and sometimes maybe to the Avalon border.

At one time not so long ago, though, Rege was running those streets, as well as marathons in South Park, North Park, Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Boston. In all, 49 marathons, Boston being the easiest, in Rege's opinion.

"No steep hills!" he said.

But then came a hill too steep for him to climb: torn knee cartilage, and Marathon 50 would forever elude him.

Great accomplishments seem to be marked off in quantities of 10, and so when Rege Costello, age 86, holds the sticks tonight at Avonworth's season football opener, he will hit that magic number of 50 years of walking the sidelines, measuring the plays, 10 yards -- more or less -- at a time, making him a truly rare individual in the history of high school sports -- or sports at any level, for that matter.

With football seasons usually including five home games per season, that would be 250 games ago when Rege began his lifetime association with Avonworth by volunteering, just by chance, at the home field along Ohio River Boulevard, now known as the Patrick Kenny Memorial Field.

"It all started by accident," Rege recalls. "I was at a Saturday afternoon game at the field (All games were played on Saturday afternoons. No lights.) and they were short one man. I stepped up, and I loved it. When you're walking the sidelines, you're right on top of the game. I love it!"

Through that nearly 1,000 quarters of play, Rege took only one hit. "Just one," he said. "It was at the Boulevard field and the runner made a quick cut to the sidelines. I was down, but I didn't get knocked out."

Lots of good memories from those 1,000 quarters. Memories of players, coaches, plays.

Rege started the year that Mercury Morris, who eventually moved on to the Miami Dolphins, was a senior, so he does not have that many games with him to recall. But he is quick to name Eric Knisley, Class of 1970, as being "…one of the most outstanding athletes I ever saw."

A long list of coaches comes to mind, as well. "Al Shriver, Jim Huffmyer, Artie Parker. They were outstanding. And so is the present coaching staff. I always believed that when the coach respects the kids, the kids will respect the coach and you'll have a winning situation. He [Coach Duke Johncour] has that."

And one of his fondest memories is the atmosphere that surrounded those Saturday daylight games at the former field. "The band would march to the field, down from the school a few blocks away. Often lots of fans were following. Even for me, an old guy, it was fun."

It also was fun for fellow sideliners to work with Rege.

Among their memories of him, "Whitey" Simpson says, "I have known Rege for over 40 years. When I was a football player myself, Rege would volunteer to drive me to games. He has always shown dedication and devotion to the team by holding the sticks at the games either home or away. Rege Costello has demonstrated commitment and tremendous spirit, taking pride in the Avonworth Antelopes for 50 years."

"He loves Avonworth football," Dave Gerlach said. "He has always gone to the games, no matter the weather. He also has gone to games when the team was awful. He is a joy to hang out with on Friday night football games. As we stand along the fence, waiting for the game to start, Rege seems to know everyone who walks by and spends a few moments to talk with as many people as possible."

Neighbor and close friend Bob Donovan sums it up: "Rege is as dedicated and reliable a man as I know. I do not know of him missing a single game in his 50 years. There were some tough times both on the field and with the weather over the years, but you could always count on Rege to be there. He is that way with the rest of life, as well."

On hand to see Rege at his last game tonight will be his daughter, Marilyn and son, Ed, both Avonworth grads. Ruth, Rege's wife of 64 years, admits that she has never gone to a football game. "I like baseball, and I'm a hockey fan."

Athletic director Tim Giel and fans will recognize Rege Costello's volunteering and love of the game tonight at the end of the first quarter of play. Speaking of Rege and his crew, he said, "It is great having an experienced chain crew, with each man knowing the rules and his assignments. They have always been the ultimate professionals, and, of course, Rege has led the way with his skill and dedication."

To end by going back to the beginning, some observations from Tim O'Malley, -- Avonworth Class of '68, quarterback '65-'67, and now WPIAL executive director -- sum up a half century of service. "I returned to coach for three years in the early '80s and was the beneficiary of Rege's volunteerism, and again in the early '90s. Rege was there throughout and as I watch now from behind the fence, Rege still serves, albeit much more slowly. Rege's association with Avonworth football is unmatched and in all probability will never be duplicated. He is one of a kind, a special type of person who comes around only once in a lifetime. We are fortunate that he came around during ours."

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