This & That

Just imagine… Life is going great for you day after day. You seem to be enjoying just about every 24 hours to the fullest. Then all of a sudden, someone hits you with an opportunity that almost doesn’t make sense. You pinch yourself and realize this moment is true. You really, really don’t want to make a change, but on the other hand, how can you not?

This is exactly the position Springfield girls’ basketball coach Joe Costello found himself in just after his remarkable Lady Cosmos completed their tremendous Final Four winter. This wasn’t the first time he had received an offer from this firm in Maine. They had come calling before, but each time, he had looked in the mirror, saw the permanent smile on his face and said, “No, thanks.” This time though, it was different.

Costello is headed to Paris. Paris, Maine that is. The four-year head coach of Springfield girls’ basketball had settled in. He enjoyed working with Springfield lawyer John Marchica, and he especially loved coaching the Lady Cosmos. He called this past basketball season, “The most rewarding highlight of my professional life.”

Fate has been fickle throughout Costello’s journey. He grew up in Windsor, N.Y. I have journeyed to his backyard when I covered UVM basketball in Binghampton, N.Y. I even had the pleasure of working out at a health club he used to frequent in Johnson City. His dad coached varsity basketball there 35 years, 18 as the head coach. This was one factor that helped Costello start to believe in himself along the way during his Cosmos tenure. He said about the task in front of him, upon taking said job, “I’ve always been confident with my abilities. I come from a coaching family.”

He made his Springfield coaching debut as an assistant. It was his wife, Jade, who came on the scene first. He followed along to assist her with the Cosmos girls’ soccer team. This was one of those right place at the right time moments. When the girls’ hoops job opened up, Costello had already become familiar with many of the Cosmo hoopsters. “I wasn’t a total unknown to the school, or some of the girls. They had seen my approach and philosophy connected with coaching. I don’t know who all of the other candidates were, but being with the girls’ soccer team had to help.”

Upon Costello taking the helm, the Cosmo hoopsters were in a true transition moment in their history. Chelsea McAllister had been a standout performer for four years and she had just graduated. McAllister had been both a scorer and a facilitator, and returning players would be looking to play a much different game. Costello said, “I had inherited kids who had played with an alpha their entire lives. I had to shift a mindset that players were use to, of deferring to someone, and they now had to change their roles to become playmakers, creative forces, and overall basketball players. We concentrated on those things during my first two years and then became much better along the way.”

Springfield finished 5-15 and 3-17 while the coach was establishing his way of doing things. They finished 10-10 in 2017-18, playing a difficult schedule, before bowing in a tough play-off game against Randolph. Then, with all cylinders churning ahead, this year’s team went 15-5 and advanced to the State Semi-Finals for only the third time in school history. Thus far, the Lady Cosmos have appeared in a Final Four once every 15 years the event has been held. Springfield had appearances in 1977 and 1995 before this year’s team making it again. That leaves one to think, where is the program at now?

Costello happens to think things are in pretty good shape. “We have a special group of kids returning. They have worked hard to get where they are – especially the juniors because they were brought along faster than they should have been. They have been able to see the big picture and they have stayed true to it. They were given a vision and they have followed peer modeling, which allows them to set the tone for a sustainable program,” he relayed to me with confidence. He cares deeply whom the next coach is and will share whatever he needs to in hopes the transition is as smooth as possible.

Plenty of tears have been shed in Cosmoland since Costello’s departure has been made public. One parent shared with me, “While Joe’s decision totally makes sense for him and his family, I’m a little bit heartbroken he isn’t sticking around. As an adult, it’s easy to see your child has a gem of a coach. What I have seen Joe do, so quietly and so unassumingly, is to get these girls to believe in themselves in a way that was pretty stunning. Even when we talked, after he broke the news to the girls, he won’t take any responsibility for the success of their season, but he honestly was, and the confidence he has given them really extends beyond the sport as well. His approach to knowing these girls beyond the court is something I will be eternally grateful for.”

Of course, Joe Costello is not the only one of significance who is departing Springfield. His wife Jade is assistant principal and when her contract runs out June 30, she will be on the road to Paris too. Remember this is not a Paris in another country; however, another country is responsible for these two talented professionals ending up as husband and wife and being able to bless Springfield with their professional talents for a short time.

Joe Costello only met his wife because he was dealt a cruel fate. Although Joe was a talented basketball player, it was baseball he had hoped would be his ticket to a full college career. While attending college at Lafayette, he suffered a career ending injury when he tore both his rotator cuff and labrum, so instead of continuing to study on campus, he hit the road to Galway, Ireland. His program allowed participants to arrive early and get to know the area some before classes started. There he happened to meet another student set to study abroad and “We’ve been together ever since,” the coach told me. Among the things that attracted Joe to Jade, was “a love of baseball” and that part worked despite the fact he favors Pinstripes and she favors Red Sox.

Jade came from Maine and with Joe’s New York background those baseball allegiances definitely make sense. Jade is presently actively looking for a job in Maine and hopes to continue in the administrative field. Both husband and wife chose to turn down the present opportunity more than once, but the Maine company, which concentrates on renewable energy projects, hired Costello on as their legal consultant on about their fifth try.

“We formed a relationship a few years ago when they sought legal advice on some Vermont projects they were working on. Their in-house counsel was looking to retire in about five years and they mentioned whether we could talk when the time comes. I said, by all means, I would be happy to at least talk. The five-year period moved up a couple of times and we did talk, but each time I told them that it just doesn’t fit. Then, after basketball ended, they presented a proposal we just couldn’t refuse.”

“It was the hardest thing in the world for me to accept this opportunity,” Joe told me. “A lot of things had aligned for our family in the Springfield School District. As far as coaching is concerned, to be successful you have to have a connection with the kids, not just after 5 p.m., but also between 7-3. My family was able to make that work. If someone was having a tough day at school, I was able to find out. Springfield gave back to us as well. The community helped us raise our children. This is definitely not a day I looked forward to have come.”

Will another community someday have the opportunity to see Costello back on the sideline?

“That doesn’t fit right now, but I’d like to believe it will happen again. I’d definitely like to be back on the sideline someday.”

Joe, Springfield was very lucky to have known you.

NOTE: Former Cosmo standout Chelsea McAllister mentioned in today’s column went on to enjoy four more strong seasons at Springfield College. Reflection on those years will be mentioned in a future column.

If you would like to comment on This & That, feel free to email bmurphy@vermontjournal.com.

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