NEW CASTLE —
I’m the ninth-grade basketball coach at New Castle High School.
In that role, it’s more important to build character than to win games.
I talk to our team members daily about how to live their lives. I tell them that successful people not only are physically tough, but they also are mentally tough.
We remind them that sometimes being tough requires them to be gentle.
One of my favorite quotes is from Saint Francis de Sales who said, “There is nothing so strong as gentleness and nothing so gentle as strength.”
I began to think about all of this because my friend Anthony Aven, owner of Aven Fire Systems, passed away suddenly on Thursday.
He epitomized what Saint Francis envisioned. He may have been the toughest man that I’ve every met and at the same time he was probably the gentlest man with whom I’ve ever associated.
I first met Anthony when I was 15 years old playing in the North County Baseball League. I can’t say that it was a pleasant meeting, but I still remember it more than 40 years later.
He reminded me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t slide sooner into second base on a double play while he was playing shortstop, that he would hit me in the forehead with the ball.
Anthony was a star at New Castle High School on both the baseball and football teams. I certainly knew of him. So my response to his proclamation was, “Yes sir, Mr. Aven.”
It was his toughness in the way he played that would have caused him to drill me if I didn’t slide. But it was his gentleness that let the 15-year-old kid off the hook.
Anthony was four years older than me. I admired him as an athlete. He was a fierce competitor as a football player. If I close my eyes, I can still see his catch along the sideline in the 1967 WPIAL championship game that led to a New Castle score and ultimately a title. I can still hear the sound of his hits when he made a tackle from his cornerback position. He was maybe the toughest player on a team filled with tough guys.
They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Well, growing up, I tried to imitate Anthony. As a shortstop, he would set up as low to the ground as possible. After he fielded a ground ball, he would load up and blister a throw across the infield with that rifle arm. Nobody had a better throwing arm than he.
In later years, when I told Anthony that I would try to imitate him growing up, he would just laugh. It was only his gentleness that prevented him from telling me that I was a cheap imitation.
My man Aven was no angel. Some of his scraps were legendary. He told me once that if he hadn’t married his lovely wife, Kim, he probably would have gotten in real trouble. It was Kim who converted Anthony from a stallion to a show pony.
In the end, however, it isn’t only Anthony’s toughness or athletic prowess that will be remembered by this community. No, coincidentally, the toughest man that I ever met will be remembered for his gentleness.
There may have been a kinder more generous man in this community, but I’ve never met him. This tough guy had a heart of gold.
He gave unceasingly of his time and his resources to charitable causes throughout this community. But it was not just that he gave, it was the way that he would give that made him special.
When Anthony made a donation, he expected nothing in return. He never wanted a building named after him — even though there are several in this city that should carry his name.
Anthony may have been Lindy Lauro’s favorite son. Coach Lauro, who didn’t actually have a son of his own, was the legendary coach of New Castle High who passed away last month. Coach Lauro told me once that he admired Anthony, not only because of his toughness, but also because of his generosity and class. Coach Lauro also knew the power of gentleness.
On the day that Anthony died, my ninth-grade team had a game. When I addressed them before the game in the locker room, I told them that a dear friend of mine had passed away. I told them that Anthony was a true Red Hurricane. I told them that Anthony was a warrior. I asked them to do me a favor and to play like warriors that day in his honor. They did.
What I didn’t tell my team was that this warrior who set the standard for mental and physical toughness was also the gentlest and kindest man that I had ever known.
I’ll save that story for another day. They wouldn’t understand the importance of that, they’re only 15 years old — the same age I was when I met and admired Anthony for his toughness.
It would be years later before I realized why he was so special.
(In addition to his job as a ninth-grade basketball coach, Larry Kelly is an attorney with the law firm of Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C., and an occasional contributor to the New Castle News sports pages).
NEW CASTLE —
I’m the ninth-grade basketball coach at New Castle High School.
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