NEW CASTLE —
A piece of candy, a Pepsi and a smile.
New friends have gotten the same routine from the Rev. Fats Cubellis for more than 50 years.
“My mom and dad had 16 kids,” Cubellis said. “We had nothing. When I say nothing, we had nothing. That’s why I give kids candy, because there might be a kid out there that might be going through the same things I went through. I gave candy when I taught school, I give candy when I referee and I’m a minister and I give it in church.”
Cubellis was honored by the PIAA in August for his more than 50 years of service in officiating high school sports. A plaque recognizing his accomplishment will be displayed in the PIAA Officials’ Hall of Honor and Recognition.
“I was shocked when they sent the letter,” Cubellis said. “I didn’t know they did that.”
A not-so-shocking achievement for a man who began his career in 1956. After a stint in the army, he started to officiate baseball games at Dean Park on Taylor Street in New Castle.
“My first three years, I umpired there,” Cubellis said. “They still play little league baseball there. I was there for six years, two dollars a game. My first high school football game was five bucks. Today, they’re making 70 bucks.”
Cubellis, the starting quarterback for the New Castle football team in 1953, has a career of memorable moments and highlights, including officiating 10 playoff games in one season. Of all the games and sports he has officiated, which include baseball, softball, football, volleyball and basketball, Cubellis says he prefers a particular athlete more than the others.
“Maybe I might be partial, but I enjoy the girls more,” he said with a chuckle. “In my opinion, they have more manners. I’m not saying the boys don’t. You’ll never hear a girl say that you blew the call. The kids are all good to me.
“Recently, I went up and watched Shenango play against Laurel in volleyball. One of the girls from Shenango, I don’t even know her, she comes over and sits right next to me and kisses me on the cheek. Right away I tell her she can’t do that. She asks me ‘why not?’ I tell her if I’m here to referee and the other team sees that, they’ll think I’m going to cheat for them.”
Not surprisingly, Cubellis says volleyball is his favorite sport to officiate these days.
Along with an officiating career that includes nine years in college basketball, Cubellis is a retired educator, spending 37 years teaching social studies to students, with seven years spent at St. Mary’s in New Castle. One of his favorite memories of the school was after a Christmas party.
“One Christmas party at St. Mary’s, we had six cases of Pepsi left over from a little kid that brought them in,” he said. “I asked him who those Pepsis were for, and he said they were for me. I’m a Pepsi freak. I used to drink a case of 12 cans a day.”
Cubellis not only is a teacher in the classroom, but on the playing field, a mentor to colleagues like his friend and neighbor, Joe Palmiro. The two have officiated mostly basketball games together, including 14-straight years of the championship game in the Grove City basketball tournament.
“Fats was my mentor,” Palmiro said. “When I didn’t have a game to officiate, every night I’d ride with Fats and watch him officiate. He helped a lot of young officials.”
“As far as Fats’ officiating, he’s a very honest official,” he continued.
“He gave you 100 percent when he was on the court. He has a good relationship with all the players.”
Cubellis also has been a minister for 24 years. He currently assists Wayside Emmanuel Church in New Castle.
“I give the Lord all the credit,” Cubellis said. “I pray before I referee. I pray after the game. I pray that everyone is safe on the ride to the stadium and back.”
One of the greatest joys in Cubellis’ life is the amount of friendly greetings and memories he receives from parents, children and athletes he has encountered. A unique name like “Fats” has made him a local celebrity, and certainly has helped those to remember him. Cubellis’ birth name was Frank.
“When I was born, somebody gave me the nickname of ‘Fat’,” Cubellis said. “I don’t know who put an ‘s’ on the end. In 1979, I paid $50 at the courthouse and had it added to my regular name, so that’s what I go by. That’s my real name. I don’t know how I got it, but I love my name. I love it.”
Now at the age of 78, Cubellis doesn’t see an end to his officiating career in sight. He umpired 42 baseball games this past summer and plans on officiating middle school girls basketball this winter.
He’s had a few pitfalls along the way, including the death of his son, Frank, two years ago, that made him contemplate retiring, but a strong backlash from his biggest supporters put an end to that thought.
“I was up in Neshannock to do a colt baseball game this past summer, and it was the third inning,” he recalled. “A kid from New Castle came up to bat. I put on my mask and I was ready to go behind the catcher. I said to him that this was probably going to be my last year, I think I’m giving up. Two kids, the one catching and the one batting, chewed me out. They said ‘no, you’re not going to quit,’ and they made sure. That gave me goosebumps. It wants me to keep going. If I stopped completely, I think I would drop dead. You can’t do something for 50-something years and quit.”
NEW CASTLE —
A piece of candy, a Pepsi and a smile.
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