NEW CASTLE —
If he was going to play, the cast needed to come off.
The year was 1967. The New Castle High football team was winding down its season and needed a big win against Ellwood City.
Anthony Aven, the team's wide receiver/cornerback, needed to play in this game. Never mind the ligament damage and the cast doctors had put on. He had to. His teammates were counting on him and he didn’t want to let them down.
“He hurt his ankle,” his younger brother and teammate Ken Aven recalls, “They didn’t want him to play. He took his cast off himself. He played against Ellwood City because he wanted to play.
“That ankle hurt him the rest of his life. He always limped, but he didn’t care. He wanted to play. He took his cast off and he was playing.”
The Red Hurricane went on to win the WPIAL championship later that season in a 20-14 victory over Mount Lebanon. Aven received All-Midwestern Athletic Conference honors for his contributions.
That's just one story.
One more tale to add to the legendary toughness and legacy of Anthony Aven.
Those who played with and against Aven knew there was no better word to describe him — he simply was a competitor.
“My father would say Anthony was the toughest pound-for-pound competitor,” long-time friend and former teammate Richard Humphrey said. “He wanted to win. He wouldn’t play or wouldn’t prepare to play for a game if he wasn’t going out there to give his all.”
Whether it was on the football field or the baseball diamond, Aven led by example, and made sure others were playing the game right.
“He was the toughest kid I knew,” Allan Joseph, another lifetime friend and teammate said. “He was a team player. If you dogged it on Anthony, you better believe he was going to eyeball you and glare at you.”
Aven's fearless nature and competitive drive led to a successful playing career at New Castle. Now, his legend grows.
The man who many consider the toughest in New Castle sports history will be inducted posthumously into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 28 at the New Englander.
Although he was an outstanding receiver and cornerback for the ’Canes football team, Aven’s sport was baseball.
“There was never a fence I saw that would stop Anthony Aven,” Joseph said. “He dove into concrete walls, chain-link fences. He got hurt so many times because of diving after balls on the fences.”
Aven was a premier shortstop and outfielder for New Castle. He was known for his slick fielding, effort and his ability to come through in the clutch.
“My team was playing against his one time,” friend Larry Kelly said. “They had runners on first and second with two outs in the last inning. Our pitcher walked him on purpose to get to the next batter. We didn’t want to face Anthony Aven in the clutch. He was the epitome of a New Castle athlete. He was what we all strive to be — tough and good.”
Aven's baseball career included all-section honors in 1968 and personal awards from tournaments and leagues that are too numerous for his friends to recall. His skills eventually would land him a spot on the Youngstown State baseball team.
Not the tallest or biggest guy on the football field or the baseball diamond at 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Aven used his competitive nature and willingness to do whatever it took to win to his advantage.
“He had a cannon,” Kelly said. “He had a tremendous throwing arm and tremendous power for as small as he was. The same thing in his football career, he was a tremendous football player and a defensive back. He was the toughest.”
Aven would play softball after his college days in the New Castle area, including a stint with the famous Iron Dukes team that was inducted into the Pennsylvania Softball Hall of Fame.
“We traveled all over the place,” Joseph said. “That’s what our team was known for. We all lived within a three-mile radius of each other, playing teams from Florida, Virginia and New York. We were little guys, but we hit the ball as hard as those big guys.”
Aven played softball into his 30s and was a hot ticket for teams around western Pennsylvania looking to fill a shortstop void in their leagues. He became just the second player in Lawrence County history — joining Fred Ryan — to play softball professionally.
“He was always in demand because of his defensive ability. Teams from the Pittsburgh area like the Brookline Young Men’s Club were interested in him,” Joseph said. “The owner of that team loved Anthony because he was so tough. He loved Anthony for his toughness and called Anthony to come play for him.”
After his playing days were through, Aven spent his time working at the family business he created in 1981, Aven Fire Systems in New Castle.
Although he retired his bat and his football pads for more conventional golf clubs, family members saw glimmers of a man who left it all on the field.
“His favorite way to start a sentence was, ‘I played football, basketball and baseball my whole life, and everything I learned in life applied to what I learned at those sports,’ ” his daughter April Aven said. “We always used to kind of laugh. We’d be out and he’d start a sentence that way and we’d be like, ‘oh no, not again.’ ”
April, 32, is one of Anthony's two children, with his son Anthony Jr., 38.
His family credits his willingness to take a chance on the playing field as a catalyst for taking chances in the business world.
“He played hard and when he was not playing ball, he had a lot of fun,” Ken Aven said. “What he did later on in life was the same way — donating stuff and helping people out. Always, if you needed help, he was there.”
Aven was a shy, humble man, never willing to take credit for donations he gave or people he helped out — a fact that delayed his induction into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.
“He’s been offered the induction plenty of times before this and refused it,” April Aven said. “Several of the times was because he felt other people who were on his team with him deserved it before he did.
“He didn’t like public speaking. I think for him to go out and stand in front of that group of people was a little intimidating.”
Anthony Aven died on Feb. 9, 2012, at the age of 62. After developing throat cancer, he experienced post-surgery complications after a lesion was removed from his tongue.
“When he died, I got the phone call at six in the morning,” Humphrey said. “That was one of the rougher days for me, because he was so young. Life goes on, but I miss him.”
“I always considered him one of my, if not my best friend,” Joseph added. “We did a lot together — Anthony, Richard Humphrey and myself. We were very close, but Anthony was special to all of us. Everybody took to him. He is missed dearly.”
Even after his death, his family is still seeing the impact Anthony had on the New Castle community.
“There was so many people and lives that he touched by giving them money when they were down and out or in need, that I never knew,” his wife Kim Aven said. “I’ve gotten letters and letters from people who wrote to tell me these things now. It was really nice that they did that.”
NEW CASTLE —
If he was going to play, the cast needed to come off.
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