By Matt Schwab
Sports Columnist, Bay Area News Group
LIVERMORE -- Tony Costello sure had a lot of admirers.
When news came that Costello, the Las Positas College men's basketball coach, died Sunday after battling pancreatic cancer for over a year, scores of people began reaching out and sharing their love for a seemingly selfless man.
The funeral for Costello will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Pleasanton. A celebration of his life will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Las Positas sports complex. He was 57.
In lieu of flowers, the Costello family is asking people to consider donating to: Tony Costello Scholarship c/o Las Positas College, 3000 Campus Hill Dr, Livermore, Ca. or to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (pancan.org).
Tony's younger brother Tom, the Dublin High boys basketball coach, has found strength from all the positive thoughts.
"It's absolutely amazing how far his reach was," Tom said. "We're just looking at magnitude of how many people he reached."
Tony Costello, a 1974 Amador Valley graduate, was about to enter his eighth season at Las Positas, but was forced to take a leave of absence earlier this month.
The oldest of eight siblings, among six brothers and two sisters, Tony was Las Positas' first coach after the school introduced a men's basketball program.
"He was always a guy that I could go to," said Cal State East Bay senior forward Ryan Hebebrand, a former Las Positas standout. "Any time I needed something, whether it was school related or basketball, I'd give him a call or shoot him a text. I was so close to them. I used to go back to Las Positas all the time and watch his games, and I'd talk to him after the games.
"We always had that special player-coach relationship that I liked a lot. You could kind of say what's on your mind. It was not easy hearing the news Sunday."
Cal State East Bay basketball coach Gus Argenal put it more succinctly: "Coach Costello was a great man."
Tom recalled a story of how Tony landed a coveted spot on legendary coach Skip Mohatt's Amador Valley varsity squad after the Costello family relocated from Hagerstown, Md., in March 1973. Mohatt was strict in not allowing first-year seniors on the team, but changed his mind after he kept seeing Tony playing basketball by himself in a park when he would drive by. Tony later coached the freshman team on Mohatt's staff.
Costello's Las Positas teams went 100-77 in their first six years, reaching the playoffs in the 2007-08, 2010-11, and 2011-12 seasons. The Hawks advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2012. Costello was also on leave for most of the 2012-13 season but returned to coach the final four games of the year.
He became the boys basketball coach at Dublin in 1981, where he coached for six years. At Chabot College, coach Costello's teams qualified for the regional playoffs 12 times and won conference championships in 2003 and 2005. Chabot advanced to the state's final eight in 2002 and the Sweet 16 in 1997. Costello's record at Chabot was 250-179, and 15 of his players played Division I basketball.