At the ripe young age of 55, Billy Costello passed away this week. Lung cancer knocked him out. He never smoked, always kept in good shape … hey, he was a professional athlete, he kept himself in condition so he could train others in the sport that provided him with moments that stick in the memory for a lifetime. Such is the luck of the draw. He remained that role model all his life, the kid who got into trouble in Kingston, got kicked off the high school baseball team, went to New York and learned the art and craft of self-defense in the ring and then rose to the heights of a World Championship at 140 pounds.
Lots of the boxing people in Woodstock were there when he defended his title successfully three times in Kingston, at the gym that now bears his name in the Midtown Neighborhood Center, in 1984, live on CBS television. We took pride in knowing him, in his bearing as a champion. Costello returned to Woodstock in the last couple of years to the boxing shows produced by the Bearsville Theater and the also sadly departed Brian Demorest, whose Kingston gym is now shuttered. Billy brought his boxers that he was training under the auspices of the Police Athletic League in Kingston to compete and he always got the biggest cheers when he’d be introduced.
In Woodstock, we’re used to people who are recognized for doing extraordinary things. You find that your neighbor won a Grammy, or is counsel to the president; someone won an Oscar and you see her in the market. But you come to realize that everyone has something special to give, and that fame has nothing to do with it. It’s the courage to step forward and take your shot that marks the extraordinary.
So here’s to a guy who gave to his community a sense of pride, an understanding of the breadth and scope of the drive and the work involved in excelling in a most brutal, uncompromising field; he gave us the ride to the top, stayed around his hometown and kept contributing until his last breath. A guy you could call champ and feel almost as good about it as he did.