Jim Costello was 5 years old when his father, Owen, began running the Keystone State Games in 1983.
The year prior served as the inaugural Keystone Games, which at that time were run by a state panel and soon after experienced financial issues. When Owen Costello was hired as the CEO of the games the following year, it opened the door for Jim to get involved.
Now, 35 years later, that door has remained open for Jim Costello as he follows in his deceased father’s footsteps as CEO of the event, which gives amateur athletes a venue to compete and promotes the benefits of physical fitness.
And this year’s games, which begin July 26, have come full circle for the Mountain Top resident as they will be held throughout Luzerne County.
“Our big hope is to showcase Luzerne County,” Costello said. “A lot of people around the state don’t realize the type of facilities we have in our community.”
This won’t be the first time that the games have been held in Luzerne County, but they didn’t originate here.
In 1982, the games were held in State College and remained there for four years before moving to Luzerne County. After several years, the games were moved around the state, making stops in Allentown, Lehigh Valley, Johnstown, Hershey and York, where they have been held for the last three years.
Costello said the constant movement of locations was by design.
“The games were subsidized with state appropriations until 2009, and the idea was we would move it around every three years to new locations to generate interest in sport and physical fitness,” Costello said.
In 2009 when state funding was cut from the games, they remained in central Pennsylvania until now. Costello said Luzerne County will host the games for at least two years and he’s excited about showing off his home county to the rest of the state.
Costello is also proud at how the games that his father helped establish decades ago have evolved into a massive undertaking.
Today’s Keystone State Games feature traditional sports such as baseball, field hockey and basketball. But there’s also darts, bocce, horseshoes and pickleball, and plenty of contests held under the PA Senior Games banner which take place at the same time.
But during the inaugural event in 1982, only 10 sports were featured. The state was also divided into four sections back then, and athletes would represent the region where they resided.
Costello said the games have grown every year since then, and the inclusion of numerous sports that aren’t mainstream makes the Keystone State Games unique.
“Some of these are recreational activities that give many people a chance to participate. Some of these events didn’t even exist in 1982,” Costello said. “My dad would be proud to see how it’s grown.”
‘It’s very special’
Ever since Owen Costello passed away in 2015, Jim has not only carried on the tradition of the Keystone State Games, but that pride that his father felt as well.
While the events have changed and grown, the mission of the games has not.
“Promote amateur sports and physical fitness as a lifestyle. That’s our big goal and that hasn’t changed,” Costello said.
Still, carrying on a family tradition requires a lot of work. Costello, who is a teacher in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, spends the majority of his free time planning for the event. That includes checking on the numerous venues that will host events, arranging schedules and accommodating athletes.
Despite all of the work, Costello said he was honored when the Keystone board of directors asked him to take over his father’s post, and that hasn’t waned.
“I keep telling myself I’ll get a full night of sleep after the games are over,” Costello said. “This is something that means a lot to me and it’s great to be back in Luzerne County. It’s very special to my family to bring the games back here.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky