Legendary Hopewell baseball coach Joe Colella dies
Each baseball season started the same for Joe Colella, building a foundation with fundamentals by teaching his players how to swing a bat at the first practice -- whether or not it was snowing outside.
For 48 years, Colella coached Hopewell's high school and American Legion teams. He kept detailed reports on every player and every game every year -- not just the 16 seasons when the Vikings won section titles, their three WPIAL championships or the 1986 season, when they were state champs — and could recite everything from an ERA to a batting average from memory.
What Colella refused to reveal was his age.
"He didn't want anyone to know because he wanted to coach forever. He didn't want the perception of getting old to get in the way of that," Joe Colella said of his father. "Honestly, he enjoyed every second of it, no matter what the circumstances. He reveled in it like nobody I've ever known.
"Since he was 8 years old, he has spent every summer of his life on a baseball field. He got to do what he loved, so he was blessed in that way."
When Colella died suddenly Sunday at age 80, only a day after watching one of his four grandchildren score three touchdowns and make 15 tackles in a youth football game, Hopewell lost a coaching giant.
"A lot of people never got to see the real Joe Colella. They saw 'Coach Colella,' the fiery competitor who took the approach where he didn't want to socialize," Hopewell assistant coach Joe Rubino said. "He had this aura about him, but to those of us who knew him, he was one of the most compassionate and gentle people.
"Every decision he made had the best interests of the kids in mind. He never cared about what anybody thought except for how that kid felt."
A 1949 Rochester graduate who played baseball at Geneva College, Colella won more than 600 high school and almost 1,000 American Legion games. He led Hopewell to the 2010 WPIAL Class AAA title, the semifinals last season and believed this team would be his best yet.
He was inducted into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 and the WPIAL Hall of Fame this past June, and Hopewell's baseball field bears his name.
"He was obviously one of the greatest coaches who ever did that job, but he was a better father," Joe Colella said. "He taught myself and my younger brother how to win at everything. The teaching was always: hard work, persistence, never give up. The adage was, never giving up always wins the day. If you work hard enough and try hard enough, you always end up winning.
"So many young players were touched by him; multiply that by 100,000 in how lucky enough I was to be his son. He was everything any kid could want in a father."
Colella is survived by his wife of 51 years, Dorothy; sons Joe and Mark (Lori) and grandchildren Marcus, Lauren, Joey and Luke.
Visitation is from 6 to 8 p.m. today, and 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at John Syka Funeral Home in Ambridge. A Mass of Christian Burial will be 11 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Hopewell.
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