Tommy Coveleski: A guy who cared about everyone else

Tommy Cov by .

Tommy Coveleski was an avid runner and bike rider around the beach area. (Courtesy of Cape Gazette/Dave Frederick)

Tommy Coveleski was always a stand-in-the-back-of-the-room kind of guy.

It wasn’t that he was trying to get away from people — just the opposite, really.

Everyone liked Tommy and Tommy liked everyone.

He simply preferred living life behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight.

But this week, after cancer finally won its war with Tommy’s 60-year-old body, Coveleski was front and center, with people all over the Lewes-Rehoboth beach community, remembering what a great guy he was.

Tommy’s big brother, John, appreciated all of it, of course. But he had to smile thinking about the irony of Tommy being mentioned by a local TV station.

“He’d be in the (Rehoboth) Beach Patrol, they’d come in with a camera in the front door and he’d be going out the back door,” John said with a laugh.

“He actually wouldn’t let people take pictures of him,” said John. “He just didn’t want that. But he cared more about everybody else than he did himself. He was selfless.”

That attitude took the former Cape Henlopen High football and baseball player to the Little League fields at Lewes and Rehoboth or the Sussex YMCA, where he coached kids for over 30 years.

Of course, Tommy was also a member of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol for 37 years. He was twice named its Lifeguard of the Year.

In 2000, Coveleski won the Lower Delaware Gridiron Club’s Pat Knight Award for — at the time — his 25 years of service to community sports program.

Fittingly, Tommy went to the Dover banquet never imagining he’d leave with a plaque.

“I’m shocked,” he was quoted that night.

His brothers, John and Pete, took great pleasure in getting Tommy there without him knowing what was up. They told him John, the former Caesar Rodney High football and lacrosse coach, was getting some award.

“He had no clue that he would be receiving an award,” Pete told the Cape Gazette afterward. “Anybody who knows Tommy knows that awards are the furthest thing from his mind.”

“I watched my brother’s face during the introduction,” John was quoted in the Gazette. “I don’t think it dawned on him until they said, ‘Rehoboth Beach Patrol’ that they were even talking about somebody he knew.”

But, according to those who knew him, Tommy’s greatest feat may have been the duel he waged with cancer.

He had stomach cancer — a particularly horrible form of the disease. At one point, Coveleski actually had his stomach removed.

That, however, didn’t stop him from going out and running in road races.

“He’s got stage 4 cancer and the pain’s out the roof,” said John. “And he’s running a race.

“In May, the doctors said, ‘Four weeks (to live), tops. We can’t do anything.’ Nine months later he’s still doing races. Then he’s laying in bed for 24 hours. You couldn’t believe what he went through.”

At the end of his life, Tommy was teaching autistic kids at the Sussex Consortium. They loved him there, too, of course.

He passed away on Monday at 6:15 p.m. By the next morning, the flags were flying at half-mast around the Cape Henlopen School District.

Tributes came in from everywhere.

Among them was a poignant tribute written by longtime friend Dave Frederick in the Cape Gazette entitled, “The best of us just left the rest of us.”

Tommy even made USA Today.

Even knowing how much everyone loved his brother, John was blown away by the outpouring of love for him.

“It was shocking,” said John. “It doesn’t add up for somebody who was always kind of in the shadows but doing a lot … I tell you, I’ve never seen a reaction like this in my life. I’ve heard more stories. …

“He was happy because of what you did,” said John, explaining his brother’s popularity. “So he was always happy. He didn’t get caught up in,
‘Somebody did something to me.’ And people just sensed that. It’s incredible. I had no idea the magnitude of it.”

Next Saturday, Feb. 13, they’ll hold a funeral for Tommy at 1 p.m. at St. Edmond’s Catholic Church in Rehoboth.

John said people think there might an overflow crowd for the service.

If he could be there, though, Tommy would just try to find a place in the back.

Ex-Senators in the NFL

Former Dover High football player Rusty McKinney was recently hired as the Miami Dolphins’ defensive quality control specialist. He was a coaching intern with the Cleveland Browns the previous two years after working as the defensive coordinator at Bentley University.

McKinney, who played linebacker at Towson, is one of three former Senator teammates who are all working in the NFL. Khary Darlington is a scout with the Panthers while Reggie Scott is director of sports medicine and performance for the Rams.

The Rams’ staff was recently named the NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year for 2015.

In his sixth year with the Rams, Scott also won the award when he was an assistant trainer with the Panthers in 2004.

“It is an honor to be recognized for the work that we do,” said Scott. “Our medical team works extremely hard to provide the best quality care possible to our players and ensure they’re performing at a high level. I’m thankful for the group that we have and for the unconditional support of our players and coaches.”

Odds & ends

•Local community journalism lost one of its nicest guys when Joe Backer passed away on Monday at the age of 62.

Several of us first met the aptly-named Backer when he was helping out with the University of Delaware men’s ice hockey club in the 1980s. Joe did both sports and news for a number of outlets including radio stations WILM and WJBR and weekly newspapers from Hockessin to Milford. He also taught communications and English at Delaware State.

Joe became a big Wesley College football fan when his son, Matt, was a member of the program.

•Former University of Delaware lacrosse player Evan Washburn will be a sideline reporter for CBS today during its broadcast of the Super Bowl. The ex-lacrosse defender, who finished with the Blue Hens in 2008, will be on the Panthers’ sideline.

“It’s a huge game, but once the game starts, it’s a normal game,” said Washburn. “We’ll go about it as we do every day, like it’s a normal Sunday game.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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