- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

Like most nonrevenue sports at most colleges, Maryland’s track and field program doesn’t exactly screech for attention in the mainstream media. Yet for the athletes and fans involved, it could be a very happy year around College Park.

Maryland thinclads (to resurrect a term that probably hasn’t been used since the ‘50s) have a long and distinguished history starting with Jim Kehoe — one of the nation’s premier track coaches before becoming athletic director in 1969. Kehoe, still a familiar figure at Terrapin tussles, has about as many ACC titles as he does plaid sports jackets, which means too many to count. After he moved up, Nick Kovalakides turned out quite a few potent squads of his own.

In recent years, however, Maryland’s track fortunes have been almost as unfortunate as, say, those of Marion Jones. But now galloping to the rescue, at least theoretically, are two saviors of the cinders.

The first is an unfamiliar face around Terptown: Two-time Olympic relay gold medalist Andrew Valmon, who moved a bit north to become head coach after spending four years in the same role at Georgetown.

The second is an extremely familiar face, the one belonging to former Maryland All-American high jumper and longtime coach Frank Costello. At 60, he’s returning as a volunteer assistant working with the high jumpers and hurdlers, and Valmon probably wouldn’t be happier if athletic director Debbie Yow doubled his salary.

Well, maybe a little happier.

“We needed a coach who could recruit, and Frank is great at talking about Maryland’s track tradition and helping to build on it,” said Valmon, a product of Seton Hall’s program. “We’re going to try and attract good local athletes to stay at home. Also, a lot of kids need technical assistance — they want to know, ‘How can you help me?’ When it comes to the high jump, Frank has done it all.”

And then some. After achieving All-American honors both indoors and outdoors in 1965 and ‘66, Costello missed the following season because of a knee injury. Then he had another A-A season in 1968, picking up two NCAA championships for his career.

As a coach, he recruited All-American hurdler Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah, among other blue-chippers. From 1975 to 1980, he directed Maryland to five consecutive ACC outdoor championships and six consecutive indoor conference titles before becoming an assistant athletic director and the school’s strength and conditioning coach.

Perhaps inexplicably, the Washington Capitals lured away Costello for 16 years as their strength coach. (Obviously, winning Stanley Cups wasn’t a team strength and still isn’t.) He quit in 2002 to become fitness director at the Tennis Center of College Park, but when Valmon rang up this summer, Frank couldn’t resist returning to the coaching ranks …

“After Len Bias [the basketball star’s death from a cocaine overdose in 1986], Maryland went through some tough times, and I lost interest for a while,” Costello said, “But now I’ve kind of been reborn into it, and I’m enthusiastic because of Andrew’s enthusiasm. We’re getting a little more aid [read: scholarship money] now, and we want to rebuild the program back to where it was.”

Once a Terp, always a Terp. For decades, that was the operational ethic in the athletic department and still is to some extent — after all, both football coach Ralph Friedgen and men’s basketball boss Gary Williams are Maryland grads. But time and age have taken a heavy toll of the coaches and administrators who worked for Kehoe in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so it’s nice to see an old hand returning instead of leaving.

The first major indoor test for Valmon, Costello and fellow volunteer coach Jason Grimes, a seven-time All-American long jumper from the University of Tennessee, will be January’s Maryland Invitational, which always attracts a stellar field. By then, Valmon and his aides should have their program in good order for challenges to come.

In fact, Costello might get pumped enough to start demonstrating the high jump for his troops as though he were 20 again. Like we said — once a Terp, always a Terp.

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