By Bill Alden
Sean Costello fell in love with sports growing up on the campus of the New York Military Academy in the bucolic Hudson Valley.
“I was always around it; I just got into everything that was going on,” said Costello, whose father was the longtime headmaster of the NYMA. “I became very close with the coaches. I was good friends with the athletic director’s family. I used to go to practices and hang out and shoot around. I grew up playing with the kids who were on campus.”
Costello went on to play soccer, basketball, and baseball at Cornwall Central High and then competed in soccer at University of Rhode Island and the University of Scranton.
After working briefly for a media firm in New York City, Costello returned to athletics and academics, teaching and coaching at The Shipley School in the Philadelphia area. He then had two stints coaching at the college level, serving as an assistant for the Appalachian State and Belmont women’s hoops programs.
Costello then returned to Shipley to coach and work in the school’s admissions office. In order to sharpen his business acumen, he left Shipley to serve as the general manager of the Maplezone Sports Institute in Aston, Pa.
But, missing being around athletics in a private school environment, Costello came to the Hun School this summer where he will be serving as the co-director of athletics and the head coach of the girls’ basketball team.
“I was happy in my position but I was also had one eye open to other jobs,” said Costello, 40. “I was anticipating being there for two years and then trying to get back into a school. My wife, Kara, and I had our first child this spring and it sped up the process for me in looking because I was the member of a school community as a kid and I really valued it.”
After a superb soccer career at Scranton where he was an All-Conference performer and team captain, Costello opted to take a hiatus from campus life and headed to Manhattan where he worked as an assistant buyer for a media firm.
“I wanted to break my family mode of educator, both my parents were educators,” said Costello, who graduated from Scranton in 2004. “My dad was a headmaster, my mom was a kindergarten teacher, and my older brother had gone into teaching. I decided that I was going to go into business and try to make a lot of money. I realized very quickly I missed sports and being part of a team, being on a campus, and working with kids.”
In 2007, Costello came to the campus of The Shipley School where he wore a variety of hats as he studied for a teaching certificate in health and physical education at West Chester University.
“I was JV girls basketball coach, assistant boys varsity soccer coach, and an assistant varsity softball coach at that point,” recalled the bearded Costello with a smile. “My role kind of kept evolving. I was coaching while I was getting my teaching cert and then they hired me out of my student teaching as a lower school PE teacher and coach. I then got into the admissions office and then became an associate athletic director. I kept moving up, I was the varsity girls soccer and varsity girls’ basketball coach.”
Aiming to bolster the girls’ hoops program, Costello started coaching the Philadelphia Belles, a U12 AAU team. Building that program into a national runner-up helped make Shipley into a powerhouse and led Costello to give college coaching a try in 2014. He served as an assistant at Appalachian State women’s hoops team for one season and then took a similar post with the Belmont University program for one campaign.
While Costello enjoyed the higher level coaching, he longed for the independent school setting.
“It was a great experience, but college is much different than the prep world,” said Costello, who helped Belmont win a conference title and make the NCAA tournament. “I really missed seeing the good growth of kids at this age and helping them get to the next level. I enjoy running my own program at schools like Shipley or Hun which are really good places. You are bringing kids into a really good product and are able to get them to the next point so I ended up going back to Shipley.”
From 2016-21, Costello did his second stint at Shipley, serving as the associate director of athletics, working with admissions, and coaching. While he thrived in those roles, Costello decided that he needed some business experience to rise in athletic administration and he took the post running Maplezone.
“I loved Shipley, it was very difficult to leave but it was always with the focus of getting an athletic director position,” said Costello.
During his 18 months at Maplezone, Costello ran tournaments, managed the seven turf fields at the complex, attracted new rentals, and oversaw renovations to the facility, among other tasks.
“It ended up working out really well, it was so different; I went from working at a nonprofit to a total for-profit,” said Costello, who earned a master’s degree in strategic leadership and a certificate in entrepreneurship from Rosemont College in 2019. “It was totally driven by the dollar — how do we optimize our space, how do we got more rentals in, how do we run our baseball tournaments? It really did satisfy the need for me to grow in those areas of management and dealing with budgetary constraints. I had done pretty much every job I could do at a school, now I was getting to manage an organization. I had to answer to a board about our numbers. I had to do projections. It was very business heavy. I would not be as confident as I am now in this role if I hadn’t made that move.”
Serving as an assistant coach for the girls’ soccer team at Newark Charter School (Del.) while running Maplezone, Costello started pursuing AD opportunities and ended up at Hun, who was looking for someone to succeed retiring co-AD Bill Quirk.
“I was a finalist for a number of AD positions; I was offered other jobs but I was familiar with Hun,” said Costello, noting that his Shipley basketball team had played at Hun several times over the years. “It is gorgeous, I had been on campus before.”
Costello is looking forward to the joint effort of running the Hun athletics program along with Co-AD Tracey Arndt.
“It is different, we are in the process of it; I think there are definite benefits to it,” said Costello. “We are really excited about some ideas and bouncing some things off each other. I want to see how things operate first. We are trying to figure out how to utilize each of our strengths and helping one another. We are going to grow into it. I am excited. Tracey is great — she is doing a lot of stuff, trying to catch me up to speed. There is already such a great foundation for where the program is at and we are just looking for ways that we can make the student-athlete experience as strong as possible.”
In addition, Costello is pumped up to work on strengthening the Hun girls’ hoops team, building on the foundation laid by longtime coach Bill Holup, who stepped down after the 2021-22 campaign.
“I think there is a good group here,” said Costello. “I am excited to share my experience with them, my travels, and hopefully a fun style of basketball. I am familiar with the Mid-Atlantic Prep Leave (MAPL) teams, there are all teams I have been playing at Shipley. The players are already working, you can’t do practices but you can do workouts. Some of them have been coming in doing weight training a couple of days a week. Some have wanted to get early morning workouts in. I think there is a desire to get better and raise the level.”
With the school year about to start, Costello has the desire to develop the deep connections with the Hun community that he forged at Shipley.
“The journey of my career has gone through the relationships I have been able to build,” said Costello. “I grew at Shipley, I moved into different departments. As a result, I was able to learn a lot more about the school and the importance of the different departments. I want that here. I want to meet everybody. I want to know what makes them tick, I want to know what they are passionate about and how our athletic department can partner with them. I want to meet the families and the community. It fires me up. It is what really excites me. I do love sports obviously but the thing I love most about sports is the relationships it allows you to create. That is the payoff for educators, getting to see the students that you taught at an older age and how much success they have had and what they have learned from their time here.”