Temple's biggest sports fan, Congie DeVito, persevered perfectly

Congie DeVito had osteogenesis imperfecta, a brittle-bone disease.
Congie DeVito had osteogenesis imperfecta, a brittle-bone disease.
Posted: May 16, 2011

If you're a Temple sports fan, you have a horse in Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

You've got to pull for King Congie, expected to be in the field for the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course, named for a man described by another Temple loyalist as "the most loyal Temple fan."

That was just one of Congie DeVito's distinctions. DeVito died on Feb. 16, at age 35, from complications of osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle-bone disease. He had 25 broken bones at birth. From his wheelchair, Congie made a life for himself, graduating cum laude from Temple, becoming a devoted fan and friend of John Chaney and a mainstay at Temple football and basketball games. Congie also became an integral employee at West Point Thoroughbreds, the syndicate that owns King Congie.

"He was our first employee," said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds. "He made our company. He really was the driving force behind our website and getting people involved. You don't meet many people like him. I never have. Here's a guy who had over 120 broken bones. I was with him over 12 years. On my kids' lives, not one time did he ever complain to me. I knew for a good period of time, he was in pain every day."

DeVito had other interests.

"He loved the opera, loved going to New York to plays," Finley said Saturday. "He loved Temple football and basketball."

He'd also been to Garden State to see races. A small piece of a horse was given to him as a graduation gift from Temple, Finley said. After hearing a radio ad for West Point, he called Finley for "literally three weeks straight" asking about a job. By chance, one had opened up, as a communications and marketing specialist. DeVito did that job and eventually became kind of the racing manager for West Point's horses at Philadelphia Park. He also made regular summer trips to Saratoga.

Congie knew the horse business had its up and downs, which made King Congie the right horse for him.

"He didn't like the horse at first," Finley said. "He called him a clown. We could barely syndicate him."

The slow starter had proved himself by the time Congie died in February. The colt broke his maiden as a 43-1 shot at Aqueduct. Just 10 days before Congie's death, King Congie ran in the Hallandale Beach Stakes at Gulfstream.

DeVito was barely conscious when Finley told him King Congie had won . . . but was taken down for interference, officially placed third in the race.

"He raised his eyebrows," Finley said.

Two months after Congie's death, King Congie finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes, a big Kentucky Derby prep. Now the Preakness beckons.

As a Temple fan, Congie was omnipresent.

"Put it this way, I've never been to game from 1995 until 2011 where I didn't see Congie in his usual spots in the arena or stadium," said Sal Salamone, another Temple mainstay.

Temple basketball now gives an award in Congie's name, for dedication and loyalty to the program. When DeVito was in the hospital for the last time, Finley said, Chaney visited him, adding that current Owls coach Fran Dunphy was among the Temple people at his funeral service.

"I may be mistaken, but I believe it all started when Congie's family was given tickets to a football game when he was a youngster," said Bill Barnes, another alum and Owls diehard, in an e-mail. "Before long, he and his family were mainstays at football and basketball games and practices. That would a great story in and of itself. To those who say athletics do not make a difference to a university, Congie is exhibit A that they do. When it came time to make a college decision . . . there was only one choice for him."

Barnes had more of the story: "When Congie's father passed away when Congie was still young . . . there was only one person who could calm Congie down. That person was John Chaney. As I understand it, Congie called Coach in hysterics and the two stayed on the phone for hours until Congie had calmed down. Personally, I think from that day forward, Temple became Congie's passion, not just something the family did for fun."

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.


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