Hall of Fame to induct 5-sport star

Posted: October 07, 2012

Traditionalists who lament the loss of the three-sport athlete always point to the good old days when top players regularly participated in football, basketball, and baseball.

But if they really wanted to show these kids today what it was like in a golden era of sports at one high school, they would tell them about Ben Addiego.

On the brink of his 80th birthday, Addiego is just as proud of his accomplishments as a dentist and orthodontist and military veteran as his feats in five different venues as a scholastic star at Collingswood High School.

But even after playing a starring role as a running back at Villanova, appearing briefly in the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball organization, signing with the Eagles, serving his country as a Marine in the Korean War, and spending most of a summer in Atlantic City palling around with Joe DiMaggio, Addiego knows there was something extraordinary about his versatility as a scholastic athlete.

"I don't think anybody else has ever done that," Addiego said of lettering in five sports.

Addiego, who is believed to be the only athlete in South Jersey history to star in five varsity sports, will be inducted into the seventh class of the Camden County Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 25 at Lucien's Manor in Berlin.

Shining a spotlight on old-timers such as Addiego - as well as former Haddon Heights and Princeton baseball and basketball star Carl Belz, once described by Brooklawn American Legion manager Joe Barth Sr. as "Ted Williams, except he could run" - is the best thing about the Hall of Fame, which is sponsored by the county freeholders.

"It's been everything we hoped and more," said Lou Cappelli, the board director.

Addiego's varsity debut at Villanova in the fall of 1950 included three touchdowns against Army, then a national power. He also ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-18 victory over Alabama.

Yes, that Alabama.

Villanova's schedule in those days included Army, Alabama, Penn State, Clemson, Houston, Wake Forest, LSU, and a Sugar Bowl-bound Kentucky team with Bear Bryant as its coach.

"[Villanova] was the perfect place for me," said Addiego, who resisted recruiting pitches from Notre Dame and USC. "I was close to home."

Addiego grew up in the Westmont section of Haddon Township. He learned to swim and dive at the Crystal Lake pool.

At Collingswood, he won the South Jersey championship in diving and also was a star swimmer.

"I could swim faster than I could run," Addiego said.

Addiego said he would swim for Collingswood in the afternoon, go home and eat, then play basketball for the school team at night.

His springs were just as busy. As a junior, he was star centerfielder for a 17-2 baseball team that is considered the best in school history.

Addiego said Collingswood officials would delay baseball games so he could change his spikes and run the 100 and 220 for the track team.

By comparison, football season was a breeze, since Addiego played only one sport in the fall. He was a star halfback as a junior for the 1948 team that finished undefeated - beating rival Woodbury on Thanksgiving Day, just hours before hospitalized coach Howard "Skeets" Irvine died at the age of 51.

"They told us Skeets heard the game on the radio and two hours later he was gone," Addiego said. "It was one of the saddest days of my life."

Addiego led Collingswood to another South Jersey Group 4 title as a senior. Then it was off to Villanova, and the end zone in Tuscaloosa, and Korea, and Eagles training camp in Hershey, Pa., and dental school at Temple, and that summer in the early 1950s with DiMaggio in Atlantic City.

"We met in the 500 Club and just hit it off," Addiego said of DiMaggio.

DiMaggio in a sharp-cut suit in A.C. in the 1950s - it's an image from another time, like the boy next door who stars in three sports.

But there's only been one boy who ever starred in five sports.

Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com or on Twitter @PhilAnastasia. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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