Equipment and dirt lay behind Wheeling Jesuit University President the Rev. James Fleming on Friday morning, evidence of the university's progress on the new Rev. Bernard Schmitt multi-purpose playing field.
As winds blew cooler than they had all week, Fleming announced not only that the university had broken ground but that it also had received a $500,000 donation for the renovations from the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese directed by the Most Rev. Michael Bransfield.
According to Fleming, the donation is the largest of a robust series of community donations for the field, which will be used not only by WJU men's and women's lacrosse and soccer teams but also Wheeling Central Catholic High School's football team.
Photo by Daniel Dorsch
Wheeling Jesuit President the Rev. James Fleming, left, and Bob Schmitt address the public during a press conference at the new Rev. Bernard Schmitt field Friday.
"I think Bishop Bransfield's generosity is a great tribute to Bishop Schmitt's years of service to the people of West Virginia," Fleming said Friday. "It shows a wonderful continuity from Archbishop Swint, who founded the school, to Bishop Schmitt, who shepherded it for so many years, and now to Bishop Bransfield, who is re-energizing the university."
Schmitt's brother, Bob Schmitt, who helped the university get some of the funding for the renovations, said he thinks the field is a perfect tribute to his late brother because he always loved the youth of the Wheeling area.
"I think my brother would be doubly pleased to have the field named after him," Schmitt said as he stood beside Fleming.
Wheeling Central Catholic High School Athletic Director Mike Young said the new field means plenty of new opportunities for the high school.
"This is definitely a new beginning," Young said. "It's great to be in a partnership with a university that's moving on up. They're improving their facilities and giving us an opportunity to be part of it. It's a dream made reality."
Fleming said the university likes working with area Catholic schools like Wheeling Central because it builds positive relationships that could lead to enrollment at WJU after high school graduation.
The complex containing the field will be named Panhandle Stadium after Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration whose owners, the Contraguerro family, have supported the project. In total, officials said the university received at least 150 other financial gifts from WJU alumni and friends for the project.
One end of the field will also feature a plaza with a small memorial to Kevin Figaniak, a WJU student who died recently following a fight in Woodsdale.
Fleming said university students, staff, friends and family pulled together roughly $25,000 to fund the memorial.
WJU Executive Director of Intercollegiate and Varsity Academic Operations Frank Bauer said the new field is being renovated in stages, starting with the dirt. Once the dirt is removed, he said cement will be laid down with a synthetic turf placed over it.
"It's more beneficial for the school because now all sports can play in one day," Rugby player Luke Titus said. "We can have a lot more home games."
Bauer anticipates the new field will be finished by late November.