This article was originally published in the Observer-Reporter
By Paul Paterra| June 5, 2022
Ground has been broken on a new athletic field at the Wesley Family Services high school facility in Whitehall.
The “Field of Opportunities” will be constructed in a way that it provides students with recreational, academic and therapeutic activities. The official groundbreaking took place May 25 at the site on Caste Drive.
Doug Muetzel, CEO of Wesley Family Services, said the school is installing a 60-by-30-yard all-purpose artificial surface comparable to many local high schools.
“It’s for our kids to not only compete interscholastically, but to also have access to a field that can deal with Southwestern Pennsylvania’s weather on a more year-round basis and also provide academic opportunities, as we’ve put academic resources around the field that teachers can use,” he said.
The new field is the largest capital undertaking the organization has ever done for its student body. Muetzel said it carries a price tag of about $700,000.
Wesley Family Services is a nonprofit organization that serves about 20,000 people annually. Wesley High School provides local students with a supportive and inclusive environment for those navigating the challenges of autism, a learning disability or a behavioral health issue. Students who attend Wesley come from more than 40 school districts across Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The idea for the athletic field actually was first hatched about 20 years ago.
“We had a staff member that really wanted to provide extracurricular interscholastic athletic competition for our kids,” Muetzel explained.
With that in mind, Wesley Family Services founded a league that gave schools with similar students that chance to compete against each other in various sports.
“Our student athletes oftentimes would not have the opportunity to compete or play a sport,” Muetzel said. “The vision of this teacher 20-plus years ago has now morphed into a special needs league. It’s a league that’s designed to give these student athletes an opportunity to play sports and compete. It just reflects the can-do vision of the people that work at Wesley Family Services to provide an opportunity and an environment that these kids deserve.”
Sports in which the students currently compete are flag football, soccer, basketball and cheerleading.
This new “Field of Opportunities” will be used for flag football and soccer. Also, Muetzel said it may be used for lacrosse and maybe even will serve as a place for the students to play kickball.
“It really enhances the physical program we have for the kids,” Muetzel said. “Kickball is one of their favorites.”
The field also will come equipped with an electronic scoreboard that can be converted into an interactive smart board for teachers to provide lessons. There also will be portable bleachers that can be put into place to allow for a classroom setting.
“With our population of kids that we serve, oftentimes changing the environment and providing an outdoor venue for our kids provides a tremendous therapeutic benefit to our kids,” Muetzel said. “Something like this is just being embraced by our teachers, our therapists and, most importantly, by our students, who are just as excited as they can be.”
Muetzel said the field will be an asset the community can use as well.
“We’ve really tried to make sure we provide a benefit to the largest amount of people possible,” he said.
MBM Contracting Inc. is overseeing the construction.
Muetzel is confident the field will be completed by August.
“We are excited,” he said. “We think the design, the usability and the vision really provide our student athletes an opportunity their fellow kids in the neighborhood get to experience in a public-school setting. It’s a significant commitment and investment that we think communicates to these kids that they’re valuable. This will go on from generation to generation and literally will help hundreds of thousands of kids.”