Amherst High School unveils new field
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
After years of planning, and with funds raised from private donors and the Tomorrow River School District (TRSD), Amherst High School debuted its athletics complex renovation last week.
As part of the $4.2 million Falcon Pride Project, Heartland Farms Field was officially unveiled with the grand opening Friday, Sept. 20, when the Amherst varsity football team took on Weyauwega-Fremont.
“It was awesome out here,” said Amherst senior wide receiver/cornerback Cyle Zblewski. “I wasn’t expecting this many people to be out here, but they filled it up and it was really fun.”
“It’s been over a two-year process, the project’s taken a long time to get to this point, with a lot of ups and downs,” said Falcon Pride fundraising committee member Gregg Gutschow. “But what a gratifying night.
“Beautiful weather, a huge crowd, a big win, so I couldn’t be any happier,” he said. “And I think everybody here in the community is thrilled with the facility and what it means for all of the young people in this area.”
On Dec. 17, 2018, the TRSD school board voted unanimously to approve the $3.3 million Phase One of the Falcon Pride Project, and construction began in spring 2019.
Major donors included Richard and Barb Pavelski, Scott and Patti Groholski/Point of Beginning (POB) Inc., Blenker Companies Inc. and the Blenker family, Charles T. Anderson, the Wolding family, and the International Bank of Amherst.
In total, approximately 250 donors have contributed more than $1.85 million to the Falcon Pride Project, while the TRSD committed $1.735 million.
“As a district, we’re very fortunate to just be in a financial position to contribute our portion of it,” said TRSD school board member Bob Stuczynski. “A lot of things had to fall into place to make this all happen.”
With donations from Richard and Barb Pavelski and Jeremie and Alicia Pavelski of Heartland Farms, and suppliers and business partners of Heartland Farms totaling approximately $600,000, the TRSD school board approved naming the new football/soccer stadium Heartland Farms Field for at least the next 30 years.
“It started with Pavelski, who put up the most amount of money, Heartland Farms, and he’s the guy that said, ‘yeah, I’m in,’” said Amherst football head coach Mark Lusic. “And without that, this doesn’t happen.
“The Blenkers, Pavelskis, Groholskis and POB, the businesses, and just the local donations,” he said. “And the school put up a huge chunk of money too.”
“We had an eight-person fundraising committee, we had over 250 donors to the project, and a school board that’s super supportive,” said Gutschow. “You can’t do something like this without a school board, a fundraising committee, and a lot of really generous people that all want to see the same thing happen.
“So we had a great team, and were really blessed,” he said.
Along with a new track that is under construction on the northwest side of the property, the renovation included a new football/soccer field with field turf, expanded bleacher seating, an expanded parking lot, new scoreboards and lights, as well as the new Alchemy Concrete Inc. and Blenker Companies Inc. Entry Plaza.
Heartland Farms Field was completed last week, as the Amherst junior varsity football team and soccer team played on the field during the week, before the official Falcon Pride Project grand opening was held Friday.
A donor appreciation event was held in the Amherst High School cafeteria prior to the football game, while a Black Hawk helicopter did a flyover just before kickoff.
On Friday night, Richard and Barbara Pavelski and Jeremie and Alicia Pavelski were presented with “Honorary Captains” footballs, while Falcon Pride fundraising committee members Gregg and Barb Gutschow were presented with a “MVP” football for their work on the Falcon Pride Project.
“Gregg was so instrumental in putting the fundraising together, it was just amazing,” said TRSD school board member Kirk Helbach. “It just made everything else flow so good, and so positive.
“And we can’t say enough for POB, they’ve been part of this plan for years, and they never gave up, they just said, ‘we’ll just keep pushing forward,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to be part of a community, when you have companies like that that give as much as they did.”
“All of the contractors went above and beyond on this project, they didn’t charge us to change orders, and that was huge, they just did the work to get it done,” said Stuczynski. “Point of Beginning, Blenker Companies, Alchemy, Disher Electric, overall just did a phenomenal job and really gave back to this project.”
Before kickoff, a moment of silence was also held for former TRSD superintendent Mike Toelle, who died July 30, 2019, after a battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
“Mike was actually the guy who green lighted it,” said Lusic. “(Former Amherst athletic director) Joe Sbertoli and Gregg Gutschow, and I know I’m missing some people, but they went to him, and he said, ‘find the money, and you guys can do it.’
“And then the ball started rolling, and more and more people starting donating,” he said. “But without a superintendent who saw a vision, this doesn’t happen, so it’s a credit to him, and we’re going to miss him. I miss him at work, he was a great guy, a great educator, and he’d be proud of this, I know that.”
The new 700-seat bleacher section on the Amherst side was packed full for the game Friday night, as fans also filled the sections along the fence that surrounds the new football field to watch as the Falcons took on Weyauwega-Fremont.
Ranked second in the state in Division 5, the Amherst football team, which has won four State Titles since 2012, got out to a 35-0 lead in the first half on Weyauwega and went on to a 44-0 win to improve to 5-0 this season.
“The atmosphere was great,” said Amherst senior running back/linebacker Aidan Elwood. “All of the fans showed up, which is fantastic.
“It was a good time,” he said.
Fundraising continues for Phase Two of the project, which is the renovation of the baseball and softball fields at Amherst, while the grand opening celebration Friday was capped with fireworks after the game.
Meanwhile, Amherst football players, their family members and fans hung around for a while afterward to celebrate the team’s win and the opening night on the field.
“It’s just phenomenal, to come out here and see that this actually is reality,” said Helbach. “And even when we walked out here with the donors, you have people that graduated back in the 1970s, and they gave to it, and they were like, ’this is great.’
“There was a lot of hard work to see it all come together,” he said. “And when it gets to this point, it’s so awesome.”
“The guys that I’ve coached have all worked hard, and I told the guys in the huddle (after the game), that they have a legacy to carry on,” said Lusic. “We get the benefit of what the guys did before us, and the community has done an unbelievable job with funding this and allowing this to happen.
“It’s a pretty special place, and when the track gets done up there, it’s going to be a top-notch complex,” he said. “But it was everything we wanted, we got the victory, and it was a great night for everybody to showcase what Amherst is all about.”