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'For the generations to come': Somerset Area Little League unveils renovations to Gibbs Stadium on opening day

Apr. 20—SOMERSET — The first thing Grant Halverson noticed was the lights.

"It's going to be a really exciting experience to play on," the 10-year-old Somerset Area little leaguer said Saturday, smiling from behind his Lions Club ball cap and a pair of summer shades.

The series of towering ballpark lights may have been the brightest additions to Gibbs Stadium, but they were just one element of a $350,000 project that added a new concession stand, picnic pavilion and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms.

More than 400 Little League, softball and tee-ball players arrived in uniform for their first look at all of it.

Alongside hundreds of family members, the teams marked the moment with a ribbon-cutting event led by a committee of volunteers and dedicated donors that spearheaded the project.

"Opening day is our biggest day of the season," league board member Brad Ickes said. "It was a perfect opportunity to kick this off."

It marked the completion of an effort that started in 2019 and was slowed by COVID-19, he said.

It took "teamwork" to pull it off, Ickes added.

Donors chipped in anywhere from $50 cash donations to $50,000 checks, he said.

Somerset Trust Company donated $50,000, while the Wheeler Family Charitable Foundation and door hardware-maker Rockwood Manufacturing ASSA-ABLOY contributed $25,000 and $30,000, respectively.

Ickes said the Margaret Will Family donated the stadium light poles from the former Thunder Valley Raceway toward the project.

"Until now, the park was closed at dark," Ickes said.

Every kid dreams about playing under the lights, Ickes added.

Gibbs Stadium has hosted Little League baseball for decades and still hosts summer tournaments that brings in youth statewide.

The committee of coaches and parents, who raised their own $50,000 campaign fund, recognized its restrooms needed updating to accommodate people with disabilities and amenities such as a covered pavilion, Ickes added.

State Sen. Patrick Strefano, R-Fayette, said he was excited to see it all come together.

Stefano secured a $100,000 state Department of Community and Economic Development grant toward the project.

He described it as a worthy investment. Thriving youth ballparks build communities and character, he said.

"What you see here is 408 children being brought into a community to work together," Stefano said, noting that the game of baseball teaches them how to overcome setbacks and agonizing defeats to find success. "This is a great way to build a community. When you see this many kids coming together, you know you have a thriving community."

Ickes said most members of the project's fundraising committee once played baseball or softball on the same field.

Now, they are watching their children or grandchildren wrap up Little League careers there.

"We wanted to leave this place better than we found it," Ickes said, "for the generations to come."