What’s in a name? High school stadiums, fields honor football standouts, coaches and supporters | TribLIVE.com

What’s in a name? High school stadiums, fields honor football standouts, coaches and supporters

Jeff Himler
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem runs through the banner before the start of WPIAL football against Hempfield at Greensburg Salem’s Offutt Field on Friday, Aug. 24, 2018.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Fans enter Weller Field before kickoff between West Shamokin and Ligonier Valley during WPIAL football on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 at Weller Field in Ligonier.
A football contest between teams from Apollo and Leechburg is seen in this 1930s photo.
Members of the Apollo High School football team pose for a photo that appeared in the school’s 1921 Kiskitas yearbook. Kneeling from left are Marland Knepshield, Doyle Shaffer, Floridan Dodson, Duane Armstrong, Ira Cunningham, Paul Wolfe and Charles Jones. Standing from left are Clyde Dentzel, Lee Roy King, Sidney Owens, Dwight Guthrie and Coach Sawyers.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Retired Kiski Area football Coach Dick Dilts performs the coin toss before a game Aug. 24, 2018, at the new stadium on the school’s campus that bears his name. Dilts coached the Cavaliers from 1962-93, and his teams won 214 games.
Owens Field in Apollo marks its 100th birthday the weekend of Sept 27, 2019.

A football field, by any other name, would still measure 100 yards from end zone to end zone. But there are individuals, and stories, behind many names attached to local varsity gridirons and the stadiums that house them.

Offutt Field in Greensburg and Weller Field in Ligonier are named for local businessmen, each of whom left a mark on his community and school.

Offutt, home to Greensburg Salem High School varsity and Seton Hill University games, had its start in the 19th century as Athletic Park. It was renamed in July 1928 — in honor of James Offutt, a local contractor, president of the local Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Barclay-Westmore­land Trust Co.

He died on June 24 of that year, at 51.

A native of Penn Borough, Offutt was an engineering graduate of the Colorado School of Mines and also a member of Greensburg’s school board, where his expertise came in handy in “planning and construction of the new high school on North Main Street, and the former West Pittsburgh Street and Rughton elementary schools,” the late Robert B. Van Atta wrote in his 1999 “Bicentennial History of the City of Greensburg.”

Offutt also played football for Underwood High School, the original precursor to Greensburg High and now Greensburg Salem, in 1894, Van Atta noted.

Stuart E. “Barney” Weller may not have personally provided the setting for the Ligonier Valley field named after him — the site at the north end of Fairfield Street was purchased by Ligonier’s American Legion post and then donated to the school district. Still, according to period newspaper coverage, he is credited with “a major role in founding the field.”

After all, Weller, a World War I Navy veteran and proprietor of an eponymous Ligonier hardware store, was a founder and past commander of the local Legion post.

When the field that would become known as Weller debuted, with a Sept. 6, 1947, game between Ligonier and neighboring New Florence, it was just a few blocks away from the town’s high school — now home of the local YMCA.

Before, the football team traveled to the southern outskirts of town to play, “across the Loyalhanna Creek, along Route 711,” according to Shirley Iscrupe, archivist in the Ligonier Valley Library’s Pennsylvania Room.

Weller died, on Sept. 15, 1953, of complications of pneumonia. He was 58. According to his obituary in the Ligonier Echo, he was so well-liked that all businesses in town closed for an hour and a half “to allow Barney’s many friends to attend the funeral.”

His widow and five daughters were present in 1963 when the field was named in his memory.

Owens Field in the Apollo-Ridge School District is named for a family that donated farmland in Apollo to provide space for recreational and community facilities.

“Owens Grove, that was the Owens farm at one time,” said Alan Morgan, secretary of the Apollo Area Historical Society. “They donated property for the parks and the playground and the football field.

“Owens Grove is next to the field. In the 1920s, people parked their Model Ts among the trees” when they went to the games.

Last month, the community marked the 100th anniversary of the first high school game at the field — a Sept. 27, 1919, contest where Apollo blanked visiting Leechburg, 47-0.

An historical narrative accompanying a local cemetery tour notes Henry and Christina Owens moved their growing household to Apollo from nearby Westmoreland County shortly after the 1842 birth of son Hugh, the eighth of 12 children. Hugh, wounded serving in the Civil War with the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers, worked the Owens farm. In 1921, he “donated about 4 acres at the top of North Second Street for a playground for the town’s children. It was named Owens Grove.”

School officials, especially those involved in athletics, often lend their names to fields where the teams they once guided line up in formation.

Among them is George K. Cupples, who is memorialized with the City League stadium that bears his name along East Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side. A World War II Navy veteran, he was a teacher and coach for 20 years at Pittsburgh’s former Fifth Avenue High School.

Cupples served as athletic director for the city schools from 1985 until he retired in 1993. Also a PIAA official for football and basketball, Cupples was inducted into the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.

In addition to a view of the city skyline to the north, the stadium features a six-lane track and seating for 8,000.

The playing surface at Hempfield’s Spartan Stadium in 2005 was named Coach Bill Abraham Field, honoring the district’s former high school football coach who amassed a career record of 143-56-6 and served as athletic director for 28 years.

A drive was launched this year looking to rename Spartan Stadium for the late Terry Ranieri, a 1975 graduate and Hempfield “super fan” who died of cancer in August.

Players who have ascended to the top ranks of professional football are a good bet to receive field-naming honors from their high school alma mater.

Ringgold has Joe Montana Stadium, and Hopewell has Tony Dorsett Stadium.

Southmoreland has Russ Grimm Field.

A 1977 Southmoreland graduate, Grimm played at center for the University of Pittsburgh before being drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1981. He became a feared force at left guard before being moved back to center in 1987.

During his 11-year playing career, he collected three Super Bowl rings and appeared in four straight Pro Bowls. He was elected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

Grimm went on to coach with the Redskins, from 1992 through 2000, and Steelers, through 2006, earning an additional Super Bowl ring. He retired in 2018 after serving two seasons as an offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans.

In his 2010 Pro Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Grimm gave a shout-out to fellow members of Southmoreland’s Class of ‘77, noting “we graduated singing ‘Free Bird’ — ‘If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?’ Not only did you remember me, you took a special interest, you stayed in touch, you supported and followed my career. For that, I will always remember you.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Regional | Westmoreland
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