Sports Complex A Win-Win Unique Partnership Leads To The Creation Of A New Sports Complex At Wellington High School

Sports Complex A Win-Win Unique Partnership Leads To The Creation Of A New Sports Complex At Wellington High School

A unique sports partnership is on full display on the campus of Wellington High School. Thanks to a special agreement between the Village of Wellington, the Palm Beach County School District and Wellington High School, the sports facilities at WHS have been improved, upgraded and enhanced.

While the immediate beneficiaries will be the athletic department and the student-athletes at the high school, the residents of Wellington get free access to these new facilities as well when the many Wolverine teams are not playing or practicing.

For this new sports complex to become a reality, the Palm Beach County School District provided the land and the Village of Wellington paid for the facility to be built. The price tag was $12 million. In order for the village to spend public funds on the WHS campus, the school district had to agree to share the facilities with the general public. It became a win-win for all parties involved.

In June, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility took place, which officially opened the multi-use sports complex to the general public and to the Wolverines’ athletic program.

The first phase of the new sports complex was completed last summer when the new synthetic turf football field opened at WHS. The Wolverines’ football team, soccer teams and lacrosse teams used the field for home games during the 2020-21 school year. This field has permanent markings for those three sports.

The other new sports facilities at WHS include eight tennis courts, of which four have pickleball lines, four adjoining multi-purpose fields, three basketball courts, two new batting cages, a kickback wall, a running track and a new building that has two concession stands, bathrooms and a meeting room.

According to Wellington Parks & Recreation Director Eric Juckett, many sports will be played on the massive multi-purpose fields, such as flag football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer and outdoor tournaments that are held in Wellington at various times throughout the year.

Wellington Vice Mayor John McGovern is thrilled to see this new sports complex open and being used by the public.

“It is going to be a great addition for the community,” McGovern said. “It is spectacular, and I think that it is going to be a tremendous addition to our parks and recreation inventory.”

Juckett noted that this sports complex puts Wellington on a different level when compared to other municipalities in Palm Beach County.

“We are truly excited to bring this facility to our residents,” Juckett said. “It creates at-will recreation opportunities, and it will be a direct benefit to the students and residents of the village.”

Juckett said that everybody he has spoken with about this unique recreational complex is delighted with what has been accomplished.

“I honestly have not heard anything negative,” Juckett said. “It has all been very positive and in awe of the complex that was built, along with the relationship we have with the Palm Beach County School District and, specifically, Wellington High School.”

According to Juckett, Wellington residents will have access to open play on the tennis courts and basketball courts during the Village of Wellington hours of use. The fall/spring hours are Monday through Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The summer hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Village of Wellington programming will take priority to open play by the general public.

To learn more about Village of Wellington recreation programs, visit www.wellingtonfl.gov/recreation.

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A Sport For A Lifetime Wellington Tennis Center Offers A Wide Array Of Programs For Children Through Seniors

A Sport For A Lifetime Wellington Tennis Center Offers A Wide Array Of Programs For Children Through Seniors

The state-of-the-art Wellington Tennis Center, located on Lyons Road, offers programs for every age group, teaching this sport designed for a lifetime and offering open play and tournament play to all Wellington residents.

Director of Tennis Chuck Gill, a USPTA elite professional and a longtime Wellington resident, took over as leader of the facility earlier this year, bringing with him a lifetime of tennis expertise.

“I have been teaching tennis and running tennis operations since I left college,” Gill said. “Serendipitously, my graduation was timed with the peak of the tennis boom, and I started with a management company that operated tennis resorts and clubs. Early on, I had enough business acumen to be successful in the business of tennis. I knew that I loved the game and wanted to be involved in this business. After working at several top resorts, I landed at the Club at Ibis, where I spent the last 24 years growing the program and eventually being the director of sports, where I oversaw tennis, fitness, aquatics and spa.”

Along the way, Gill has been an active tennis volunteer and served as president of the United States Professional Tennis Association, as well as serving on many United States Tennis Association boards and committees.

“Since I began playing tennis at public tennis centers and high schools as a kid, returning to lead a public tennis operation is coming full circle for me,” he said. “I have lived in Wellington for 24 years and always had tennis-playing friends in Wellington. When the position opened up, I was so impressed with the village’s commitment to tennis.”

He lauded the Wellington Village Council and the village staff for having the vision and foresight to build the current Wellington Tennis Center in 2015. Tennis was previously housed at the old Wellington Community Center before that building was razed and rebuilt.

“We have 21 beautiful clay courts with state-of-the-industry underground irrigation,” Gill said. “We also have a clubhouse, pro shop and viewing deck that allows our players to have all of the amenities of a private tennis club at a public tennis center.”

The facility opened in style on June 9, 2015 with an appearance by Venus Williams.

“We have a vibrant and growing junior program for kids of all levels and ages, a complete ladies team program, as well as an active group of men of all ages who frequent the courts,” Gill said.

Thousands of players visit the tennis center each year. “Our junior program starts children as early as age five for our Red Ball program. We have some seniors who are knocking on 90 years young,” Gill said. “Our ladies teams have soccer moms, grandmas and proudly, a few great-grandparents. That is one of the best things about tennis — it is truly the sport of a lifetime.”

The Wellington Tennis Center also hosts tournaments, league play, junior events and more, so new players are always visiting to see all that the facility has to offer.

Fees to use the facility are low when compared to similar tennis centers.

“Being a public facility, our goal is to be inclusive and have everyone able to experience tennis, so price should not be a barrier to play,” Gill said. “Daily court fees start at $12 per person, and annual permits are in the $400 to $500 range per person, and less than $700 for a family. For active players, it is the best value anywhere!”

Gill and his staff offer group and private lessons to all levels. “Cardio tennis and our INTense Hitting session are extremely popular,” he said. “We also offer a ‘love to learn, love to play’ program to help new and returning players get back into tennis and meet others of the same level. Information on all of our programs can be found online or in person at the tennis shop.”

The Wellington Tennis Center caters to players of all levels,

“If you are an avid player, there are several players who were world-class players and some who currently represent the United States in world competitions. The tennis center is also frequented by players who were former college players and played on the ATP or WTA tour,” Gill said. “Of course, our base of players and the vast majority of players are recreational level and enjoy playing socially and local league tennis. Our leagues range from the higher levels in Palm Beach County, to the entry level and everything in between.”

He is expecting a full calendar of tennis events planned over the upcoming year.

“For the first time, we will be hosting a USTA National Championship this fall for the USTA national father/daughter and mother/son tournament,” Gill said. “We will also be hosting matches for the ITF world senior championships next spring when the world’s best senior players visit South Florida. We will be hosting monthly events for juniors with USTA events, and we will be running UTR [Universal Tennis Rating] events as well. These are great opportunities for some of our residents to sample high-level competition without needing to travel around the country.”

Gill’s goal is to make every Wellington tennis player feel at home at their local facility.

“We want to welcome everyone here,” he said. “If you are a local permit holder, this should feel like your home club. If you are visiting for a tournament or event, you should feel equally welcomed. For our youngest players, this should be the place for them to have a great first experience in a sport that they will hopefully play forever. It all starts with a happy and relaxed environment with happy coaches and staff who welcome you to the center each time. If we can be that type of place, we will be successful.”

The Wellington Tennis Center is located at 3100 Lyons Road. For more information, call (561) 791-4775 or visit www.wellingtonfl.gov/tennis.

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It’s All About Teamwork Western Communities Football League Has Been Providing High-Quality Programs For 30 Years

It’s All About Teamwork Western Communities Football League Has Been Providing High-Quality Programs For 30 Years

By Mike May

The Western Communities Football League has been providing quality sports programs to residents of the Wellington area since 1992. Youngsters ages 4 to 15 play football and participate in a cheerleading program at the football fields at Village Park in Wellington.

Because of COVID-19, it was all quiet last fall on the gridirons at Village Park, but now tackle football and cheerleading are back, and athletic life on Village Park’s football fields is returning to normal.

Whether it’s tackle football or cheerleading, the WCFL’s goal is to teach each participant about the importance of teamwork, good sportsmanship, self-esteem and trust while promoting healthy minds and healthy bodies, making friends, demonstrating self-control and learning to follow directions while having fun.

According to WCFL President KC Jones, the mission is to promote the enjoyment and involvement of football for players, coaches, cheerleaders and parents.

There are five tackle football age divisions within the WCFL. The youngest group is Ultimate, which is for ages 5 to 7. The per person weight limit is 85.9 pounds. The next group is Prep, which is for ages 8 and 9, with a per person weight limit of 110.9 pounds. The third group is Varsity, which is for ages 11 and 12, with a per person weight limit of 125.9 pounds. The fourth group is Pro, which is for ages 12 and 13, with a per person weight limit of 145.9 pounds, but participants can play while weighing as much as 165 pounds. The oldest age group is High School Prep, which is for ages 14 and 15. There is no weight limit in that division.

WCFL practices are always held on the Village Park football fields. To get involved, the per person registration cost is $299.99.

In addition to being assigned to a team, each football player is provided a game and practice jersey, game pants with integrated pads, socks and a video of all the games.

Safety is a top priority for the league. The WCFL is a certified USA Football Heads Up league. USA Football is the national governing body for amateur American football. USA Football has worked with leaders in both medicine and sport across the country to create a full-featured program that any league or school can use to address key safety issues and ensure that every coach understands and knows how to implement each component of the program.

Last spring, the league offered a girls flag football program for the first time.

All football and cheerleading coaches undergo a background check before taking the field with a team or a squad. Coaches, WCFL board members and team parents are all volunteers.

When it comes to cheerleading, the WCFL is focused on participation. The program promotes healthy minds and healthy bodies, making friends, demonstrating self-control, learning to follow directions and, most importantly, to have fun. Regardless of age and ability, the WCFL has a cheer squad for everyone.

The WCFL cheer program does not hold tryouts; space on the squads is on a first-come, first-served basis, and is limited by the number of volunteer coaches. Cheerleaders are taught the fundamentals of cheerleading and some advanced skills. All levels of experience are welcome, from beginner to elite. The program allows youngsters to meet new people, make new friends, gain self-confidence and increase their self-esteem in a friendly environment.

Visit www.wcflfootball.com to learn more about the Western Communities Football League.

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Chasing Hoop Dreams At Village Park Wellington Wolves Organization Offers Players Basketball And So Much More

Chasing Hoop Dreams At Village Park Wellington Wolves Organization Offers Players Basketball And So Much More

By Mike May

Since 2002, young area basketball players have had the good fortune to access one of the most well-organized youth travel basketball programs in the country. It’s the Wellington Wolves Youth Basketball organization based at Village Park.

Under the leadership of Chris Fratalia, the Wellington Wolves president for the last 12 years, the league currently has 17 different youth basketball teams serving both boys and girls. The youngest players are in the third grade, and the oldest players are in the 11th grade. Each team has an average roster size of 11 players, which means the Wolves have nearly 200 players under their supervision on an annual basis.

Aside from local travel, some Wellington Wolves teams will travel across the United States to compete. For instance, earlier this summer, the Eighth Grade Boys Gold team played in a showcase event in Las Vegas. That team placed eighth out of 97 teams.

Playing for the Wolves can be an avenue for taking your game to a higher level. For instance, two of the more well-known graduates of the Wellington Wolves are current University of Illinois senior point guard Trent Frazier and current NBA superstar John Collins with the Atlanta Hawks. According to Fratalia, four eighth-grade girls playing in the league — Jade Jones, Sophia Kateris, Aubrey Beckham and Janiah Suprius — have already been offered scholarships, upon graduation from high school, to Florida Atlantic University.

The Wolves also host one of the more popular travel basketball tournaments in the country.

The event is called March Madness and is planned for the second weekend of March next year. For this event, teams come from all over the state and nation. According to Fratalia, he and his staff have been recognized for conducting one of the best-run tournaments in the country. This tournament is so well known that a girls basketball team from Maine made the trek to Wellington to compete.

The traditional basketball seasons for the Wolves are the end of November until early June for third through eighth graders. For high-school-age players, the season runs from early March until the end of July.

One of more dynamic aspects of the Wellington Wolves is its Council of Dads program, under the tutelage of John Sitomer. The program started about two years ago before being put on hold during the pandemic. According to Sitomer, he hopes the Council of Dads program will be reinstated this fall.

The Council of Dads is a hands-on, in-person, one-on-one academic program that provides academic assistance, guidance and tutoring to athletes who play for the Wolves and need some assistance in the classroom with their studies. “With the Council of Dads, we sharpen the academic skills of our players, while the coaches help sharpen their basketball skills,” Sitomer said. “We want our players to be known as true student-athletes and not just as basketball players.”

Sitomer and his board members on the Council of Dads have been working with students from the King’s Academy, who provide the one-on-one academic assistance.

“We have a tremendous arrangement with TKA,” Sitomer said. “During pre-COVID times, the students, mostly juniors and seniors from TKA, met twice a week with many of our players. Our athletes have become better students, and the TKA students get community service hours. It’s a win-win.”

Last season, the student instructors from TKA used online resources to connect with the athletes from the Wellington Wolves.

“A Zoom connection is helpful, but there’s nothing like a personal presence for a tutor,” Sitomer said. “We hope to return to in-person learning this fall.”

Visit www.wellingtonwolves.com to learn more about the Wellington Wolves.

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Taking Soccer To The Next Level Wellington Wave Program Offers Training And Tournaments For Competitive Players

Taking Soccer To The Next Level Wellington Wave Program Offers Training And Tournaments For Competitive Players

By Mike May

If you have a goal of playing soccer at a high level, then Wellington has an outlet for you to reach your goal. It’s the Wellington Soccer Club, the Village of Wellington’s recognized provider for travel soccer.

The WSC is dedicated to technical and tactical player development, united team dynamics and teaching the solid game fundamentals necessary for every player to reach his or her greatest potential. All teams are trained by appropriately licensed, professional club coaches to properly adapt the training program provided to them by Director of Coaching Patrick Zoete.

The teams practice and play home games at Wellington’s Village Park.

“The Wellington youth program must be synonymous with attractive, inspired, intelligent and daring soccer,” Zoete said.

According to Zoete, excellence on the soccer field is the direct result of player development during practice and training sessions.

Throughout the year, Zoete and his coaching staff focus on improving the technical and tactical abilities of every player, individual player development in a team concept, encouraging the specific talent and creativity of each player, and enhancing the individual ability of players in a game and team setting.

As players move up from one age group to another, the coaching philosophy of every level has a written curriculum that is specific to the development of the player. Every coach’s long-term goal is to prepare the player to successfully recognize and solve the challenges of the game of soccer on his or her own.

The WSC, whose teams are known as the Wellington Wave, cater to children from age groups Under 8 to Under 19. The travel/competitive soccer season starts on Aug. 1 every year and concludes on May 31 of the following year.

In addition to the coaching that players receive in a team setting, individual coaching sessions can be arranged with two of the league’s licensed coaches, Zoete and Marcone Oliveira. These private coaching sessions can be booked at doc@wellingtonsoccer.com.

The expert coaching staff can also provide specific training on how to be an outstanding goalkeeper.

While player and skill development are at the core of the league’s overall mission, this organization also places player safety on the same level. In today’s COVID-19 world, the club has drafted a list of safety guidelines that it expects its coaches, players and parents to follow. At the top of the list is the mandatory requirement that coaches wear masks during all practices and games, since it is their responsibility to ensure the health and safety of players in attendance.

As for players who enjoy group celebrations, hugs, high fives and handshakes, for now, are a thing of the past. Players are told to not share equipment, water or snacks, and they are instructed to place their kits bags and equipment at least six feet apart.

Learn more about many programs of the Wellington Soccer Club, at www.wellingtonsoccer.com.

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WRHA Rules The Rink In Wellington Wellington Roller Hockey Association’s Fall Season Gets Underway This Month

WRHA Rules The Rink In Wellington Wellington Roller Hockey Association’s Fall Season Gets Underway This Month

By Mike May

The Wellington Roller Hockey Association, an official Village of Wellington sports provider, is gearing up for its 27th season.

Typically, the players are 5 to 18 years old and are divided into three programs: Prep for ages 6 to 13, Juniors for ages 13 to 18 and Learn to Skate for beginner skaters of all ages. The league year typically starts in September/October and runs through early March. Registration for the fall program will begin on Sept. 12.

According to WRHA Vice President Stuart Warszycki, the group provides a great and affordable athletic opportunity for local children.

“With weekly practices and 15 to 20 games per season, we pride ourselves on being the best deal in town at $150 per skater or $125 with a sibling discount,” Warszycki said. “We have playoffs and a prep skills competition late in the year. Our league plays out of Village Park. Some players in our league also play ice hockey at Skate Zone, with several advanced skaters playing on the travel team.”

According to Warszycki, the league has been averaging 80 to 90 players over the last five years, but the league saw a dip last year due to the pandemic. However, the registration numbers so far this year are ahead of last year’s pace.

Having a good attitude is the foundation for success with the WRHA. Sportsmanship is a key theme, and all players, parents and coaches sign a code of ethics at the start of each season. A few tenets from the player covenant include promises to participate with good sportsmanship at every practice and game, working hard to do well in school, and remembering that lose or win, it’s about how they play that matters.

In support of the importance of good sportsmanship, one individual on each team is recognized with a sportsmanship trophy at the end of the season. According to Warszycki, the recipient of this award is typically not the most advanced skater, but the one who shows up for all practices, doesn’t complain and is a good teammate.

The WRHA, a nonprofit organization, is strongly committed to supporting the residents of Wellington.

“Although COVID-19 disrupted us a bit last year, the league historically has done several Wellington street cleanups each season,” Warszycki said. “Our rink concession stand also offers an opportunity for middle school and high school kids to get volunteer hours.”

One of the biggest supporters of the WRHA is part-time Wellington resident Jeremy Jacobs, the owner of the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins. Jacobs has, in the past, provided jerseys as well as financial support for the WRHA. In addition, the WRHA receives sponsorships from local businesses which, in exchange for an advertising fee, receive a full-season advertisement on the boards around the rink.

The WRHA does sponsor a travel team, known as the Wellington Prowlers. “The Prowlers have proudly represented us at several national-level hockey tournaments,” WRHA President Ruben Arteaga said. “Right now, we are looking for a coach who can dedicate time for the travel team.”

Learn more about the league at www.wellingtonrollerhockey.com.

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Generations Continue Sporting Legacy A Deep Passion For Sports Runs In The Blood Of The Griesemer Coaching Family

Generations Continue Sporting Legacy A Deep Passion For Sports Runs In The Blood Of The Griesemer Coaching Family

By Louis Hillary Park

This is the story of the Griesemer family that put Pennsylvania in the rearview mirror in the “I Like Ike” days of the 1950s and put down new roots in Palm Beach County.

It’s the story of loving sports the way only a bench-warmer can, and of passing on that love and hall-of-fame legacy to sons and now grandsons, who have charted their own way over the high school hardwood and Virginia Tech’s turf.

It’s the story of sweaty football jerseys and melting ice cream cones… Of the whole Griesemer family — ball-game-loving wives included — breaking down Wellington High School basketball games over ribs and beans at Park Avenue BBQ, not much more than a long pass and a dribble away… Of long, boisterous rides on yellow buses after a big win, and even longer rides in sober silence after a loss… Of thousands of pages turned and perused and studied in hundreds of scorebooks across more than 50 years.

It’s also the story of a water bucket.

Long before Leonard Griesemer was recognized in 2008 as a Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame youth league coach, his deep love of sports, especially basketball, was evident. Unfortunately, his talent did not equal his passion.

“I sat on the end of the bench closest to the cheerleaders, if you know what I mean,” Leonard Griesemer recalled with an easy chuckle about his own limitations as a basketball player.

But those limitations did not stop him from wanting to help others excel in the skills that alluded him. So, even as a teen, he began coaching Itty-Bitty Basketball at the local Jewish Community Center, where giving back in some way was a requirement for participation. But for Leonard Griesemer, it was more than fulfilling a duty, it was balm for a son’s heart bruised by a construction worker father who never came to see him play.

“It’s one of the reasons I took to helping kids,” he said, even now at 88 the sting of his father’s absence sharp in his voice. “This was just after [World War II], and a lot of kids were without a parent. A lot of guys didn’t make it back, and the kids needed a bit of a father figure. I always tried to get the families involved.”

From the start of his 70-year marriage to his high school sweetheart June, to becoming a union carpenter like his father, to starting LEG Construction in the early 1970s, family life always revolved around sports. “My wife has more bleacher time than any woman in history, I believe,” he said.

From a young age, the Griesemers’ three sons — Lee, Lonnie and Larry — scampered around their mom in the bleachers; and when they got old enough, they helped their father under the wooden rafters of the old Central Gym on Okeechobee Blvd., where the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts sits today atop the hill; and there they were on the sidelines at Palm Beach Elementary School, where Gra-Y League football games were played.

Back then, not every football team had its own jerseys, recalled Larry Griesemer, the only one of the boys who went into coaching as a profession. One Gra-Y team would take off their sweaty, dirty jerseys and hang them on the fence to dry for a while, then the next team would suit up in them, he explained.

“My dad bought jerseys for his team… Columbia blue. Where he got the money, I don’t know. But it was a big deal,” Larry said. “After games, we’d stop at an ice cream stand on Dixie [Highway]. Everyone got an ice cream cone, and the guy who played best that day got a milkshake… Dad wasn’t just showing kids how to win games. He was showing them how to treat people.”

Sometimes Leonard Griesemer had to show adults the way, too. In the early 1960s, West Palm Beach was still very much a southern city. He was the first to have Black players on the Gra-Y Belvedere Bees football team that centered around Belvedere Elementary School.

“Yes, I got some pushback,” he remembered. “Things were said.”

Later on, when more Black youngsters came into the league, there still were vestiges of segregation. “Most teams had two water buckets — one for the white kids, one for the colored kids,” he said. “We only had one bucket.”

Larry Griesemer took those sorts of water-bucket life lessons with him into his own football career leading a group of meaty linemen at Forest Hill High School. They became known as “Griesemer’s Grunts.”

After college, he took another cue from his father and married a woman who loves sports as much as he does — supporting Larry in his coaching ambitions and raising two sons, Eric and Brett, to the sound of rubber soles scuffing maple and timed to the rhythm of basketball’s scoreboard clocks.

Today, after 40 years of marriage, Janice Griesemer easily rattles off her husband’s stats.

In 15 seasons of coaching, he combined for 258 wins with the Forest Hill High School boys and later the Wellington High School girls, she said. The Wolverine girls won four district titles, five Palm Beach Athletic Conference championships and reached Florida’s Sweet 16 six times.

Despite retirement, relocation from their longtime home and being slowed by a stroke, at age 70, Larry Griesemer continues to be involved as a consultant for several high school teams near Waynesville, N.C., where “gyms are like cathedrals.”

Meanwhile, his sons are finding their own and different ways of continuing their passion for sports after both graduating from Wellington High School.

Brett Griesemer, 32, put his talents to athletic training while getting his bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and a master’s degree at Virginia Tech, where he has risen quickly through the ranks of the school’s training staff.

While serving as senior director of sports medicine-football, Brett Griesemer was heavily involved with the football helmet safety research program at Virginia Tech, considered a leader in the field by the NCAA. He recently was named head athletic trainer for the Hokies football team, a traditional power in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a name frequently seen in the Top 25.

“Brett has added a whole new level of professionalism and work ethic to our staff, and I have no doubt it will make our football student-athletes better because of his increased role and responsibilities,” Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine Mike Goforth said.

The opportunity is “a dream come true” for Brett, who has a wife much like the one who married dear old dad, and granddad. The former Megan Burker is “super into sports.”

“She understands about me waking up early and coming home late,” he said.

As well she should. Megan lived that life for years as an All-American lacrosse player at Stanford University and then as head coach of the Virginia Tech women’s team. Today, Megan Griesemer serves in the school’s athletic department as assistant director of compliance while mothering their two sons — Max, 3, and Cohen, 1.

Though too young to absorb a lot of Xs and Os of Wellington High School basketball discussed in play-by-play, press-or-not-to-press detail over post-game meals, Brett said he absorbed things more important while listening to his parents and grandparents dissect a game.

“I think about the work ethic and the commitment to the team,” he said. “I think about the long process. The stick-to-it-iveness it takes. Not only in terms of creating wins and losses. But in commitment to family. To creating better husbands and fathers, and just decent people.”

Eric Griesemer, now 37, echoes his brother’s thoughts.

“Wins were a big part of it… [but] they taught about so much more than sports. They taught us about leadership,” he said. “It was about the commitment to everyone getting better. About helping to make a better student, and better young adult. How do we give that player the confidence to take the shot?”

Eric is following in his grandfather’s footsteps — creating a separate career, his in information systems technology — while becoming heavily involved in youth sports, something his wife Zara enthusiastically supports. Though oldest son Gavin is only 5, the Wellington resident already has coached him in flag football, tee-ball, basketball and soccer.

That’s not a surprise after growing up in the Griesemer family. “It’s just in my blood to be involved,” Eric said.

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Empowering Children To Succeed Wellington’s Great Charity Challenge Helps Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center Raise Crucial Funds

Empowering Children To Succeed Wellington’s Great Charity Challenge Helps Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center Raise Crucial Funds

By Mike May

Thanks to the generosity of those in equestrian and bicycling circles, 2021 has been a banner year for the Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center.

This Palm Beach County nonprofit works to improve early childhood education. Through the Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center, children of working families are empowered to achieve academic and life success through educational programs and family programming that embrace the whole child.

Opportunity has been serving children and their families in the Palm Beaches since 1939. Earlier this year, the nonprofit was awarded $18,000 from the Wellington-based Great Charity Challenge, presented by Fidelity Investments. And this summer, a group of four cyclists, known as the Opportunists, participated in a cross-country bicycle race to raise money for Opportunity.

This was the first time that Opportunity had applied to be part of the GCC program, which has been distributing money to Palm Beach County nonprofit groups since 2009. To date, $15.9 million has been awarded.

According to GCC Executive Director Anne Caroline Valtin, Opportunity applied to be part of the GCC program, and its application was approved. There is always a vetting process for the charities.

“We request for all benefitting nonprofits to provide us with an ‘intended fund use’ prior to receiving funding, along with quarterly updates for a full calendar year,” Valtin said.

Being approved to participate in the GCC doesn’t mean that a nonprofit will always get funding. There is also a bit of luck involved.

Following the vetting process, all qualified applicants are assigned balls in a lottery drum. The balls are then randomly pulled from the drum to see which nonprofits will receive funding through the GCC. On Dec. 14, 2020, Palm Beach County Commissioner Maria Marino pulled Opportunity’s ball from the lottery drum. It was the luck of the draw, as they say. For transparency purposes, all drawings are shared live via social media.

Once Opportunity’s ball was selected, it was time to align it with an equestrian funding partner, along with riders, who rode for Opportunity at the 2021 Great Charity Challenge, held Saturday, Feb. 6.

“As the event is a relay-style show jumping competition, each randomly selected nonprofit is paired with a team and corporate sponsor,” Valtin explained. “Team sponsors assign three riders, who compete on behalf of their assigned nonprofit with a chance of winning anywhere between $15,000 and up to $100,000, depending on their performance. Opportunity was assigned to one of our new team sponsors, the Eppinger Family, along with Starwyn Farms, a longtime corporate sponsor. These sponsors are what make the event possible through their generous donations. The Eppinger Family’s team of riders competed representing Opportunity and earned them $18,000.”

According to Opportunity’s Executive Director Ali Eger, the $18,000 GCC grant was much appreciated.

“The $18,000 was used to support our early childhood education program and to provide scholarship assistance to families struggling with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Eger said.

According to Valtin, the $18,000 awarded to Opportunity was part of an overall $1.1 million allotment of funding, which was distributed in various amounts to 49 Palm Beach County nonprofit organizations in 2021, thanks to the generous support of 64 sponsors, donors and partners.

Since Opportunity was able to put this year’s GCC grant to good use, the nonprofit is already preparing to apply to take part in next year’s GCC. With a bit of luck, perhaps they’ll come away with the top prize. Learn more about the GCC program at www.greatcharitychallenge.com.

The equestrian program was not the only big win for Opportunity this year. The cross-country fundraising effort by four cyclists generated $100,000.

In mid-June, four local bicyclists participated in the 39th Race Across America (RAAM) in support of Opportunity. The race is 3,069 miles long and is often used by participants to raise money for charities throughout the United States. The Opportunists also rode in the race in support of Opportunity in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

On Saturday, June 19, the four cyclists — Kathy Petrillo, Matt Shippee, Chris Huffman and Michel Chabot — left Oceanside, California, and headed east for Annapolis, Maryland. Two members of the support crew were Chris Benkley of Royal Palm Beach and Theresa Goulet from The Acreage. Along the way, they traveled through 12 states — California, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

While the squad featured four bicyclists, only one rode at any given time. In essence, it was a team relay race.

“We had three race vans and one RV,” Huffman explained. “So, with four people, the racers split into pairs. Two racers were on for 12 hours and the other two racers rested.”

By working in two-person teams, the Opportunists covered more mileage in less time.

“The way the two-racer shift worked is that we went faster by being on the bike for half an hour at a time, and then we switched with the other racer who would race for a half hour,” Huffman said. “So, during a 12-hour shift, each racer did a dozen 30-minute shifts for a total of six hours on the bike.”

For the journey, their overall average speed was 19.26 miles per hour. On average, the Opportunists covered 462 miles each day.

Throughout the trip, the four cyclists dressed and worked as teammates.

“We had custom jerseys and bibs with our sponsor logos, team name and, of course, Opportunity printed on them,” Huffman said.

Throughout the race, the Opportunists were in touch with their nonprofit beneficiary.

“We sent videos during the race and did some Facebook Live and FaceTime with the kids,” Huffman recalled. “They followed us along the route, and they were our biggest cheerleaders.”

Although this was the team’s fourth year making the coast-to-coast journey, Petrillo, an experienced competitive cyclist, was the first woman to join the team. The foursome set a goal to finish the race in six days, 18 hours, a full day less than the previous trips.

When the Opportunists finished the race on the morning of June 26, they all experienced a combined feeling of relief and fatigue. Yet there was also a joint feeling of accomplishment. The team’s financial goal was to raise $100,000 to help Opportunity continue to provide educational programs, daily meals, diapers, books and clothing for the children.

“We were successful in achieving both goals,” Huffman said. “We broke the old record of seven days, 53 minutes by setting a new record of six days, 13 hours and 46 minutes!”

In addition to being physically present for the cross-country race, Petrillo was emotionally connected to the entire experience.

“As an educator and mother, I understand the importance of early childhood education,” Petrillo said. “I am also honored to be able to share the importance of setting goals with the kids at the Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center. I want them to know they can do anything!”

Huffman shared similar sentiments.

“To give is to invest yourself in the life of someone else,” Huffman said. “In the Race Across America, racers and crew faced 3,069 miles of adversity and opportunity over seven days. At Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center, the kids have the ‘opportunity’ to learn the life skills that will help them for a lifetime to overcome adversities.”

After returning home, the cyclists met with the children and staff at Opportunity.

“The $100,000 raised from the RAAM were used to cover the race expenses and to support our early childhood education program, which primarily targets our health and fitness curriculum,” Eger said. “All donated net-event proceeds are applied to our programs directly benefitting the children.”

After the successful race this summer, plans are already in the works for next year’s race.

“With one more year, we should be able to raise enough for our five-year total to exceed $500,000,” Huffman said. “We are thinking of doing an eight-person team for 2022. After all, we are all getting older, and with an eight-person team instead of a four-person team, we do not each ride as many hours, plus we can increase our donation base.”

Learn more about the Opportunity Early Childhood Education & Family Center at www.opportunitypbc.org.

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New Boosters Group Raises $5,000 Wellington Football Foundation Created To Support The Sport In The Community

New Boosters Group Raises $5,000 Wellington Football Foundation Created To Support The Sport In The Community

A new organization has been created to support football programs serving the Wellington community.

The Wellington Football Foundation was recently formed as an independent Florida nonprofit corporation to promote and support recreational and scholastic football programs for children of all ages and genders in the Wellington community. The foundation has filed an application with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service seeking to be recognized as a charitable and tax-exempt entity.

The WFF is led by a board of directors made up of dedicated community residents, including Sam Logan, Bryan Raymond, Andrew Mack, Angela Logan, Ted Miloch and Brittany Russell. There are no paid positions at the all-volunteer organization.

In addition to financial support of football programs, the foundation believes strongly in the value of community service. The Wellington Football Foundation will promote and provide opportunities for players and interested community members to give back to the Wellington community through volunteerism.

The WFF’s goals for the remainder of 2021 include raising funds to replace aging and out-of-date equipment for Wellington High School’s football programs and renovate sports-related equipment rooms.

Looking toward 2022 and beyond, the foundation will provide scholarships for players in both school and recreational programs to assist families who may have difficulty in paying participation fees. This will help make sure that no child is prevented from participating in the sport of football due to an inability to pay participation fees.

The Wellington Football Foundation’s first project was the renovation of the Wellington High School concession stand. The concession stand now sports a fresh coat of paint on the floors and tables, has been decluttered and is ready for the 2021 season.

The WFF’s first major fundraiser was held on Saturday, July 31 at the Madison Green Country Club, when 54 golfers participated in the Wellington Football Foundation’s inaugural golf classic. Several sponsors supported the tournament and together raised $5,000. This money will be donated to the WHS football program weightlifting room renovation project.

The title sponsor for the tournament was the Blue Team, a commercial property service company. Other sponsors included Luxe Custom Airbrush Tanning, Express Seamless Gutters, Bryan M. Raymond Esq., Palm Beach Sports, Beauty on the Spot, the Romano Law Group and Peter Arianas for Congress.

The group also thanks Scott Stowell, the golf director at Madison Green, and WFF Board Member Bryan Raymond for working tirelessly to make the tournament happen with little notice. Board members Andrew Mack, Sam Logan, Brittany Russell and Angela Logan were on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly. Liz Wilson, Jacob Logan, Eva Mack and Jadyn Mack volunteered to work at the tournament, and everyone’s contribution made the event a resounding success.

The group’s next event will be a poker tournament, and there are more ideas to involve the community in future projects and fundraisers.

For more information about the Wellington Football Foundation, visit www.wellingtonfootballfoundation.com. You can also find the organization on Instagram and Facebook  @wellingtonfootballfoundation.

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Creativity Abounds Among Area Artists Wellington Art Society Brings The Work Of Local And World-Renowned Artists To The Community

Creativity Abounds Among Area Artists Wellington Art Society Brings The Work Of Local And World-Renowned Artists To The Community

By M. Dennis Taylor

Many have noticed the ever-changing art displays installed at the Wellington Community Center and the Wellington Municipal Complex but may not have thought about where this unique artwork comes from. It is all due to the coordination of efforts between the Village of Wellington and the Wellington Art Society, which brings the works of local and world-renowned artists to the community for everyone to enjoy.

With the simple-sounding objective of bringing art and community together, the Wellington Art Society is celebrating 40 years of doing just that, merging creative excellence and community inspiration with the Wellington spirit of premium quality. “The society is a very social group with a warm, friendly feel. It is for people who like art,” said Laura Jaffe, the current president of the Wellington Art Society.

In normal years, the group meets monthly, and also hosts art receptions and shows. “For over a year, all the meetings have been virtual, but we still made it happen,” Jaffe said.

That includes continuing the rotating exhibits at the Wellington Town Center buildings.

Jaffe, with a long background in local real estate, is also a full-time artist. “I do acrylic abstract art live on Facebook. It is collaborative art,” explained Jaffe, who said that the events take the theme and emotion from the co-creators online. “Everyone can watch the process as it comes together, live on canvas.”

Jaffe is just one of the dozens of talented artists that make up the Wellington Art Society. Past President Leslie Pfeiffer has been involved for many years and currently serves as second vice president. “I think of her as our historian because she has so much knowledge of the group, passion for art and has been involved in the society for so long,” Jaffe said of Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer is proud of all the work the group does to bring the beauty of art, across so many media, here to Wellington.

“The Wellington Art Society is an active, vibrant visual arts group that enriches the lives and culture of the residents of the western communities, Palm Beach County and visitors from around the world,” she said. “It encourages originality and productivity among its members and provides a place where emerging and professional artists meet, exchange ideas and advance the appreciation of art through community outreach programs. Our membership includes everyone from art lovers to internationally recognized professional artists.”

In all, the Wellington Art Society has more than 80 artists as members, including painters, sculptors, gallery owners, potters, photographers, fine crafters, jewelry makers, graphic designers, students, teachers and art enthusiasts.

“Our members are passionate about art and the creative process, and they are committed to encouraging and supporting each other to realize their full artistic potential,” Pfeiffer said.

With the goals to encourage artists to pursue their art careers and provide programming that expands art in public places, the Wellington Art Society strives to make art accessible and affordable for everyone on a daily basis. The organization first came into being four decades ago when the Wellington community was young, long before its incorporation, organized by Johanna Secor, a world-renowned artist from Connecticut.

With renewed excitement for showcasing area artists’ work in 2005, promoting art appreciation and art education among members as well as local art students, the Wellington Art Society was incorporated and gained its nonprofit organization status. Meetings, held monthly September through May, feature programs including demonstrations, guest speakers, networking, marketing and professional artist development. Through the years, the organization has initiated many events for area artists.

Artist Susan Mosely serves as exhibitions and programs chair, along with the role of first vice president, she is a retired elementary school teacher and cultural arts director.

“We have the goal of exhibiting seven shows per year, plus the meetings, programs and events,” Mosely said, pointing to the ongoing exhibits at the Wellington buildings. “These two venues are perfect settings to appreciate the artwork with family and friends.”

Mosely explained that there are many opportunities for art displays coming up, tempered by the ongoing battle against the pandemic.

Jaffe said that the group will begin meeting in September to plan out where they will be going and what artwork can be presented.

In the planning stages are two proposed shows and receptions with the appropriate names of “Resurgence” and “Rekindle.”

“Artists have produced some very nice work during the COVID-19 shutdown, and a lot of it,” Mosely said.

The exhibitions are a great way for residents and visitors to see and buy this original artwork.

“There are large and small pieces, many 2-D works and some free-standing pieces, such as bronze horse statues,” Mosely said, describing abstracts and some realism, along with photos and paintings. “They come from professional artists, some who teach, and even a young, talented student.”

Jaffe said the group may find they can continue pre-pandemic exhibitions, such as pop-up galleries and other community displays, as well as the pandemic staple of online showings.

“Each year, more than 300 pieces of original artwork can be seen in the community,” Pfeiffer said. “Fun, engaging, educational with receptions that offer a great opportunity to meet the artists and learn about their creative process, techniques and mediums. The artwork is for sale, and a portion of each sale benefits our scholarship fund and outreach programs.”

New members are welcome. Plans are also underway for other events, such as professional artist workshops, art and culture field trips, a holiday bazaar and docent tours for groups.

Visit www.wellingtonartsociety.org to learn more about the Wellington Art Society.

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