With the snip of a ceremonial ribbon, Palm Beach Atlantic University’s field of dreams, some six years in the making, became a glorious reality on Thursday, culminating with a victory for the Sailfish men’s soccer team in its inaugural game on the team’s first-ever home field.
PBA President William M. B. Fleming Jr. joins West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and other dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the Rinker Athletic Campus.
Dennis Grady, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, speaks prior to the ribbon cutting.
In its season opener on the new soccer fields, the Sailfish men's soccer team defeated opponent Southeastern University 3-1.
Prior to the 7 p.m. game, hundreds of students, employees, trustees and guests — including members of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, the city of West Palm Beach and the School District of Palm Beach County — attended the ribbon cutting for the 78-acre Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Athletic Campus, located on Parker Avenue a mile and a half from PBA’s main campus.
The athletic campus now serves as the new home fields for PBA’s men’s and women’s soccer, tennis, baseball and softball teams. Intramural sports also will be played there, as well as club sports like lacrosse. The property includes a community park that has been deeded to the city.
As the skies above cleared from rains earlier in the day, University President William M. B. Fleming Jr. thanked the many parties who labored to bring the Rinker Athletic Campus to fruition, starting with two longtime PBA supporters, John and Sheila Rinker of the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Foundation.
“The foundation’s lead gift of $6 million has allowed the University to recognize two Florida pioneers, entrepreneurs and PBA patrons, Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker,” President Fleming said.
President Fleming also acknowledged the presence of PBA Founding President Dr. Jess Moody and his family, as well as former Board of Trustees chairmen John Greene and Robert Simpson and current chairman Scott Hawkins.
He also noted the conspicuous absence of the late Dr. Donald Warren, PBA’s founding chairman who, with his wife and daughters, once lived in the Hillcrest neighborhood “on land now used for soccer practice fields,” President Fleming said. “Oh, how Dr. Warren would be overflowing with a spirit of thanksgiving as we celebrate this triumphant day with each of you.”
The Board of Trustees has been resolute in its commitment to build the best NCAA Division II athletic campus in America, he said. “And we are ready to move on as members of the Sunshine State Conference,” which accepted PBA as a provisional member on July 1.
President Fleming also announced publicly that the University’s capital campaign, The Time is Now, has raised $15.1 million in gifts and pledges to date toward its goal of $18 million. The Time is Now supports the Rinker Athletic Campus, as well as endowed scholarships and academic programs.
Following his remarks, the Conniston Middle School Honor Chorus, under the leadership of music instructor Marianne Herzog-Bazin, sang a patriotic medley, including “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” “The Peace Poem” and “America the Beautiful.”
Prior to the ribbon being cut, Dennis Grady, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, called the Rinker Athletic Campus “one of the finest intercollegiate athletic facilities unveiled in the United States.”
PBA is “a tremendous economic engine for the city of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County,” Grady said. “It anchors the south end of our downtown and provides tremendously to our economic vitality.”
Chairman Hawkins pointed out that many things had to happen in order to make the campus become a reality, such as significant gifts coming to the fore; the county, the airport authority and the city being incredibly cooperative; and the board being motivated to take on something that was extremely ambitious.
“You have to say it was providential, I think, that it was inspired and led by God,” he said. “Not only am I keen on the great opportunity for our students to compete on premier fields in a premier conference, but I’m really keen on the impact this is going to have on the county, and particularly this part of the county. It will be a platform for a lot of good. It has been a privilege to be a part of it.”
Simpson, who with his wife, Denice, provided a gift toward the softball fields on the campus, added this is the first part of a multi-phase major project.
“It marks the beginning of a relationship with other Division II schools and the Sunshine State Conference that will bring more people to know PBA, and for PBA to show its product to the rest of the world. And that’s really what I’m thrilled about,” he said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Sailfish men’s soccer team members ran onto their new field to warm up for their season opener against Southeastern University. The Sailfish went on to defeat Southeastern 3-1.
Sailfish goalkeeper Peter Rineer said the team had been working hard for the past four weeks in anticipation of this day, and the players and coaches had become filled with a spirit of unity in the process.
“To be the ones to play on these fields for the first time is just an honor,” Rineer said.