School dedicates field to slain grad
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
Apr 15, 2014, 13:31
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Greg Gwaltney Jr., the father of Matt Gwaltney speaks during a dedication ceremony after a news scoreboard is unveiled that bears his son’s name.
CHESTERFIELD — Thomas Dale High School honored a former student last week as it dedicated its newly improved field after Matt Gwaltney, a 2001 graduate who was killed during the Virginia Tech massacre.
More than a hundred people gathered before the Thomas Dale game against Meadowbrook on Thursday as the seniors removed a cover from the scoreboard that now bears the name “Matt Gwaltney Field.”
Gwaltney, who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Virginia Tech, was just a few weeks away from getting his master’s degree when fellow student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others on April 16, 2007.
Matt’s father, Greg Gwaltney Jr., said Thursday’s ceremony was a bittersweet moment.
“It’s a very emotional day, having realized that next Wednesday, it’s going to be seven years. And after yesterday’s events at Pittsburgh, it’s just evident that the community and families need to pull together to make things better for our children, for our community. The way to do that is to get involved personally,” he said.
Greg Gwaltney said he hopes the improvements unveiled here will benefit future generations at the school.
“Matt would have been very proud of the field that we see before us today. He loved baseball and he loved Thomas Dale. While being at Thomas Dale, he became a better player and he got a better education as well,” he said.
Matt Gwaltney had been a pitcher for the Thomas Dale baseball team and he was also a sports reporter for the school’s “Knightly News.” He was an honor student and also a basketball player.
Former baseball coach Dale Clark said it was good to see former players and parents who helped build the baseball program at the school.
Members of the community gather after the field dedication at Thomas Dale High School.
“I can remember Matt, probably one of the top three student-athletes I’ve ever had the honor of coaching, teaching, just the character that he had, all of the qualities that he showed in school and all his extra-curricular activities. This is quite an honor. I cannot think of anyone better that this field should be named after,” he said.
Before and after the ceremony, people paused to take photos of the new plaque that bears Matt Gwaltney’s name on the side of the home team dugout.
The improvements at the field also include a new 18-by-6-foot electronic scoreboard and a new backstop. The numbers on the old scoreboard were something like you would see in the 1920s that had to be changed by hand. The backstop was rusted. They also worked to seed and improve the playing surface.
All of the upgrades were paid for by the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation with contributions from the community.
Thomas Dale Athletic Director Steve Davies said he would like to see improvements continue and hopes to add a sidewalk to connect the two fields.
A plaque is attached to the home team dugout.
“This will not stop today. This complex will continue to grow,” he said.
Davies said Matt was known for his integrity, devotion and sense of humor.
“Mr. Gwaltney will often say that Matt wasn’t in it for the accolades and the praise, but I think he would be very proud if he were here today to see that so many people stepped up to the plate to make this unforgettable day. Matt truly represented everything that is good with our youth these days. With that being said we will truly never understand what happened seven years ago, but this is Thomas Dale’s way of saying Matt’s life will never be forgotten,” he said.
Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle said it was a pleasure working with the county and all the people who help make this happen.
“As a parent, I can’t even imagine the loss that the Gwaltneys have gone through, but I would like to think it is a little bit of a comfort to them to see what a community they have and how the community has worked to surround them and how Matt will always be remembered,” she said.
Bermuda District School Board member Carrie Coyner said the project didn’t just receive the support from the community, but people all over the world contacted them to voice their support and the impact Matt Gwaltney had on their life.
“When Dale Clark … came and asked about honoring Matt Gwaltney in this way, it was a no-brainer decision for the School Board to say yes to this naming,” she said.
“It really goes to show our young people today that no matter what you do or how young you are, do everything to the best of your ability because you never know who is watching you and the impact you are going to have on others,” Coyner said. “It’s a great lesson, a great legacy to leave for all our students here at Thomas Dale.”