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Miracle League players receive the star treatment

During the Pittsburgh Pirates Charities All-Star Weekend held Aug. 16-18 in Upper St. Clair, 80 children and young adults from 10 different Miracle Leagues from across the country received the royal treatment.

Wearing replicas of the jerseys worn by Pittsburgh’s Major League Baseball franchise with their names emblazoned on the back, each special-needs athlete received a big-league introduction during the kickoff festivities, participated in a Pirates Fantasy Camp, battled in a home run derby, played in competitive and noncompetitive league all-star games and attended the Pirates game against the Chicago Cubs.

“They are all-stars,” Mike Magulick said. “We are probably treating them the way they should be treated all the time.”

Magulick will be able to help others with physical, mental and cognitive disorders, experience the joys of athletics through the partnership with the Pirates. The Bethel Park graduate is involved in the Miracle League Complex being constructed in Moon Township.

The baseball field is slated to be finished in October, but the hope is also to add football, soccer, golf and yoga,” Magulick said.

“Because we know some people don’t like baseball,” he said.

Magulick said the Pirates deserve a lot of credit for the success of the Miracle League facility. He said when his organization got started it was just a board “with a vision” until the Pirates became involved.

“You cannot underestimate how important they have been,” Magulick said. “Without them, there is no chance we would have this.”

According to Jackie Hunter, who has been involved with Pirates Charities for eight years, the Miracle League is one of the organization’s “signature” programs. The Pirates have been involved in the Miracle League of the South Hills since 2009 and have participated in 10 different Miracle League openings. And while Miracle League All-Star weekends have been held in the past, it was the first time Upper St. Clair Township hosted such an event.

“We are so excited to provide the opportunity to bring baseball to kids of all ages and abilities,” Hunter said. “You can see on the faces of the kids that it’s a special opportunity for them.”

It’s equally special for the players, coaches and front office staff that attended the festivities.

“They love doing this,” Hunter said. “It’s a great time for them to come out and have fun and be kids, too. The interaction that they get to have is really special.”

Pirates coaches Tom Prince, Kimera Bartee and Joe Cora attended the event along with players Clay Holmes, Steven Brault, Geoff Hartlieb and Trevor Williams. The players and coaches participated in the fantasy camp, providing instruction on pitching, batting, catching fly balls and running the bases.

Clad in a dark business suit, Pirates president Frank Coonelly also participated in the festivities, tossing baseballs to the athletes in the 90-degree heat. Coonelly emphasized the mission of the event: to celebrate the athletes and make sure that it was understood how they care about them and care about them playing the “great game” of baseball.

“There are so many wonderful things that we learn from our game and these kids are all stars,” he said. “They are great teammates and they care about their teammates. Most importantly, they have fun and bring joy through the great game of baseball.”

Coonelly said the organization’s own mission is to change lives through Pirates baseball and the Miracle League and their association with it accomplishes that goal.

“It is one of the great ways that we do change lives by baseball,” he said.

Ten years ago, Sean Casey did just that in Upper St. Clair.

Along with his wife, Mandi, he helped co-found Miracle League of the South Hills, which is located within Boyce-Mayview Park. The USC graduate and resident played Major League Baseball for the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pirates, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. The former first baseman is now an MLB Network broadcaster.

Casey said the idea for the Miracle League has exceeded his “wildest dreams” and the all-star event was exactly the experience he expected for the players.

“All the things that continue to happen to this place just brings joy. It brings a smile,” he said. “I believe that life is about perspective and this place just brings perspective. It really does. It’s really cool to just be a part of it. It’s been wonderful and the all-star weekend was such a special experience. We wanted to make sure that the kids left here with a the memory of ‘wow, that was unbelievable.’”

The Miracle Field transformed for the weekend into an “amazing” replica of PNC Park. The outfield features a backdrop that includes the Roberto Clemente Bridge in left field and the panoramic view fans see at the stadium, which includes the Highmark Building and Point State Park fountain where the three rivers converge.

In addition to baseball activities, the event featured USC police, fire and emergency vehicles on display, airbrush tattoos, balloon artists, caricaturists, cornhole competition, a photo booth and speed pitch machine as well as fun and games at the Casey Clubhouse playground.

All-star games featured 80 Miracle League All-Stars from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Florida.

“The weekend was very important,” said Tim Gebhart, director of the Miracle League of South Hills, “because it brought together all the Miracle Leagues that the Pirates Charities support together and it really shows that we are one league. All kids and adults with disabilities have a chance to play around the nation and bringing them together to interact together, to be able to participate on teams together, I think is very important.”

And very personal added Magulick. He and his wife, Christina, have three children: Jack, 6; Luke, 4; and Max, eight weeks. Luke has a genetic condition and Magulick said the Miracle League is personal to everyone that attended the all-star weekend activities. He noted when player introductions were announced his was not the only teary-eye in the crowd.

“I was one of the many people crying,” he said. “A lot of these kids when they were born, people didn’t think they would be able to play baseball and they are an all-star today.”

With big league hopes and dreams they went to bat. Nick Berger, who boasted about his batting abilities, said he “wanted to hit the ball so hard and scare the coach.”

Though he admitted hockey is his favorite sport and that he “loved” the Pittsburgh Penguins, Noah Stine said he had a “lot of fun” participating in the fantasy camp and all-star weekend.

“It was awesome to hit and play here,” said the 16-year-old all-star.

South Fayette could have autonomous vehicle track at airport site

A place where airplanes once took off and landed in South Fayette Township could soon end up being a site where autonomous vehicles are put through their paces.

A plan was outlined for South Fayette’s board of commissioners Wednesday that, if approved, would transform the long-dormant Campbell Airport on Millers Run Road into a testing ground for autonomous vehicles. It would have about 200 employees in “high-tech and high-paying jobs,” according to Paul Anderson, a Pittsburgh civil engineer and a representative of the developers.

Anderson also said the research and technology park had the potential to be “a center of excellence for autonomous technology,” and was not aware of any similar autonomous vehicle testing grounds anywhere else in the United States.

South Fayette’s planning commission was due to vote on whether to green-light the proposal Thursday. If they sign off on it, commissioners are expected to vote on it at their next regular meeting Sept. 11. On Wednesday, they appeared enthusiastic. Commissioner Lisa Malosh said the proposal “sounds really exciting,” while fellow commissioner Raymond Pitetti said the plan “sounds awesome.”

Anderson would not reveal who is developing the site. His LinkedIn profile lists him as being the environmental, health and safety and facilities manager for the Pittsburgh office of Uber, the ridesharing company.

If approved, an observation tower could be built at the site, Anderson said. He also said it would feature traffic signals, the facades of buildings, fake trees and other features of a cityscape. Hybrid, autonomous vehicles are “a quiet system,” he explained, and the research and technology park would meet the township’s light and noise requirements.

Most experts say the United States is at least 10 years away from autonomous vehicles having widespread use, and Anderson said the park would allow the makers of autonomous vehicles to troubleshoot their product “in a controlled environment with stringent safety standards.”

Campbell Airport had a single runway and was a takeoff and landing strip for the owners of small airplanes. It ceased operations in the mid-1990s.

Peters Township School Board approves 13 change orders, rejects 1

Peters Township School Board approved more than $130,000 worth of change orders related to construction of a new high school, but rejected a project at the site that would have added to the total.

By unanimous vote Monday, board members decided against spending up to another $34,231 to provide a telecommunications conduit from the high school building to the proposed location for a stadium at the northeast corner of the property.

“This price came in much higher than we expected,” said Ron Dunleavy, who chairs the board’s buildings and grounds committee. “To use contingency money for a future project that may never exist is a very hard thing to do, so I am not encouraging this.”

The board did vote in favor of payments related to 13 change orders, representing work that is added to or deleted from the original scope of a contract, that totals $131,823.59.

Roshelle Fennell of Reynolds Construction LLC, construction management firm for the high school project, told the board about $1.3 million remains from the $2.3 million contingency fund built into the overall $95 million-plus project cost.

Plans call for events to continue to take place at the current high school stadium until it no longer is usable, at which point a replacement could be built at the new site, the former Rolling Hills Country Club property off East McMurray and Center Church roads.

“What happens if you do develop it? How much is digging up parking lots and roads, and refinishing them?” board member Lisa Anderson asked with regard to telecommunications connectivity. “I’m assuming that would be very expensive.”

Dunleavy replied a conduit could be located so that it would require no such activity, and he also mentioned the possibility of technology evolving to the point where sufficient wireless connectivity would be available.

As for the status of the overall project, board member William Merrell inquired about a percentage of completion toward the November 2020 goal.

While Fennell said she would come up with an estimate, the Rev. Jamison Hardy, chairman of the board’s finance committee, provided an assessment of the progress.

“I was up there with Mr. Dunleavy about a week ago, and there is a lot going on. So while we might not be able to get a specific number, I’m pretty confident that we’re moving in the right direction,” Hardy said. “Each area would be different, so it’s hard to give a total number of completion percentage. But it’s really moving along.”

Prior to its next regular meeting, Sept. 16, the board has scheduled buildings and grounds committee meetings for Aug. 26 and Sept. 9 to discuss renovations to the current high school for its eventual conversion to a middle school.