SMA Alumnus Gift Makes MBU Field of Dreams a Reality

August 30, 2018

Members of MBU's soccer program and the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership gather in front of the construction site to thank donor Peter Worth.

When Peter Worth was 12 years old and about to enter eighth grade, he came to Staunton to attend Staunton Military Academy (SMA), now part of Mary Baldwin University’s upper campus. In his five years as an SMA student, cadet, and athlete, he could often be found on Kable Field, as it was then known, running and drilling with his classmates.

Now with a gift of $450,000 to the university in honor of his time at SMA, Worth is fueling the transformation of the same field he once marched on as a young man.

What is now an active construction zone beside the Physical Activities Center (PAC) will soon become SMA Worth Field, a world-class platform for MBU’s soccer program and the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL).

Members of MBU's soccer program and the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership gather in front of the construction site to thank donor Peter Worth.

“We are truly grateful to Mr. Worth for his generous gift to create the SMA Worth Field, which will stand as a beacon on campus and bring our community together in the spirit of athleticism, honor and discipline, and overall health and wellness,” said President Pamela R. Fox. “We celebrate how Mr. Worth shares in our vision to both honor proud legacies and chart a dynamic future on behalf of our students.”

As the founder and chairman/CEO of American Benefits Consulting, Worth has more than 40 years of experience in insurance and benefits, helping some of the world’s largest companies provide cost effective, leading-edge benefit programs and working with the industry’s leading carriers to design new insurance products.

“I am very pleased and fortunate to be able to do this, and it is very meaningful to me,” said Worth. “I had my first total education at Staunton Military Academy, and it was where I grew up. I am very appreciative of Mary Baldwin coming in and joining with SMA to continue our traditions through the cadet corps. With this gift, I want to honor and preserve what it meant to attend SMA.”

A New York City native, Worth received the rank of second lieutenant at SMA, graduating in 1957. He was also on the junior varsity football and basketball teams and the varsity baseball team while at the academy.

“The intellectual capabilities of students are of course important, but so too are physical activity, a healthy environment, and finding a good balance,” said Worth. “I remember running around that field’s track when I was 13 years old, wondering why my lungs hurt. Fortunately, as I got bigger, the track got smaller.”

Work began last spring to build MBU’s first collegiate, regulation-size soccer field, planted with Northbridge Bermuda grass. A recreational track will also surround the field with fitness lanes for all students to enjoy.

“In the age of artificial turf, the installation of this caliber of grass will make it one of the nicest fields in North America, let alone NCAA Division III,” said Jonas Worth, athletic director.

The grass puts MBU in a class with the new Audi Field, home to the closest Major League Soccer franchise, D.C. United, Jonas Worth said. Though the planting is more difficult to maintain, research has shown that playing on a natural grass surface is better for athlete health long-term, helping players avoid knee injuries and concussions.

“I am very pleased and fortunate to be able to do this, and it is very meaningful to me.”
Donor Peter Worth

In addition to soccer matches, the new SMA Worth Field will showcase the precision and ceremony of VWIL parades, carrying the legacy of SMA into the future.

“It is such an honor to be able to call it ‘my parade field and my soccer field’ — not only for me, but for MBU and the corps of cadets,” said Blanca Beltran ’20, VWIL cadet.

Though SMA closed its doors in 1976 after nearly 100 years educating young men, the academy’s alumni have maintained close ties to Mary Baldwin and VWIL. They actively raise funds to support cadet scholarships and campus improvements, and hold an annual reunion at MBU every spring.

“Peter Worth’s gift to MBU ensures that the SMA name and the legacy of the academy remain in perpetuity on the hallowed grounds of our former campus in the beautiful city of Staunton,” said Tom Davis, president of SMA Alumni Foundation, Inc. Davis further stated, “On behalf of our 3,000 living alumni, we the ‘SMA Old Boys’ are extremely grateful to Peter for providing such a wonderful tribute to our former school.”

Peter Worth has been a dedicated donor to the SMA Alumni Association Legacy Fund Project, recently giving to support improvements to the Cannon Hill memorial and flag display, as well as new SMA Museum signage.

MBU has contracted with Carolina Green Corporation, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm specializing in athletic field construction, on the project. They have built fields for elite Division I universities, including the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina, and Duke University, as well as for professional teams.

“We are incredibly grateful to have collaborated with Carolina Green throughout this process and to be in a position to offer a playing surface that can only be rivaled by the professional ranks,” Jonas Worth, athletic director, said.

MBU plans to officially dedicate and open SMA Worth Field in April 2019 during the spring reunion of the SMA Alumni Foundation when an estimated 120 alumni will be present.

For the upcoming fall, both soccer matches and VWIL parades will take place on Lower Athletic Field in the bowl next to N. Coalter St., while work is completed on the new field. It features the same high-quality grass as SMA Worth Field and will eventually transition to a practice field.

SMA logo

For more information on the SMA Alumni Foundation or Peter Worth, please contact Peter Birckhead, board member, SMA Alumni Foundation, at peterbirckhead@gmail.com or 713-819-1980.