WILMINGTON — Rain came down on the afternoon of April 28 outside Salesianum School. That kind of weather, when the athletic schedule is full, forces athletic director Katie Godfrey and her colleagues around the state to make quick adjustments and accommodations.
Sometimes, practices must be canceled because athletic fields are unsuitable for use. Salesianum’s athletes, however, won’t have to worry about field conditions once the school completes a multimillion-dollar upgrade that includes all-turf fields on the Wilmington campus.
Local businessman and philanthropist Anthony Fusco is making that possible through a donation of $10 million to the all-boys school. The donation is coming from the Anthony and Catherine Fusco Foundation, which has supported projects at Catholic and non-Catholic schools over the years. The donation will provide for the creation of the Fusco Fields complex, a 250,000 square foot expanse of turf fields and a new baseball field, also turf.
Work is expected to begin after the current school year concludes, Godfrey said. The two lower fields should be ready by August 2024, and the baseball field could be done in time for the 2025 season.
The announcement was made April 28 at a press conference in the school gymnasium. Fusco was present, along with school officials and the entire student body.
School president Thomas Kardish introduced Fusco to the students, who had no idea what the announcement was. He called Fusco “one of those living stones” that Salesianum stands upon. Fusco is an honorary member of the Class of 2014; he could not attend the school in his youth because he had to work to support his family.
“Tony worked hard, and he worked smart,” Kardish said. “And he always remained close to this school that felt to him like a perfect fit. As Tony worked, he gave back.”
Fusco founded Fusco Management, a real estate development and management company based in New Castle, in 1965. He has donated to schools and other community organizations, including Ursuline Academy, where the student life center bears his name.
Kardish menioned that Fusco had donated $10 million to Salesianum in 2014 for the endowment, and he helped with funding for the fitness center. He handed the microphone to Fusco to make the big announcement.
“I’m not much for words, so I’ll get right to the point,” he said. “I love Sallies. I was proud when they put my face in the lobby, and I’m proud to have my family’s name downstairs in the hallway.”
He said he was thrilled to get his class ring and a diploma, “and I’m proud to announce today that I’m giving another $10 million to Sallies.”
The reaction from the students was immediate, sustained and loud. They jumped out of their seats to yell and applaud, and some chanted, “Tony, Tony!” Still they had no idea about how the money would be used.
Fusco handed Godfrey the microphone. She recalled receiving an email shortly after becoming the athletic director from a parent of an opposing player whose junior varsity team had played on the current grass field and how disappointed the parent was at the condition of the field. Godfrey shared the email with Kardish.
“It wasn’t a great email to read. I was upset, and I knew we could do better,” Godfrey said. Salesianum, she continued, is the “gold standard, and someone else believed that. And that’s Mr. Fusco. With that $10 million, we are going to redo all of the fields up there.”
Again, the students filled the gymnasium with applause.
According to the school, the complex will replace the “existing patchwork of natural grass practice fields” with turf for practice and competition. Accessible via a pathway at the northern edge of the campus, Fusco Fields will “radically improve spectator experiences, while dramatically increasing spaces for practice, along with a new baseball field, and additional spaces for football, lacrosse, and soccer games.”
The complex also includes a recreational center with three basketball courts, a storage facility, and batting cages. It will be a multi-tiered site, with seating for spectators on the hillside that overlooks the current baseball field.
“We are extraordinarily fortunate to have people like Tony who, more than just understanding the value of the education and experience we provide, also possess the willingness to make cornerstone gifts which allow us to build upon the school’s rich foundation and history,” Kardish said in a statement. “While I am excited about all of the possibilities that are open to us in terms of programming and schedule with Fusco Fields, I am hopeful that this announcement is also a moment to express our gratitude to Tony for all that he has done to build God’s kingdom here at 18th and Broom streets.”
Godfrey said the dream to redo the fields has existed for a long time. Kardish approached Fusco to gauge his interest, which didn’t take much.
“When Tom came, hardly no convincing,” Fusco said.
Kardish said the original plan was to install two multipurpose fields with lights where the baseball field and practice football field currently sit. Fusco asked what was planned for the uppermost field, where the junior varsity and freshmen play baseball. Kardish told him they had plans for a new baseball stadium, and Fusco replied, “I want to do that one, too.”
The tennis courts will be moved to the Abessinio Stadium site, Kardish said. That was the original plan for Abessinio, which opened in fall 2020.
In a statement, Fusco said he wishes he had gone to Salesianum. “But for me, this is the next best thing: to make sure that other kids can go and that when they do, it’s an experience that gives them the tools to be who they are and be that well.”
Fusco said he “didn’t have time” to be an athlete, but he sees the value of athletics to education. The reaction he received from the Sallies students, he added, only reinforced that he is doing the right thing.
Salesianum has received two other donations of more than $10 million. Rocco Abessinio donated $16 million to help finance Abessinio Stadium, which opened in 2020 and is the home of the school’s football, soccer, lacrosse, and track and field teams. It is also used by several other high schools and athletic organizations. Miguel Bezos, a member of the Class of 1963, and his wife Jaclyn gave $12 million in 2021 to provide scholarships to minority students.