In a two-week period every June, a vast cross section of Lehigh Valley high school seniors assemble at Stabler Arena for a rite of passage—graduation. This June, the arena hosted 13 commencement ceremonies for local high schools.
“It started with Freedom High School almost 25 years ago and other schools just followed suit,” says Rich Fritz, director of Stabler Arena.
Stabler has been the choice for most schools simply because of convenience, Fritz says. Ample seating and parking, air conditioning, and relief from uncertain weather all play major roles in why area high schools use the arena.
“Most schools would like to do graduation outside, but are faced with the dilemma of inclement weather,” he says. “Schools that have outside commencements usually have to set up a second ceremony area somewhere inside, which costs a lot of extra money.”
That means schools can save money by using Stabler, he says.
Stabler Arena personnel contact local high schools sometime in January with opportunities to reserve dates. Available dates are those remaining after Lehigh athletics and large events such as concerts are already booked.
“Most years it’s fairly uncomplicated to find dates for all of the schools, but sometimes it can be a challenge,” Rich says.
He remembers in 1996, with heavy snowfall and school years running late, everyone scrambled to change dates at the last minute.
“We ended up keeping the same schedule but sliding all of the dates back evenly,” he says. “Cooperation and flexibility are the keys to date selection.”
Stabler has had inquiries from as far as New Hope and New Jersey for high school commencement ceremonies. Annually, commencements draw more than 40,000 people to Stabler, 6,000 of them being the graduates themselves.
“It says a lot about Stabler,” Rich says. “It’s a credit to our facility, and to Lehigh, for being so accommodating and welcoming. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I graduated from Stabler in such and such a year!’”