By Carissa Wolf

WesCom Wire Service

andquot;It's a gift. How can you turn down a gift?andquot;

That's what coach Pat Berkowitz and other athletic enthusiasts are saying about a proposed sports facility for the Brookings-Harbor School District property.

The athletic center that an anonymous donor pledged to build could give students a place to play. It also would offer community rescue workers a place to practice, and provide residents shelter from a storm. It's a gift the entire community could use, supporters say.

Sports supporters are waiting for school officials to give them the OK to turn the proposed gift into a reality. But officials say they first want to hear from the public before they give the okay to break ground on the sports facility.

andquot;We are waiting for the school board, in an action item, to say, 'Yes, we want you to do this,'andquot; said Rory Smith, a Brookings accountant who is part of a group pushing for construction of the sports facility.

The center, slated to be built on the Brookings-Harbor High School campus, would offer a home for student wrestlers who don't have a practice facility to call their own. But when the mats are rolled up and the wrestlers are not in practice, the open structure could offer other athletes and physical education students a place to practice and play.

andquot;Everybody's been short changed,andquot; said Brookings-Harbor High School coach and P.E. teacher Pat Berkowitz of student's access to the school's existing sports facilities.

Students have had to seek shelter under the enclosed area between classrooms at the elementary school when it rained, Berkowitz said. In addition, the small area hardly offers adequate practice space. Limited facilities also force teams to share scarce resources and practice in spaces that they would not compete in. A new sports facility would relive teams of having to stagger their practice times and get students home earlier in the evening.

andquot;There's a domino effect,andquot; he said. andquot;The kids get home so late. Getting them home early during the week is necessary.andquot;

Supporters of the plan say that the sports center could boost school revenues by doubling as a rented event facility. And in the event of a natural disaster, the building could also offer dormitory-style shelter space, freeing up the high school gym and cafeteria for offer emergency food and medical services. Police and firefighters could also use the sports center to practice drills.

andquot;It now becomes a resource the entire community could use.' said Ken Olsen, a Kalmiopsis teacher who has two sons who play sports.

School board members welcomed the plan when supporters first took the proposal to the board in February. But some members wanted more details about the plan. Backers of the athletic center met those requests at a March 21 special school board meeting, presenting blue prints and a rendering of how the sports facility would look. They called on the board to give a formal okay to begin building the project, but some board members still wanted more details and input from the public.

Board Chair Larry Anderson said that he would like more information about the cost of the facility, andquot;so that there would not be any surprises.andquot; He also urged the group pushing the proposal to include local engineers in the project.

andquot;I think that would provide credibility to the project,andquot; Anderson said.

Planners are still figuring a total estimated cost for the practice facility.

andquot;It is still a moving target,andquot; Smith said about the price of the project.

Backers of the sport center emphasized that the entire center would be paid for by an anonymous donor through the John G. Atkins Foundation.

andquot;This is something that comes up once in a blue moon,andquot; Olsen said.

Board members and school officials expressed gratitude for the donation but said that they did not want to take advantage of the donor's generosity.

andquot;I absolutely do not have any reservations. And to the donor, I really do appreciate the donation,andquot; said School Board member Ellen Wigner.

The group pushing to construct the sports center is adamant about not reaping the glory for their efforts. The visionaries behind the plan simply say that they had a dream and asked that their names not be credited for spearheading the project. The donor wishes to remain anonymous and supporters of the facility fiercely defend the benefactors' secret identity. They refuse to even reveal the gender of the person behind the generous donation. The collaborative effort that spans two years exudes zero ego.

andquot;The number-one purpose is to support the kids,andquot; Smith said.