Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
El Capitan girls basketball coach Natalie Zitting, center, talks to player Leslie Williams and her dad. If fundraising goes well, the school may get a new gym, allowing them to play bigger schools in Utah.

The El Capitan Eagles hope a new gym will erase the negative stigma associated with their hometown — and allow them to compete as equals against other schools.

The public K-12 school on the border of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., is raising money for a new gym so boys and girls basketball teams can compete with other schools in Utah.

"I want this to be a place that every student is proud of and happy to be here," El Capitan principal Carol Timpson said Friday.

The Eagles have faced not only prejudice on and off the court, but also financial pressures. At games, kids from the polygamous border towns have endured taunts and threats of violence. Some schools declined to play them after learning they were from Colorado City.

Yet they have persevered to winning seasons, playing in a gym too small to host bigger schools in the Utah High School Activities Association, an organization that El Capitan wants to belong to in order to play in the 1A division.

"It's night and day the school spirit since we've been promoting sports," said Timpson.

The Colorado City Unified School District is in financial receivership — under the control of the state of Arizona — after allegations of financial mismanagement linked to the multi-state crackdown on the Fundamentalist LDS Church and its leader, Warren Jeffs.

Because of the school's receivership status, it makes fundraising difficult. The school is asking for donations to continue the basketball program.

"I want to challenge people from around the surrounding communities to say, 'We aren't prejudiced. We'll donate to you guys,"' girls basketball coach Natalie Zitting told the Deseret Morning News earlier this month. "Wouldn't it be incredible to get a gym? It's not support for Warren Jeffs, it's support for the kids."

After a Deseret Morning News story on Feb. 17, dozens of people posted comments on praising the teams for their hard work and pledging money for a gym.

"We continue to hope that a successful donations program can be established to enable these worthy students to enjoy the sports programs so essential to a rounded education," said Leonard Kirkpatrick of Tarpon Springs, Fla., who has pledged money.

To ensure that the school's receivership status doesn't halt any donations, Mohave County government has agreed to hold any donations earmarked for the athletics program in a special fund, Timpson said. Already the school's finances are audited on several levels as it works to emerge from receivership.

"If they write a check to us and in the memo they say it's for athletics, then it has to be used for that," she said.

Donations marked "athletics" can be sent to: El Capitan Public School, P.O. Box 309, Colorado City, AZ 86021.

E-mail: [email protected]