Coach Natalie Zitting is down to just six basketballs at the El Capitan Public School in Colorado City, Ariz., and she doesn't know where she'll get the money to buy more.
But she's smiling the Eagles finally have a scoreboard.
"It's awesome!" Zitting said. "Any progress helps the kids, and helps them feel they're the same as any other school."
The scoreboard was donated last week by Chris Sonntag, whose company sells bleachers, scoreboards and playgrounds used in schools.
"They're nice, good people and I just felt like they deserved a break," he said.
A story in the Deseret Morning News in February highlighted the challenges the El Capitan Eagles have faced. At games, the kids from the polygamous border towns have endured taunts of "plyg kids" or "go home to your wives!" as well as threats of violence. Some schools wouldn't play them after hearing they were from Colorado City.
"When I read that, I thought: 'They deserve better,"' Sonntag said, explaining why he was donating the gently used scoreboard to the school.
Others have rallied around the Eagles. The nearby Kaibab Piute tribe donated $1,000 to help install the scoreboard.
"It will be wonderful to have something big and visible," said El Capitan principal Carol Timpson.
At games, a tiny portable scoreboard has had to suffice and fans who packed the tiny gym would often ask each other if they could remember the score.
"We could have never afforded it," Zitting said of the donated scoreboard. "It's hard just because we need a lot of things."
Off the court, the Colorado City Unified School District is in financial receivership the result of yearslong investigations into the embattled district and any ties it may have had with the Fundamentalist LDS Church. In 2000, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs had ordered members to pull their children out of public schools. The state of Arizona took over the school district in 2005, after teachers had gone months without pay and allegations of financial mismanagement had surfaced. Police raided district offices and seized computers, records and files. The school was put into financial receivership and most of its staff replaced.
Since then, the district has been paying off debts and slowly pulling itself out of receivership. With everything audited and re-audited and living under an extremely tight budget, money isn't readily available for athletics. Despite the odds, the teams have excelled, with winning seasons.
The El Capitan Eagles want to play in the Utah High School Activities Association's 1A division. To get there, they have to build a larger gym. Money isn't easy to come by, but the Eagles are pushing forward. Timpson said she wants to sell sponsorships on the scoreboard to help raise funds.
"We're down to six basketballs," said Zitting. "What are we going to do to get enough money to buy some basketballs or practice jerseys? It's something nobody else has to think of."
The Arizona Attorney General's Office confirmed it has closed its investigation into the Colorado City Unified School District. The investigation was lengthy, with grand jury subpoenas being served for financial records as far away as Salt Lake City.
"The result of the investigation that was initiated a couple of years ago is that a receivership was put in place to deal with issues of mismanagement with the Colorado City school district," said attorney general's spokeswoman Andrea Esquer. "No criminal charges are being brought against any (former) administrators."Mohave County government has agreed to hold donations earmarked for El Capitan's fledgling athletics program in a special fund. Donations marked "athletics" can be sent to: El Capitan Public School, P.O. Box 309, Colorado City, AZ 86021.
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