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Dream saved from death by 30-second plea

  • Story Highlights
  • High school hit hard by Katrina aims to build $2 million sports field with donations
  • Four years after storm, all 530 students attend classes in FEMA trailers
  • 23-year-old athletic director leads fundraising campaign -- much of which is online
  • Supporters: Facility will help students develop pride, discipline for successful life
By Thom Patterson
CNN
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(CNN) -- High school athletic director Brian Bordainick felt like he'd been shot when he learned the crushing news about his "9th Ward Field of Dreams" project.

The school cafeteria sits useless, four years after it was ruined by Hurricane Katrina.

Coach Shyrone Carey, left, and athletic director Brian Bordainick are rebuilding a once-dominant football team.

Architects who had agreed to help the Katrina battered Carver High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, win an NFL grant to build a $2 million stadium were pulling out -- the weekend before a Monday deadline.

The firm apologized, Bordainick said, but it would not be able to provide a design proposal for the facility, which was critical to winning the $200,000 grant.

"I've never been shot, but I imagine it felt something similar to that," said Bordainick, recalling that day in December 2008.

To make matters worse, swarms of news media were gathering at the school to interview the 23-year-old boy wonder -- the self-described "youngest high school athletic director in Louisiana" -- who was leading an effort to bring Carver's athletic program back from near death.

"I sucked it up, did the story ... and when they left, I picked up the phone book and started calling architects in the city." Video Watch update on New Orleans' schools after Katrina »

In an amazing moment of serendipity and opportunity, an entrepreneur friend of Bordainick's happened to be at a party and cornered a partner in one of the city's top architectural firms. The friend called Bordainick and -- before handing the architect the phone -- told Bordainick: "You've got 30 seconds to give your best elevator spiel you've ever given."

The architect was Steve Dumez, design director for Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, who agreed to help, despite Bordainick's preposterous plea. Watch Bordainick tell his story Video

"The one-day turnaround came as a bit of a shock," Dumez said. "What was crazy about it was trying to pull together an entire design proposal -- and that's just something that doesn't happen in 24 hours." Usually such design proposals require as long as a month to complete.

"How could you not get sucked into such an amazing story?" asked Dumez's partner, Mark Ripple, a 30-year veteran New Orleans architect. "There really isn't a good outlet in the area where kids can develop skills and self-esteem and all the things that come with a healthy recreation program."

The next day, the firm organized a small army of construction companies, civil engineers and architects who offered their support. "We got the satellite images and the renderings done in 8 hours," Bordainick said.

The proposal worked. In March the school learned it had won the NFL grant.

Nike also has backed the project -- donating $100,000 and joining thousands of individuals who have offered $1.5 million in pledges, cash and services so far.

All this during one of the nation's worst-ever economies. Bordainick credits much of the fundraising success to a network of e-mailers who started with a Web site created by a Web-developer-turned-Carver teacher.

He crafted an e-mail touting his "passion for building character through sports," and "creating something from nothing" while working with "people crazy enough to believe that they have the power to create change."

"I made it a goal to just e-mail a couple hundred people a day," he said. "I was teaching and calling people during my lunch break, and trying to get other people to make calls during their lunch break, and e-mailing people and doing all these things to get the word out about what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish."

The proposed stadium -- which would host football, track, soccer and lacrosse -- is just one facet of Carver's struggle to regain its former self four years after the ravages of Katrina. A perennial football powerhouse, the team re-formed after Bordainick arrived at Carter in 2007, his first year in the Teach for America program.

He touts athletics as "changing the dynamics of the school and having it not be someplace where the bus just drops you off in the morning."

But four years after the storm, Carver students on the 65-acre campus are still struggling to learn without the benefit of permanent classrooms.

All of Carver's 530 students -- down from more than 1,000 students before the storm -- still attend classes in FEMA trailers.

The actual building which used to be the school is now boarded up. The cafeteria is a hollowed-out shell. The school district has plans to rebuild Carver's classrooms and other facilities, but it's not clear when.

"If you kick a field goal on one side of our football field -- the ball goes into the gym, which was condemned after the storm," said Bordainick. "And, if you kick a field goal on the other side, it goes into a house which was knocked off its foundation from Katrina." The track team, he said, now practices on nearby city streets.

Last season, the Carver Rams failed to win a single game. But many fans, school officials and alumni are hoping the proposed stadium will increase pride and confidence for the revitalized team and student fans.

"If we give kids some constructive things to be involved in -- guide them and give them discipline, we can help them achieve their dreams," said Charles Webb, a project board member and 1965 Carver quarterback. "It'll bring back pride the way it used to be."

"With a sense of pride and teamwork, anything can happen," said Carver head football coach Shyrone Carey.

Carey -- a standout running back for Louisiana State University from 2001 to 2005 -- arguably couldn't have chosen a more challenging post as his first head coaching job than rebuilding Carver from the ground up.

"The overall motivation that comes from athletics is an overall lifelong lesson," said Carey, who's pushing his players hard in advance of a big game Saturday. "If you make the right decisions then positive things can come."

Backers of the 9th Ward Field of Dreams hope to break ground sometime next year and complete construction in time for the 2010 football season.

Supporters are trying to bolster support by offering the stadium for use as a free jogging track and a venue for middle school sporting events.

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"If we're able to lock sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in at a younger age, we'll be able to train and get them into mentors' hands so they're able lead a more successful life, ultimately," Bordainick said.

"This school -- and these children overcoming the odds stacked against them -- can be a real catalyst for rebirth in this city," Bordainick said. "I think it can be something that people can look to, and something that people can rally behind."

All About New OrleansHurricane KatrinaElementary and High School Education

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