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— For years, every time Fallbrook High School hosted a football game at Warriors Stadium, athletic director Pat Walker had to bring in a pair of hydraulic lifts to hoist each team’s offensive and defensive coordinators into the air for the bird’s-eye view they needed to call plays.

The old press box had been knocked down and then relegated to the school district’s recession-era wish list of projects that just didn’t have a place in the budget.

But thanks to a $50,000 grant from the NFL Foundation—plus a lot of elbow grease and fundraising from the community — the play callers and the sports writers will soon have somewhere new to sit.

“It’s definitely bigger,” Walker said of the new structure, which is almost finished even though the grant was just approved this week. “We’re going to have three large rooms, plus a deck on top. I’ve got a place now for my visiting teams, and of course my clock and announcers, as well as the media.”

The former press box was condemned seven years ago by the school’s facilities director, Walker explained: “There was a lot of work that needed to be done, and he thought, ‘You know what, let’s just basically knock it down so we’ll have the slab left, and rebuild.’

“We didn’t think it was going to take this long to get it done,” he added. “That’s why it’s been really difficult running football games for six years.”

On Wednesday, Walker looked toward the new structure and shook his head. It may have been embarrassing, at times, to ask visiting coaches to step onto the hydraulic lift, but mostly it was a logistical marathon.

“When you don’t have a press box, you’re scrambling to figure it out,” he said.

To compensate, the school built a deck where cameras could set up above the home-field bleachers. But it was never a long-term replacement for an enclosed, mid-field facility with a perfect view of the game.

At times, the lack of a press box was more than an inconvenience, recalled Tish Oppermann: “There were some opportunities that were missed because we didn’t have a press box — things like band competitions where that was a requirement.”

Oppermann was once president of the Warriors football booster club, having spent eight years connected to the football program through her three children.

When the NFL grant was discovered this spring, she set to work on the application with a former board member named Karen Dowling.

The two women had a week to finish the application before the deadline, and they submitted it on March 13, with a couple of days to spare, Oppermann recalled.

“I knew it was something the school would benefit from — not just the football program, but the whole school,” she told me.

Walker estimated the total cost of the project at approximately $100,000, and explained that local individuals and businesses have helped fill gaps in funding and timing.

Fallbrook Equipment Rentals, for example, provided the lifts for every home game without charge; Major Market owner Sam Logan in 2010 hosted a fundraising dinner that netted nearly $20,000; and local contractor John Ransbury has donated hundreds of hours to complete the work.

The grant was the missing piece, Walker explained.

Coordinated through the San Diego Chargers organization and in conjunction with a nonprofit called the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the $50,000 gift was accepted by resolution at a school board meeting on Sept. 23.

“Fallbrook High School is one of San Diego’s oldest schools. It has great sports programs and tradition, but also, due to its age, many, many needs,” Chargers CEO Alex Spanos was quoted as saying in a press release from the team. “We’re proud to help with the restoration of their press box and help them continue to realize the benefits of their football and sports programs.”

The school broke ground on the new press box in March and it is scheduled to be finished next month — too late for the two remaining home football games, but in time for the winter sports season.

Oppermann said volunteers are still needed for one last push to get the facility in shape for the winter sports season: At 8 a.m. Saturday, the school is hosting a work day with a barbecue lunch provided after the painting, cleaning and other manual labor is done.

When I stopped by Wednesday, the new press box was a lumber frame perched above a dormant field.

But come next autumn, when the varsity Warriors gear up for their first home game, their plays will come down from coaches watching over them from the new press box.

But more than anything, Oppermann said, “We are anticipating that it’s going to be a symbol of how our community works together.”

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