EDITOR’S NOTE: Presidio Sports will be unveiling its Sports Figures of the Month for the summer months during this first week of September. Stay tuned for articles on Bill Pintard (July) and Orlando Johnson (August) next week. Nominations for September can be made here.
It’s takes a community to raise a stadium – and San Marcos High School has done just that.
The school’s two-year Field of Champions project to raise $1M for a new synthetic turf and track is nearing completion thanks to a $500K financial ‘jolt’ from benefactors, John and Mardi Warkentin, whose three kids – Kara, Mark and Paul – were all stellar SMHS Royal athletes.
For their deep commitment to the local youth sports community, John and Mardi Warkentin have been named Presidio Sports’ Sports Figures of the Month for June 2011.
And it’s fitting, perhaps, that the seeds of their incredible generosity were planted on a night when the Royals were ‘honoring their own’ – including their Olympian son, Mark (swimming) who was following sister, Kara (tennis) into the SMHS Hall of Fame.
The 2011 Installation Dinner, held at the Greek Orthodox Church, was where and when the Warkentins first heard a passionate plea by Tim Vom Steeg, USCB Men’s Soccer Coach and Field of Champions Co-Chair, to raise money for this expansive project.
“I leaned over to Mardi and whispered that we should do something to help,” John said. “She agreed and we talked more about it when we got home.”
A short time later, John called Rich Ridgway, the other Field of Champions Co-Chair, as John knew Rich’s brother from their early 1970’s UCSB training days when both were coached by the legendary Sam Adams–John as a world-class decathlete at that time.
“I think Rich was a little surprised when I told him that we wanted to contribute half of the then-$800K project,” John said.
And here’s Abe Jahadhmy, SMHS Athletic Director reaction when he heard the news of the financial gift:
“I was floored! It was unreal!“
“And without a doubt, once finished, it will additionally have a huge reduction in player injuries compared to that old turf,” according to Dr. Mark Brisby, CEO and Medical Director of The Training Room.
After the Warkentins later toured that old turf, they noticed the track also needed repair — it wasn’t included in the original Field of Champions concept.
“Our kids used to do YTL (Youth Track Club) and we’ve spent a lot of time here,” Mardi said.
It prompted another discussion with Ridgway to determine how much a new track would add to the cost.
“We’ll give you an extra $100K and, hopefully, you can raise the remaining $50K to get the track done, as well,” John offered.
And when one hears John tell his very personal version of this story, you can’t help but get a sense that he is continuing something special first learned by about ‘giving by example’ from his beloved Coach Adams.
“Sam took everybody in. That is his legacy — he accepted all,” he said.
There are many wonderful memories the Warkentins (they met at a church group when both were 16) share freely as about their good fortune since moving to town in 1972 – though it wasn’t so easy at first.
They scraped by back in those early years as they could only afford to live in Isla Vista.
Mardi’s nursing career in public health paid the bills, while John worked hard on his training and retained his true amateur status.
They later found a way to capture the booming real estate market at ‘just the right time’ – after they bought their first duplex, many of their living expenses were covered by the rent in the second unit.
They worked hard, kept going and often spent many nights cleaning up their IV investment properties – John as the handyman and fixing the plumbing and Mardi doing the cleaning. Their young kids at the time would be moving around in their jumpers to keep busy while the parents did their many chores.
“It was 10 years of struggles,” Mardi said.
John later went back to school and got his Law degree and graduated in the first class of five from the Santa Barbara College of Law.
And, together, they built a very successful family-run property management business — one that now includes all three children.
The Warkentins are active in their church and their philanthropy focus, so far, has been helping family and supporting various missionary projects – such as with schools in the Philippines and India.
This SMHS gift propels this private and very humble couple into the local spotlight.
When asked how they feel about having a stadium soon bearing their name, John said, “It’s kind of a shock.”
“They’re the most athletic family we’ve ever had at San Marcos,” Jahadhmy said.
And likely the most generous.
It certainly makes the ‘Field of Champions’ all ring true …