It's hard to keep a secret. Just ask the handful of people,

including me, who received advance notice that Kalmiopsis Elementary

School had won $100,000 in U.S. Cellular's contest.

It was even harder for PTO fundraising chairwoman Cindy Schofield

who, along with Principal Helena Chirinian, was the first to receive

the news.

"I just cried when I found out," Cindy said. "I didn't think we'd get it."

That wasn't the case, she said, at the height of the PTO's efforts

to get people to vote in U.S. Cellular's national "Calling All

Communities" Internet contest.

"When we were out there, standing outside the stores, doing all we

could, begging people to vote, I was confident we'd win," she said.

"Once it was all over, I thought 'Nah, we don't have a chance.'"

More important than winning the $100,000 is the overwhelming sense of community support, she said.

"I'm so surprised, still, at how much the community cares about the schools," she said. "It's awesome."

PTO president Lori Botnen was proud of the organization's effort.

"It was truly a team effort," Lori said.

She recalled how Cindy brought the contest idea to the PTO board last year for consideration.

"It seemed like a long shot, but we voted to do it as our next fundraiser," Lori said. "It took on a life of its own and became this incredible community-wide project."

PTO members, joined by other volunteers, parents, teachers and students, campaigned throughout the community for two months beginning in November. They sent fliers home with students and set up tables at recent school concerts and various business locations to help boost the school's standing. A group even spent a Saturday in front of Walmart in Crescent City.

Local radio, TV and the Curry Coastal Pilot covered the campaign and kept the community up to date on the contest standings.

In January, a week before the contest ended, Kalmiopsis was listed in the number 13 position. It had to make the top 10 to win $100,000. Frantic e-mails and posting on Internet social networking sites were issued, encouraging people who hadn't voted yet to do so. Friends and relatives who live out of state received e-mails with the codes needed to cast votes on the company's Web site.

"We know that last year there was a mere 20 or so votes that separated the No. 10 spot from (the rest in) the top 20, so we are really going for it these last few days," Brookings parent and supporter Katherine Johnson wrote online on her Facebook page at the time.

The campaign to win the $100,000 had reached a fevered pitch. I couldn't go anywhere without running into someone asking, "Have you voted yet?"

The effort ended anti-climactically when the contest concluded Jan. 15 - the final results wouldn't be released for a month. Oh, the agony.

Then, last week, the phone call from U.S. Cellular came, along with the challenge to keep it secret until Wednesday's school assembly.

When the deafening cheer from the Kalmiopsis' students and staff went up, I knew it was only a matter of minutes before the news spread and the community-wide jubilation would begin.

I wasn't disappointed.

As for the community effort that made it all possible, Lori said, "To everyone we chased down in the parking lot and at the stores, asking them to vote, I want them to know that their votes made a difference."