The St. Mary's College Wind Ensemble, invited to play at a prestigious conference in Belgium, is on the verge of declining the offer because it hasn't been able to raise the $35,000 needed to get there.

The group is one of 10 wind ensembles worldwide that have been asked to participate in July in the conference of the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles in Belgium.

Robert Cameron, conductor of the 45-member ensemble, said the Southern Maryland school is one of two institutions in the country invited to participate in the week-long conference, which is held every two years. Also invited is California State University at Fresno.

The groups were selected after submitting audition tapes.

"It's the highest honor we've ever received," Cameron said. "It's a tremendous achievement. If we're not able to participate in something this prestigious it will be a shame."

The ensemble received the invitation more than a year ago, and since then students have raised some money through concerts and donations toward room and board at the conference.

But school officials estimate $35,000 is needed for air fare and other expenses. "We'd have to give 200 pops concerts or sell about 80,000 brownies to raise that kind of money," said Mackay Rippey, 21, a junior who plays French horn in the ensemble.

Chris Cihlar, director of public affairs at the college, said the school administration normally relies on a group called the St. Mary's Foundation for most of its fund raising.

But when the ensemble got the invitation, the foundation was busy working to fund several large projects, including construction of a new library wing, obtaining furniture for a new dormitory and for a scholarship fund, and couldn't take on the ensemble's project, Cihlar said.

Members of the administration staff have unsuccessfully contacted corporations, members of Congress and airlines asking for donations of cash or seats on a chartered plane. Staff members also have contacted the military hoping to exchange a plane ride to Belgium for performances at military bases.

Time is running out, Cameron said, and he must reply to the invitation.

Cameron said the group received an invitation last year to perform at the International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, but turned it down in hopes of concentrating efforts on attending the Belgium conference.