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Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution

April 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Soccer is still no where near as popular in America as football, basketball and baseball but it’s undeniably growing year by year in having a hold on people’s interest and imagination. The emergence of soccer as a prime sport at Omaha South High School gives insight into the demographics at work that will likely one day see the sport challenge the big three team sports and perhaps even overtake them, not just in Omaha or greater Neb., but around the nation. South High is a microcosm for how South Omaha has changed from its largely Eastern European population base from the late 19th century through the 1970s to a largely Hispanic, African and Asian base in recent years. Then and now many of the immigrant and refugee families drawn there have found work in the meatpacking industry, and thus the school’s nickname, Packers. This demographic transformation has had many effects, including a student population that is increasingly soccer-centric. Boys soccer head coach Joe Maass has been there since 2000, when the change was near full flower. Since then he’s taken a moribound program that couldn’t win and nobody wanted to coach and turned it into a budding dynasty. He’s done it with players of Mexican and Latin American heritage and more recently of African heritage who have played soccer practically from the time they could walk and run. These experienced, skilled and passionate players, wave after wave and class after class of them, have made South a perennial contender for metro, district and state titles. Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for a a high school soccer game to outdraw a football or basektball game, but that’s often what South high soccer manages to do. When the program first emerged as a force to be reckoned with a few years ago and the team made it to their first state finals, record crowds turned out and most of the fans were rooting for South. The majority of fans were Hispanic. It was a hugh love fest for the team, the school and the South Omaha community. Maass is the mastermind who’s embraced this flood of talent and passion and let it flourish. My El Perico story about Maass and the evolution of South High Soccer was published just as this year’s team has found itself and climbed to No. 1 in the rankings. With the way the Packers are playing, they will be the odds-on favorite to win their second state title in three years.
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Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico
Omaha South High soccer coach Joe Maass enjoys being part of a transformation that’s seen his soccer program blossom from awful to brilliant and his school rise from woebegone to thriving.

He was 26 when he got the job in 2000. That’s unusually young for a big school head coach but it wasn’t like candidates were busting down the doors. Slowly but surely though Maass turned that no-win situation around. He now has South soccer a perennial contender and a point of pride for the school and community it represents.

South has built a near dynasty on the strength of mostly Latino players who’ve become the new face of the more than century-old school. Michael Jaime became the first Gatorade Nebraska Boys Soccer Player of the Year (2013-2014) from South, one of several all-state players with Spanish surnames the school’s produced. In 2010 Manny Lira was the captain of the all-state team. Those players and several others went on to earn college scholarships.

For the ninth consecutive season South’s regarded as a major threat. The No. 1-ranked Packers opened the season with 10 straight wins. Since their first and only defeat of the year, 1-0 to Papiliion LaVista-South on April 13 in the Metro Conference championship game, they’ve beaten traditional rivals Omaha Westside and Omaha Creighton Prep, and on April 20 they avenged their lone loss to Papio LaVista-South. They’ve come together as a team despite injury and suspension.

Maass says the prospects for his 2015 team are promising.

“As a unit we’re really good. I have a lot of pretty good players but there’s not like one or two players miles ahead of everybody else in the state, so this is definitely going to be a team year where a lot of different kids contribute. I think making state would be a fair goal and then maybe when we get there…”

Anything can happen. Only a few years after being a losing team, South made its first state final in 2010, the game infamous for the “green card” incident when opposing fans threw mock green cards on the field to insinuate South players were illegal immigrants. It was the most public in a long line of racial insults directed at South.

Maass says he was proud of “the way his team handled it,” adding, “The kids didn’t retaliate – they stood up for the team and school and for what was right and wrong.”

South then put together arguably the greatest season ever by a Neb. Class A boys soccer team in 2013, going 23-0 en route to the state title, setting many records in the process. Elite Soccer Report named South the top team among states where soccer’s a spring sport.

“We won the whole thing and we did it the right way,” Maass says.

Joseph Maass's photo.

None of it seemed possible 16 years ago.

“Everything that’s been accomplished I would never have imagined. I have a huge sense of pride in that and in knowing that if I stopped coaching tomorrow South High soccer’s still going to be pretty good because we’ve built a strong program.”

Not bad considering what Maass started with.

“The guy who was the head coach before me saw I had some energy and passion, so he stepped down and recommended me to replace him. The truth is nobody else applied, so they just gave it to me because essentially nobody wanted that job. There was nothing desirable about it. It was not very forgiving.

“The program was pretty bad back then. The school really didn’t fund the program. The uniforms were really old. The sport of soccer didn’t get much attention or respect, especially down here.”

Besides low interest and expectations – South won eight games his first four years – it was hard getting kids to play and fans to follow.

“I had somewhere around 11 or 12 players. The first practice there were 15 kids on the field and four of them were off the streets, they weren’t even students. I only had one senior. The next year it was maybe 13 to 15 players. Then 18. Each year it just grew a little bit.”

He scoured South O parks and fields for promising talent and before long gifted players, even some elite club players, filled his rosters.

The facilities were subpar until Collin Stadium opened in 2009, giving the by-then vastly improved program a distinct home advantage with its full-sized soccer field.

The one constant, Maass says, is that “the kids were great kids.” “But,”
he adds, “I don’t think anybody saw South going from being the worst team in the state to what it is now. We’re pretty much a projected top 10 team every year and that’s where we want to be – a top 10 team that everybody has to kind of somewhat fear.”

These days the program gets 100-plus students trying out and carries 80 to 90 players across its varsity, junior varsity and freshman squads. Grads are getting scholarships to play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Bellevue University and other schools. Several are coaching for South, including Leo Enriquez and Cesar Lira, and several others are coaching for club teams or competing schools.

Where South soccer used to be an after-thought, it’s now a conversation starter. Cara Riggs was South’s principal when Maass engineered the turnaround. More than all the wins, she appreciated the way Maass cared.

“Joe sometimes comes off as tough, maybe even gruff. Underneath that exterior is a very soft-hearted, compassionate man who cares very deeply about the kids he works with. He has high expectations of your hard work and he’s willing to go above and beyond for you and your success. His loyalty to South High, its students and South Omaha is as strong as a Mack truck.”

Tobias Maertzke, a German exchange student who played at South a few years ago, lived with Maass and his wife while going to school there. “He’s like a family member almost,” Maass says.

Maass acknowledges he’s softened and matured since becoming a father. He and his wife have two children.

“I’ve mellowed quite a bit. I’m still fiery but not overly fiery like I used to be. The first couple years i was probably a little bit rough actually. I had a great understanding for the game but maybe not an understanding for all the kids, whereas now I feel I understand the kids, the game, how the referees work. I feel the refs respect me, so they’re not as quick to give me a yellow card if I step out of line.”

Riggs says South soccer made a positive impact far beyond the field.

“The success of Joe’s soccer program has been a definite booster for school pride and community respect. The success helped put South back on the map and recognized again in the Omaha community.”

Joseph Maass's photo.

Maass, whose roots are in that neighborhood, says, “The sense of community that came back to South Omaha is just amazing to me.”

Having built South to be an elite program and kept it there, Maass is not sure which feat is more difficult.

“It was really hard to get there but it’s hard to stay on top though because more kids are playing the sport now and other schools are starting to mirror the things we’ve done.”

Of all the achievements South’s attained, including district and metro crowns and records for most goals scored and most shutouts recorded in a single season, the 2013 state title stands out.

“Winning a championship at South after they hadn’t won one in years was big. It felt great to feel our program was on top of the world.”

Championships and records are nice, he says, “but at the end of the day” it’s the relationships he forges with “the kids” and following their life pursuits that matter most to him.

“I see them out in the community. It’s interesting to see where they end up. I hope in some way I’ve impacted these kids. That by far outweighs everything else.”

Just like the team’s Twitter page tag line reads, “We are a family, friends and a team with one big heart.. Packers.”

Omaha South Soccer

For Omaha Film Festival guru Marc Longbrake, cinema is no passing fancy

April 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Those of us who make our living in full or in part as film artists, exhibitors, historians, or journalists all come to our love of cinema differently.  It’s a very personal thing.  Marc Longbrake, one of the founders and directors of the Omaha Film Festival and a veteran crew member on Nebraska-made indie films, followed his own path in losing it at the movies.  Read my Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/) piece about him and his film love affair.
Marc Longbrake Web

Marc Longbrake

No Passing Film Fancy

April 22, 2015
©Photography by BIll Sitzmann
Originally published in Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

Techie Marc Longbrake was in college when he lost it at the movies. Intrigued with doing something in cinema, he managed computer-aided drafting designers for his 9-to-5 but crewed on local independent film projects for his moonlighting fix.

Fast forward to today, when he’s a veteran lighting technician on area shoots, including a feature recently accepted into Sundance, Take Me to the River. Longbrake is also a co-founder of the Omaha Film Festival (OFF).

The March 10-15 festival at Marcus Village Pointe Cinema celebrates it 10th season this year. Longbrake and fellow movie enthusiasts Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering distinguish their event from other fests here with an ambitious, multi-day slate of features, documentaries and shorts, a conference of film industry panelists, and meet-and-greet parties.

The event receives 600-plus entries from multiple states and nations. A screenplay reading series complements the script competition. A team of judges spends months viewing films and reading scripts to determine which submissions make the final cut.

“It’s a pretty intense process,” Longbrake says. Getting all the moving parts in sync is a feat. He and his partners divvy up duties. Longbrake oversees the technical side.

“I deal a lot with the projection. We take great pride and care in the way we project the films we show. That’s a huge part of it.”

He also makes sure the fest connects to the local film community via social media.

This labor of love is fueled by shared passion. “It’s not been easy, it’s not been without sacrifice,” says Longbrake, a still-video photographer and lighting grip. “The fact we’ve stayed together all this time and managed to get along and to remain on the same page—I mean we’re all very different people with very different opinions—has made for a good marriage that helps us put a good product in front of our attendees.”

Longbrake and Co. displayed vision and courage launching OFF when they did as it preceded Omaha’s much-embraced art cinema, Film Streams. They saw an indie void and filled it with the help of sponsors.

He says despite the fact “we’re all broke from this, at the end of the day we know it’s a good cultural thing for the city to have,” adding, “We’ve got enough of a fan base that if we were not to do it there’d be some disappointment. I don’t know who would pick up the ball and run with it, so we feel sort of an obligation to keep it going.”

Besides, he says “it’s pretty cool to be a part of Omaha’s cultural renaissance the last 10 years.”

Occasionally, OFF features break big, giving Omaha audiences sneak peaks of awards contenders. Then there’s moments like the one a few years ago when Longbrake introduced filmmakers Logan and Noah Miller to their idol, screenwriting guru Lew Hunter, at an OFF screening of the brothers’ debut feature, Touching Home. The twins had read Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 to learn how to write a script.

“It was a great moment for the brothers and Lew to meet and it was a great moment for me to be able to put them together.”

He enjoys it, too, when Nebraska film artists such as Yolonda Ross, Mauro Fiore (see related story on page 117), Mike Hill, Dana Altman, and Nik Fackler make OFF appearances to share their passion with audiences.

Now they’re pushing for Alexander Payne to be a future guest.

Marc Longbrake Web

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend; Going to Africa with The Champ; B & B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

April 21, 2015 2 comments

Omaha conquering hero Terence Crawford adds second boxing title to his legend

Going to Africa with The Champ

B&B Boxing Academy builds champions inside and outside the ring

©by Leo Adam Biga

All hail Terence Crawford of Omaha for claiming his second world boxing title with his 6th round technical knockout of Thomas Dulorme on April 18 in Arlington, Texas.

Crawford vaulted to world prominence with his three signature wins last year in the WBO lightweight diviion, beginning with his unaminous decision over then-lightweight champion Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland and followed by Crawford twice successfully defending his title in his hometown before huge crowds at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Those three wins earned him consensus boxer of the year recognition, including the coveted Fighter of the Year nod from the Boxing Writers Association of America. It was long anticipated that his dominance of the rather weak lightweight division would see Crawford move up a weight division or two in time. With the junior welterwight title vacant, it only made sense he would test himself there, though doing it this soon after reaching the top may have been a bit of a surprise. Then again, Crawford, who had trouble making the lightweight limit, has the frame that allows him to naturally carry the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds with ease and with his performance against Dulorme it’s obvious he can carry his power up to that weight class, and probably well beyond it, too. It’s a good bet that within a few years he’ll move up another weight class or two, certainly to welterweight and perhaps all the way up to middleweight. When all is said and done he stands a good chance of fighting for and perhaps winning another world title or two or three. Should he do that, perhaps adding another Fighter of the Year award for good measure, on top of what’s already, he will be mentioned with maybe a dozen or so all-time boxing legends. That’s where he’s come to already at age 27.

No single Nebraska-born athlete has dominated his sport in this way or to this extent since Bob Gibson went on his 10-year pitching tear for the St. Louis Cardinals from the early 1960s through the early 1970s. Gibson led the Cardinals to two World Series titles and very nearly to a third. His combined Series numbers of 7 wins and 2 losses and 1.89 ERA give you an idea of how brilliant he was in the post-season. He was twice the Series MVP. His regular season numbers and awards were equally impressive. He posted a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts in 1968, when he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP. He won a second Cy Young another year. His dominance contributed to Major League Baseball lowering the mound. Terence Crawford’s string of four wins in a year-and-half over world-class fighters, two of those wins earning him world titles, and each victory more impressive than the last, is just about equal to where Gibson was at his peak in his sport. Just as Gibson was acclaimed by many to be the best pitcher, not to mention the best athlete, player and competitor in baseball, Crawford is nearing that kind of accilmation as the best fighter in the ring today. Once Floyd Mayweather retires, Crawford may be the guy everyone talks about in that vein. Just as Gibson still had a few good years left after 1968, Crawford has at least another three to five prime years left. Anything after that will be gravy.

As Crawford’s career blossoms, it’s rapidly becoming obvious that Bob Arum, the man behind Top Rank, the fight organization the fighter is contracturally signed to, is not alone in procaliming this warrior as the next big thing in boxing. When he looks at Crawford’s considerable talent and prodigious work ethic Arum sees a dependable and bankable star that he and Top Rank and HBO can ride for a decade or more, barring injury or other things that could interrupt this meal ticket. Having covered Crawford the last year or two, I see what Arum and others see in him – a dedicated, mature young man with a good heart who is also well-grounded about who he is and what’s he’s doing and how he wants to help his family, his friends and his community. Like all great fighters and athletes regardless of the sport, he views what he does in the ring as a job, and he views all the work that goes into preparing him for his fights as part of the job. It happens to be a profession that he’s passionate about and respects and thus he never cuts corners. That attitude and practice will keep him sharp and help him avoid the pitfalls many top-flight boxers suffer once mega fame and fortune come their way.

On this same blog you can find my various stories about Terence, who also goes by Bud. I have links to those stories below. I recently did some new writing about him for a project drawing attention to his B&B Boxing Academy in North Omaha and I’m sharing that here for the first time. Bud and comanager Brian McIntyre are founding partners of the academy and they have a beautiful dream to make it a full-fledged resource center for underserved youth. What follows is a kind of prospectus for what the gym is about and who it serves.

To learn more about Bud and his boxing journey, here are inks to my stories about him:

http://leoadambiga.com/2015/01/08/sparring-for-omaha-boxer-terence-crawford-defends-his-title-in-the-city-he-calls-home/

http://leoadambiga.com/2014/06/25/bud-rising-bud-crawfords-tight-family-has-his-back-as-he-defends-title-in-his-own-backyard/

http://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/25/terence-bud-crawford-in-the-fight-of-his-life-for-lightweight-title-top-contender-from-omahas-mean-streets-looks-to-make-history/

http://leoadambiga.com/2013/07/30/in-his-corner-midge-minor-is-trainer-friend-and-father-figure-to-pro-boxing-contender-terence-bud-crawford/

Look for more from me about Bud and his ever expanding story as I preview the trip to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa that he and BoMac will be making.

I am going on this adventure as the 2015 recipient of The Andy Award, a grant for international reporting presented by UNO’s International Studies and Programs to a news entity, reporting team or individual journalist whose reporting raises the global awareness of Nebraskans.

Terence

Going to Africa with The Champ                                                                                                                              Every year Nebraskans make humanitarian mission trips to Africa, often through medical, educational or religious institutions and other non-governmental organizations.

In June a small group of Nebraskans will travel to Rwanda and Uganda, Africa with the goal of raising awareness about challenges facing people there and ongoing efforts to find solutions. Headlining the trip will be two-time world boxing champion Terence Crawford from Omaha and Pipeline Worldwide co-founder Jamie Nollette, who was the fighter’s fourth grade teacher at Skinner Magnet School in North Omaha. Nollette’s nonprofit works with partners doing sustainable water and agricultural projects in Rwanda and Uganda that aim to improve living standards and encourage self-sufficient practices.

Last August Crawford traveled there with Nollette. What he witnessed profoundly impacted him. He saw a scale of human need he’d never experienced before. He saw people trying to move on from a traumatic past. If progress can be made there, he thought, then perhaps problems facing his northeast Omaha community, where his B & B Boxing Academy serves at-risk youth, can be surmounted.

Joining the fighter this time will be Crawford’s co-manager and B & B partner Brian McIntyre and myself. I’ve closely followed Crawford’s rise to boxing stardom in a number of articles I’ve written.

The reporting I do in Africa will be featured in a future Omaha Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com) issue as part of its long-running Journeys series. I will also write about the experience for The Reader (http://www.thereader.com) and the Omaha Star (http://theomahastar.com) and possibly other publications.

On our journey we will glimpse various aspects of Rwandan and Ugandan life that reflect on these nations’ troubled recent history. Tribal-sectional tensions and harsh government policies have led to coups, revolutions, civil wars, reprisals and atrocities. In Rwanda, feuding ultimately resulted in a genocide whose repercussions are still felt today as reconciliation efforts continue. In Uganda, a succession of dictators and instability has given way to the iron clad rule of president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, whose reign has been marred by human rights violations and the invasion of Congo.

Picking up the pieces is not the only narrative with currency in Rwanda and Uganda. But recovery is a primary theme there. So is the need for these poor, developing nations to build infrastructure, stimulate work, maximize resources and achieve enduring, empowering solutions to fresh water and arable land shortages, among other problems.

My chronicles for various Omaha publications will cover my and my travel companions experiences with:

•meeting perpetrators and survivors of genocide
•visiting a genocide memorial and the Hotel Rwanda
•visiting projects building fresh water wells and growing food
•meeting aid workers

We will meet meet people who have been internationally recognized for their humanitarian work, including the famous Sister Rosemary.

We will go on a safari, do gorilla trekking and see all manner of natural wonders.

We will also attend an African boxing convention where we will meet athletes and coaches from across the continent.

The trip is just one way Heartland residents engage with Africa and other developing regions. Opportunities to serve and learn about places in need are as far away as Africa and as near as North Omaha. Everyone who goes on these journeys comes away changed, their world vision broadened, their humanity deepened. My reporting will cover this transformation and lessons learned, too.

Look for more on this in the weeks to come.

Terence

Here’s a look at the B&B Boxing Academy that is so close to Crawford’s heart.

Terence

The B&B Boxing Academy 

The Mission
B & B Boxing Academy is a community-based athletic center that builds body, mind and character. Expert, caring coaches help members reach goals inside and outside the ring. Positive, structured activities teach confidence, discipline and healthy habits for a lifetime. Learn the winning edge at B & B, the home gym of two-time world champion Terence “Bud” Crawford.

Boxing Brothers
Boxing brothers Terence “Bud” Crawford and Brian “BoMac” McIntyre have shared the same dream for years. Coming up through North Omaha’s hard knock streets, they were determined to make it in the sport they love in order to give back to their community.

After a solid amateur ring career BoMac turned pro but found his real calling as coach and manager. His prize pupil, Bud, fulfilled the early promise he showed as a youngster. Under the tutelage of BoMac and Midge Minor, Bud became one of America’s best amateur fighters and now has carried his hard work and talent all the way to a world professional championship.

Omaha has entered the spotlight of the sport after his two rousing WBO lightweight title defenses in front of packed CenturyLink Center crowds and loads of HBO viewers. Those victories, combined with his winning the title at the start of 2014 in Scotland, earned him Fighter of the Year recognition. He recently added to his lustre by winning the WBO light welterweight title with a TKO over Thomas Dulhorme on April 19 in Arlington, Texas.

But reaching the top was never the end of Bud and BoMac’s quest. Their vision has always included a gym serving youth located in the very neighborhood they grew up and got their own boxing start in.

The pair’s B & B Boxing Academy, opened in October, 2013, is a nonprofit dedicated to building the body, mind and character of young people, including at-risk youth in need of positive, structured activities. Team Crawford has expended blood, sweat and tears turning the former garage and storage space into a working gym that gets lots of use. Since the doors first opened it has been a magnet for young people. Some are there for competitive boxing, others just to get fit. Many kids who come reside in the neighborhood. They walk or ride their bikes there. Gang violence is a real threat on what can be mean streets. It reminds Bud and BoMac of when they were young and flocked to the neighborhood CW Boxing Club. It was their refuge from the lures and dangers of those same inner city streets. They want the Academy to serve the same sanctuary role for today’s youth.

“It’s not just all about boxing,” Bud says. “We’re trying to teach the kids how to be young women and young men. We’re teaching them to have respect and dignity. We’re teaching life skills. You’ve got to be able to control yourself in the ring as well as outside the ring and boxing is a great way for kids to learn discipline.”

Team Crawford’s coaches and trainers are mentors who care. They teach lessons for life. Having a caring adult to provide direction means the world to young people who may not have that support at home or even if they do still need another guiding hand.

“If they feel like nobody cares than they’re not gong to care, but if they feel one person cares than they tend to listen to that person,” says Bud, who had parents, teachers and coaches steer him straight.

Bud knows from personal experience the difference a gym can make for a young person working out anger issues.

“It’s a good place to come and get away, release some stress, release some steam if you’re having problems at home or school and you just need to let it out. What better way to let it out than on a bag, rather than going somewhere else and letting it out the wrong way. I look at it as an outlet for the kids that are just hardcore and mad at the world because of their circumstances. They come to this gym and they feel loved and they feel a part of something. For some kids, feeling a part of something changes them around.”

Kids who compete under the B & B banner train as a team, vying for titles and trophies against fighters from other gyms. But you do not have to fight to be a B & B member. Every member receives instruction and mentoring from top-flight coaches and trainers with decades of experience. Every member is exposed to winners and champions.

BoMac says the Academy, located at 3034 Sprague Street, offers “the remedy” for young people at-risk of falling prey to negative behaviors. All that he and his fellow coaches need is to get youth through the door and then, he says, they can “shape and mold” them to develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

As B & B expands it will offer tutoring and academic support programs through community and corporate partnerships. A commercial kitchen serving fresh, hot meals for members of the gym and the community is envisioned. The renovated-expanded gym will add showers, a dedicated fitness-weight training room, meeting spaces, a second ring, more punching bags and new workout equipment.

Even as Bud’s career grows ever larger, he pledges to make B & B an ongoing part of his unfolding legacy.

“This is my community, B & B is my gym, so I am in it for the long haul. I’m not in it for the fame or anything like that. I could be anywhere but my heart is with Omaha. We just want to help as many kids as we can. Everything is for the kids.”

His fondest wish is that some young people training at B & B now or in the future will one day take over the Academy. Then they, too, will pay forward what they received to help a new generation of young people. Each one, to teach one…

Terence
Terence

The Fighters
The young people coming to the B & B Boxing Academy all have different reasons for being there but all share in common a desire to improve themselves with the help of coaches who care.

Haley Roberts
Small for her age, 14-year-old high school freshman Haley Roberts struggled with self-esteem issues until working out at the gym.

“I was self-conscious about how small I was and everything. I felt different from everyone else because everyone had a sport they were good in but i was never good at sports. Then when I found boxing I realized I had more strength and power than I thought, and I put it to good use,” she says.

“I enjoy coming. I just enjoy the sport. It helps my confidence, it helps me feel better about myself all around.”

She likes the communal approach used at the gym.

“I enjoy the different people who train me. Certain days we’ll work on certain things, like our footwork or straight punches. We just work on different things as a group. It’s really a team environment.”

Having a world champion on hand in the person of Terence “Bud” Crawford is an extra benefit of training there.

“When Terence is in town to train everyone comes in and wants to train with him. It’s really cool seeing the Crawford entourage coming in.
It’s amazing actually just watching his fights and realizing, ‘Oh, I train with him.’ It’s really cool, too, that he kind of helps everyone (with pointers).”

With Bud and Co. behind her, Haley is excited about her potential in and out of the ring. She looks forward to traveling to tournaments next summer to prove herself in competition.

“I’d like to show everyone that girls can do what guys can do. I’d like to go as far as I possibly can in the sport.”

Away from boxing, her new-found confidence has her intent on studying forensic science in college. Her goal is to become a crime scene investigator.

Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo
Siblings Alan and Ary Panduro Angulo hail from a boxing family. Their uncle Alfredo Angula is a highly regarded Mexican prizefighter who once held the WBO light middleweight title. The boys, ages 10 and 13, respectively, were trained by their father at home before they tried out some gyms. After meeting Bud they fell in with him and his B & B Boxing Academy and they have not looked anywhere else since.

Training there Alan’s learned the value of putting his all into the sport.

“It’s like really hard work – hitting the pads, hitting the bag, doing pushups, doing jumping jacks, it’s just a lot of hard work. It pays off in fights, you know,” says Alan, who was among the first fighters to compete for B & B.

The brothers say the work ethic that boxing demands carries over to their schoolwork and chores.

Alan says it doesn’t hurt either being surrounded by champions who exemplify what it takes to be successful. “It gives me motivation,” he says. Getting advice from a world champion, he adds is, “really awesome.”

Ary also appreciates having Bud in his corner. “He’s very gracious. He motivates everyone in the gym. Whenever I’m tired and I sit down he’s like. ‘Go hit the bag and exercise more.’ He’s like always there. He’s great, he’s really a nice guy to be around. He’s very cool and funny. I like him a lot.”

He says the coaches look out for him and his brother: “They’ve always got our back.”

Ary. who’s battled obesity, appreciates the health benefits he sees from getting in good shape and staying fit. “It’s helped me lose weight and it’s gotten me in good condition.” That’s given him a better self-image.

At other gyms the brothers were sometimes the only kids present. At B & B they often work side by side with kids their own age trying to get in shape and learning the ropes of the Sweet Science just like them.

Alan says, “You’re not like the only kid around here, you’re surrounded by kids that want to do this sport. too.”

The brothers have become good friends with Haley Roberts.

While Alan has been fighting in competitions and winning trophies for the gym, Ary has yet to enter a tournament, but he feels boxing has already given him much.

“A lot of kids go through bullying at school and I think it’s good for those kids to go in the sport because it gives you confidence. I know because I was bullied when I was smaller. If kids want to mess with you, you know how to defend yourself.”

The confidence that comes with being able to handle oneself is important to Alan, too.

Both brothers also enjoy traveling to different cities and states for tournaments for the education and experience it gives them.

Treven Coleman-Avant
Promising amateur lightweight Treven Coleman-Avant, 24, an Omaha Burke High School graduate, wants to be the next champion produced by the gym. In addition to Bud, there is top U.S. ranked amateur light heavyweight and Olympic prospect Steven Nelson. Treven, who trains with both in Omaha and in Colorado Springs, has shown well at regional and national competitions and so he sees no reason why he cannot follow their footsteps.

He uses their dedication to the craft and what they accomplish inside the ring as inspiration and benchmark for himself.

“It all comes with work ethic – hard work and heart. I feed off those guys’ energy and I add it onto mine. Omaha isn’t done producing champions, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Just like his role models, he wants to be a champion outside the ring, too. He senses the same is true for all the people who train there.

“There’s been a flood of new people coming in wanting to get their life changed and that’s the goal of the gym being down in this environment – to pull people off the streets and change their lives.”

Treven says the mentoring he’s received there inspires him to mentor others by “giving advice, showing the right steps to take that you didn’t take.” At B & B, he says, “you learn great leadership,” adding. “It’s built me up as a person. Boxing takes a lot of discipline and dedication and I take that attitude to the other things I do in life – to my work, to being a father. You’ve got to give it your all or you’ll come up short.”

Treven, who has been around boxing his whole life, has developed a special bond with Bud that’s made him a member of Team Crawford.

“To be part of his team and to see where he’s come from to now is a tremendous thing. He’s been like a brother to me.”

In the spirit of giving back to the community, Treven conducts fitness classes at the gym most weeknights and weekends to help young men and women sharpen their minds and bodies.

The Dream
“We’re busting at the seams.”

That assessment from B & B Boxing Academy co-founder Brian “BoMac” McIntyre sums up why the popular North Omaha gym must grow in order to meet the surging demand for its services.

Located at 3034 Sprague Street in a former garage and storage facility, B & B is home to WBO world lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford, who trains there under BoMac. Together, they opened the gym to provide their underserved community a safe, clean environment to box and get fit in.

With the Academy attracting more participants, the gym has reached physical capacity. On warm summer nights the place over-brims with youth and young adults going through their paces – running, working the bags, shadow boxing, sparring. To accommodate the overflow, the doors and fences are opened and the parking lot emptied of vehicles to create a makeshift outdoor training site. If the numbers keep growing as expected members will need to train in shifts.

A much larger connected space, three times the size of the existing one, is available. The vision is to acquire that warehouse and convert it into a spacious, state-of-the-art gym and to repurpose the current space into new uses that provide academic and community support.

B & B Boxing Academy is a nonprofit, community-based athletic center developing young people to reach their potential. The youth and young adults who train there share the same aspirations and dreams of wishing to improve themselves and realizing their potential.

BoMac, Bud and their Team Crawford family of coaches are dedicated to touching as many lives as possible. B & B is their vehicle for producing winners in the ring and in life.

 

Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled


So, everyone has a story, and that’s certainly true of two Omaha native music talents, one now passed, Julie Wilson, and the other, Dominque Morgan, whose future seems bright after some dark days.  Julie Wilson performed on and off Broadway, in movies and television, but she made her greatest mark as a cabaret singer in New York City.  Life wasn’t always roses for her, though.  A marriage to a famous theater figure didn’t work out.  Her folks back here got ill and stopped her career to care for them.  Her two sons went through some wild times, including right here in Omaha.  One of her boys died young after years of drug abuse.  In more recent times Wilson suffered health problems that affected her voice.  But she was one tough broad who wouldn’t give up.  She was only human though and after fighting the good fight she died the other day at age 90.  I only interviewed her once and she was a hoot.  I also interviewed her actor son Holy McCallany, who spoke lovingly about his mother. The subject of this story though is a musical artist of a very different kind, Dominque Morgan, who is only his 30s and has a modest career as a R&B, soul and hip hop artist based in his hometown.  Dom, as his friends call him, spent some years behind bars for bad decisions he made as a young man and he lost both his parents.  But he’s all in these days with doing the right thing by his life and music.  He’s very active as an advocate in the gay-lesbian-transgender community.  My profile of him for The Reader (www.thereader.com) reminds me that we all carry baggage, we all experience heartache, we all long to express passion.  He and Wilson couldn’t have been more different, yet they both loved performing music and sharing their gifts with others.

NOTE: Later this week I plan posting the interviews I did with Wilson and her son Holt as a kind of tribute to her.

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Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled

Singer-songwriter doesn’t let travails slow his roll

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

R&B and soul singer-songwriter Dominique Morgan, 33, has emerged as an urban music force with multiple Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards nominations for his Love Chronicles album.

His tunes of love and loss come from personal experience: an abusive relationship, homophobia, both parents passing, incarceration.
Alfonzo Lee Jones, founder-president of Icon One Music, the local label Morgan records on, says the artist has “absolute determination.”

Music is Morgan’s passion and sustenance. When he bravely came out at 14, he leaned on music for solace.

“It was an important part of my secret life. I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music.

No one knew this was my salvation, this was my safe space,” Morgan says. “I was very closeted about music. I didn’t sing in front of people. But I had this desire to perform. I wrote songs in a notebook I hid under my bed. I was just very insecure and being a performer is the ultimate exposure.”

He got up enough nerve to sing in Benson High’s mixed chorus and to audition for its Studio Singers show choir.

“I was frightened to death to audition. I didn’t know how to dance in time, I didn’t know how to read music, I felt so behind.”

He made the cut anyway.

“It was the first time I had been chosen for something and somebody saw something special in me. That experience was amazing. It opened me up to discipline, group dynamics, being a leader.”

Though his parents accepted his sexual identity they didn’t want him dating. At 16 he got involved with a 21 year-old man. Full of rebellion, Morgan left home to live with his partner.

He says he silently suffered abuse in that co-dependency before finally leaving at 19.

“I really had no self-esteem. The relationship tore that completely apart.”

Broke and feeling he had nowhere to go, he lived a gypsy existence between Omaha and Lincoln

“I did not want my family to see me.”

love_chronicles-front

He committed nonviolent crimes – stealing cars in a valet dodge and writing bad checks. He slept in the cars and attended to his personal needs in public and dormitory restrooms.

“It was how I was surviving.”

His desperation led to many poor choices.

“I have this need for people to like me and to want to be around me. I was constantly putting myself in precarious situations because of that.”

He let friends think he was going to school.

“I had to keep up a facade with them.”

He did the same with a local boy band, On Point, he joined.

“It was my first experience recording in a studio and performing outside of high school. It was bittersweet. I was enjoying it but I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew eventually it would blow up in my face.”

The pressure of maintaining the illusion grew.

“Those internal thoughts are hell. All these balls i was juggling. I found myself in a cycle. I didn’t want to face how bad of a situation I was in.”

Once again, his only comfort was music.

“It was how I got through each day. It was just peace for me.”

Wracked by fear and blinded by denial, he says, “I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t go on much longer like that. I just didn’t know what the stopping point was for me.”

Getting arrested in Lincoln in 2000 was that point. Assigned a public defender, he pleaded no contest to several counts of forgery and theft. Unable to make bail, he sat in Lancaster County

Jail months awaiting sentencing. The judge gave him eight to 12 years.

Morgan’s reaction: “My life is over.”

His next tour months were spent at the state correctional system’s Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

Life in stir came as “a complete culture shock,” he says. “I couldn’t let anybody know I was frightened because you can’t show any weakness. Besides, I was out. I was young, gay and black – three strikes against me. So I came in fighting. I wanted them to respect me. I was watching boys get raped, people be sold, stabbed, beaten with padlocks. I was like, I just want to make it home.”

He didn’t pursue an appeal – “I thought if I fought it I was going to go crazy” – and instead accepted his lot.

He served in Omaha, Tecumseh and Lincoln facilities, sometimes segregated from the general prison population, for his own safety he was told. Other times, he mixed with convicted murderers and rapists.

While incarcerated his father died suddenly. He’d been Morgan’s only regular visitor. Morgan stopped calling home. Hearing freedom on the other end only made his confinement worse. “It was too much for me.”

He turned to music to cope.

“It was like this wall burst in my head and these words, these songs, these melodies just flooded out of me. I thought, One day I want to sing my songs. Music kept me going. It was my saving grace.”

He wrote the songs in long-hand, with a pen, in notebooks and on kites (internal request forms). He utilized mics and mixing boards in prison music rooms, buying access to the gear via handmade checks he covered with the $1.21 a day he made working in the kitchen. He earned a culinary degree he uses today as a caterer.

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In a prison talent contest he revealed music chops he’d kept on the down low. The prospect of using those chops on the outside kept him sane. After serving eight-plus years, he got out February 2009 and cared for his ill mother until she died that December.

“It was devastating.”

His youngest sibling, Andrea, came to live with him.

He tracked down Icon One’s Alfonzo Lee Jones and began writing songs for the label. Jones admires “the soul and feeling” Morgan puts into his writing,” adding, “Dom paints a vivid picture with every song he composes. You can feel the emotion. That’s powerful.”

Morgan says in Jones he’s found “more than a producer – he’s like a brother to me.”

Meanwhile, Web and radio hosting gigs brought Morgan to the attention of East Coast artists he’s now working with.

His music took off as a recording artist and live performer, he says, once he stopped trying to position himself as a gay singer-songwriter. That transition came with his outreach work for the nonprofit LGBT advocacy group, Heartland Pride.

“I am a singer who happens to be gay. I can still be myself through that but I let the music speak for itself.”

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His life and career were rudely interrupted last fall when informed he’d not served the mandatory minimum for one of his charges. He found himself detained four months at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.

“It was like watching my life die. It almost killed me wondering how much of my life is slipping away while I’m gone.”

A parole board review set him free in February.

During that limbo he was removed from the Pride board for not disclosing his criminal past. That prompted a Facebook post by Morgan laying out his troubled journey and hard-fought redemption.

“I can’t be OK and love who I am now and be ashamed of such a large portion of what made me who I am,” he says. “I felt I needed to own my story. I wanted people to really know where I came from.”

He’s since co-founded Queer People of Color Nebraska. It seeks to start conversations in the African-American community and larger community about the challenges of being black and gay in America.

His advocacy for equal rights led him to co-direct a recently released “Black Lives Matter” video.

“I want to do it loud and proud,” he says.

The release party for his new album, Loveaholics Anonymous – Welcome to Rehab, is April 25 at The 402 in Benson.

Follow Dom at http://www.facebook.com/dniquemorgan.

Opining about the life of a freelance journalist at a conference

March 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Mike Whye and I did a panel on freelance journalism this morning at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 7 Conference at UNO’s Community Engagement Center. The audience was made up of students, working professionals and educators from Nebraska and surrounding states. It was fun talking sharing craft and business aspects of freelancing. That’s Mike on the left, me in the middle and moderator Jonathan Garcia on the right. Thanks to Chris Bacon and Jeremy Lipschultz for the photos and thanks to Rob McLean for the invitation to participate. I enjoyed meeting Mike (mwhye.home.radiks.net), Jonathan and Rob and I enjoyed seeing my collleague Jeremy again. Doing events like this help remind me why I do what I do, the way I do it. FREElance = Indpendence.

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The Many Faces of Leo Adam Biga’s Blog: leoadambiga.com

March 25, 2015 Leave a comment

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Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala with A Flowering Tree

March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

In January Opera Omaha went rogue again with its annual gala, this time infiltratiing a section of the Crossroads Mall for a swank sit-down dinner given a theatrical going over with surrealist set dressings inspired by the contemporary opera, A Flowering Tree.  Live excerpts from the mythic opera were performed tableside for a rapt audience that sometimes felt as if they were a part of the dramatic and transformative experience.  A Flowering Tree’s staged production in February at the Orpheum Theater gave audiences the full measure of this beautiful and imaginative work whose ending is one of the most sublime artistic expressions I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.  If you didn’t know it already, Opera Omaha is one of America’s leading opera companies and its reputation only grows with time.

 

 

Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala with A Flowering Tree

Hidebound event transformed to mirror opera’s dramatic, theatrical world

Breaking the mold to build new audiences

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/)

 

A contemporary opera all about transformation got its legs at an unconventional site slated for rebirth, the Crossroads Mall, during the January 16 Opera Omaha Gala.

The gala featured glimpses of A Flowering Tree, a 2006 opera by American composer John Adams, who adapted its romantic, mystical story from an ancient folktale from India. This saga of love, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption set in an enchanted land unfolded in a 20th century space normally associated with shopping.

A 10 p.m. after party for the millennial crowd followed the gala.

Unlike the best known works in the Adams canon that draw on historical, politically-charged events, such as Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic, A Flowering Tree is purely metaphorical. Adams co-wrote the libretto with Peter Sellars.

Kumudha is endowed with the magical gift of morphing into a flowering tree and returning back to human form. When a prince secretly observes her transformation he’s smitten and marries the enchantress. His obsession with her gift and his sister’s exploitation of it drives the couple apart. Bereft without her, the prince loses everything, even himself. Kumudha gets stuck in a hideous in-between state that makes her a curiosity. The couple can only be reunited, so the folktale goes, if true love leads them to find each other again.

The Adams Touch
Wunderkind director James Darrah, who at 30 is a rising star, says, “It is a fabulous story and a fabulous piece of theater. It’s entirely based in storytelling, with large overarching themes of humanity.”

Musically-speaking, Darrah says, “The orchestral writing of Adams is just unbelievable – he is giving an audience an entire soundscape in the way he employs instruments and chorus and voice. The way he writes for the human voice is operatic and virtuosic and familiar in that way but also really surprising and beautiful. At times it can fluctuate from feeling incredibly intimate and simple to virtuosic and cinematic.

“He has the ability to both understand and interpret the immense musical history that comes before him and to be on the exciting electric edge of innovation. He creates these worlds of sound that are sometimes totally unexpected but rapturously beautiful.”

Opera Omaha General Director Roger Weitz calls Adams “one of if not the most important American opera composers living today,” adding, “I saw a performance of Flowering Tree at Chicago Opera Theater and I was blown away by the music, by the drama, by the potential for magic and transformation on stage. I really fell in love with it.”

Outside-the-box
Snatches of the opera on gala night happened amid the empty storefronts of a closed section of the ill-fated Crossroads Mall – specifically the two-story glass atrium at the north end. The mall is slated to be razed to make room for a new mixed-use village.

A Flowering Tree will have its main stage full production February 13 and 15 at the Orpheum Theater. The same team mounting that production produced the gala – Los Angeles-based director Darrah and a cadre of collaborators. They also designed last year’s gala featuring bits from the early Handel opera Agrippina as well as that work’s main stage production. After making the nontraditional space of the Omar Baking Building into a retro Roman banquet experience inspired by Agrippina, the team’s repurposing a symbol of American consumerism into a mythological garden inspired by A Flowering Tree.

Weitz has charged the company with making its galas singular events that go beyond the standard sites and programs for such events. The Omar experiment was such a success, he commissioned Darrah and Co. to surpass it at another unexpected site – the soon defunct mall.

Darrah says. “If you’re doing something different you want a space that architecturally and energetically has flavor to it as a set. If you go to a big empty room you have to put everything in there to give people some sort of feeling. You have to create atmosphere from whatever you put into it. The thing I loved about the mall when scouting it is that even without us doing anything to it, it had this eerie energy of all these people that had been
in there.

“It’s this place that had a different purpose and now it’s this empty thing. It had so much to do for me with the socio-political stuff John Adams writes about America, and the mall is such an American icon that is changing and morphing. I like the idea of using it in a different way. This piece is all about transformation and new beginnings and new growth. The mall is going to be torn down and I love the idea we can see the echoes of what it once was.”

Then there’s the bold move of bringing opera to where people shop.

“I also think it gives us the right narrative of audacity. After last year’s success everyone was wondering what it was going to be. Well, I don’t think they knew what we’re going to do. They probably never expected what we did last time and, and they wouldn’t recognize this either. Parts of what we design felt like a sheik chic, elegant gallery. [People would] walk in and be totally in a dream.”

 

©CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

Immersive
The idea is to so fully immerse audience members in this re-imagined environment that they find themselves inside the live performance. Because opera scenes will seem to spontaneously happen around them, guests will be intimate, active participants, not merely passive witnesses to the spectacle. Darrah says the same folks you have cocktails with before dinner may suddenly break into song or dance. It’s all about shattering the walls between performer and viewer so that everyone, actors and guests alike, becomes joined in the experience.

“I like the breaking of barriers in that way,” Darrah says. “It’s the whole point of the John Adams piece, and that’s what it all comes back to. It’s not about showing people the design of A Flowering Tree, it’s about saying this team has been hired to do this massive new production and if you listen to John’s music you will be exposed to the qualities of innovation.”

Darrah says the excerpts on display at the gala were intended to give guests a sense for his organic treatment of the opera.

“I didn’t want this to be a project where three singers and dancers move around them as they sing. I want people not to know who the singer is and who the dancer is.”

Collaboration
He feels privileged to have worked with a stellar roster of creatives interpreting it, including Andriana Chuchman as Kumudha, Andrew Staples as the Prince and Franco Pomponi as the Storyteller.

“It’s an unbelievably fantastic cast – a world-class, formidable group of people,” Darrah says. “I think of them as actors first who happen to have powerhouse, awesome voices. They’re all theater people who are also aware of art and culture. I love artists that have that kind of awareness and bring a lot to the table, that listen to Billie Holiday as much as they listen to opera.

When you get these well-rounded individuals willing to throw themselves into new ideas, they bring a really good energy. They fit very well with my team. Like minds do very good work.”

His team includes associate director Zack Winokur, set and lighting designer Cameron Jaye Mock, set and properties designer Emily Anne MacDonald, projection designer Adam Larsen and costumer designer Sarah Schuessler. All but Winokur worked with Darrah on last year’s Agrippina gala and production. Together, they used lights, sets,  music and dance to turn a banally familiar existing space into an enticing dreamscape for the gala.

“[We were] not going to treat the stores – [we left] all the stores as dark, empty things, though we used certain storefronts for things like cocktail hour and catering,” Darrah says. “Beyond the tangible, this (was?) is a surreal dream you walked into.”

Atmospheric videos added to the trippy vibe.

 

Opera Omaha gala-Crossroads

©CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

Mutual Admiration
Darrah says Adams took a keen interest in how the opera would be teased at the gala and produced at the Orpheum.

“He knows about this and he’s been very helpful and involved and supportive with the team and the choices. He’s very humble, so he’s not overly controlling. He answers questions. I sat down with him and he told me a bunch of things about why he wrote it, what he thought about. He’s been really great. He told me, ‘Do your thing.’”

Darrah and his team create harmony from collaborative give-and-take.

“So much of everything designers choose to do affects what a director is able to do on stage,” he says. “At the same time a director can choose moments that actually give designers lots of opportunities to create. I think the interconnected qualities of that are something that aren’t often talked about but are absolutely true.

“Here in Omaha, for many reasons, including the time and resources we’re allotted, we actually get to explore that a lot more than normal.”

According to Darrah, Weitz’s vision and enthusiasm are attractive to talents like himself and his colleagues.

“For artists like us, Roger is an incredibly adventurous, interesting, proactive part of assembling the team, crafting, casting, all these things.”

Weitz, in turn, says Darrah has taken Omaha by storm.

“The community has really embraced him and is really interested in his work. I think he feels a lot of support here and feels like this is a place where he can do what he wants to do. We’re talking about next season right now and we’ll keep dreaming. I mean, there will come a day when he’s too big for us but I hope by establishing this relationship early on Omaha will always be a special place to him.”

This year’s gala was chaired by Cindy and Mogens Bay. To learn more about Opera Omaha’s innovative approaches to performance based events, or to reserve tickets for performances of A Flowering Tree, visit operaomaha.org.

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