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Posts Tagged ‘Athletics’

Life Itself XI: Sports Stories from the 2000s


Life Itself XI:

Sports Stories from the 2000s

 

 

Giving a helping hand to Nebraska greats

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/08/giving-a-helping…-nebraska-greats/

The State of Volleyball: How Nebraska Became the Epicenter of American Volleyball

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/21/the-state-of-vol…rican-volleyball/

Huskers’ Winning Tradition: Surprise Return to the Top for Nebraska Volleyball

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/21/huskers-winning-…raska-volleyball/

An Omaha Hockey Legend in the Making: Jake Guentzel Reflects on Historic Rookie Season

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/07/10/an-omaha-hockey-…ic-rookie-season

Boxing coach Jose Campos molds young men

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/02/01/boxing-coach-jos…-molds-young-men

From couch potato to champion pugilist

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/11/22/from-couch-potat…hampion-pugilist

 

Living legend Tom Osborne still winning game of life at 79

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/10/27/living-legend-to…me-of-life-at-79/

 

The end of a never-meant-to-be Nebraska football dynasty has a school and a state fruitlessly pursuing a never-again-to-be-harnessed rainbow

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/26/the-end-of-a-nev…arnessed-rainbow/

Baseball and Soul Food at Omaha Rockets Kanteen

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/23/baseball-and-soul-food/

Soul food eatery Omaha Rockets Kanteen conjures Negro Leagues past and pot liquor love menu

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/17/soul-food-eatery…liquor-love-menu

A case of cognitive athletic dissonance

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/17/a-case-of-cognit…letic-dissonance/

Thoughts on recent gathering of Omaha Black Sports Legends

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/29/thoughts-on-rece…k-sports-legends/

 

Marlin Briscoe
  • MATT DIXON/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left, Bob Gibson, Marlin Briscoe, Johnny Rodgers and Ron Boone pose for a picture during a special dinner “An Evening With the Magician” honoring Marlin Briscoe at Baxter Arena on Thursday.

 

Marlin Briscoe: The Magician Finally Gets His Due

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/27/marlin-briscoe-t…lly-gets-his-due/

UPDATE TO: Marlin Briscoe finally getting his due

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/20/marlin-briscoe-f…-getting-his-due/

Marlin Briscoe: Still making history

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/10/marlin-briscoe-n…-of-fame-be-next/

Marlin Briscoe – An Appreciation

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/13/marlin-briscoe-an-appreciation

 

Pad man Esau Dieguez gets world champ Terence Crawford ready

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/25/pad-man-esau-die…e-crawford-ready

Some thoughts on the HBO documentary “My Fight” about Terence Crawford

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/12/some-thoughts-on…terence-crawford

Omaha warrior Terence Crawford wins again but his greatest fight may be internal

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/21/omaha-warrior-te…-may-be-internal

Terence “Bud” Crawford is Nebraska’s most impactful athlete of all-time

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/09/terence-bud-craw…lete-of-all-time/

Terence_CrAWFORD_MEDIA_DAY_POSE (720x508)

©Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

TERENCE CRAWFORD STAMPS HIS PLACE AMONG OMAHA GREATS

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/24/terence-crawford…ong-omaha-greats

This is what greatness looks like. Terence Crawford: Forever the People’s Champ

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/24/terence-crawford…he-peoples-champ

New approach, same expectation for South soccer

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/04/14/new-approach-sam…for-south-soccer/

South High soccer keeps pushing the envelope

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/06/south-high-socce…ing-the-envelope

Masterful: Joe Maass leads Omaha South High soccer evolution

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/24/masterful-joe-ma…soccer-evolution

The Chubick Way comes full circle with father-son coaching tandem at Omaha South

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/03/03/the-chubick-way-…m-at-omaha-south

A good man’s job is never done: Bruce Chubick honored for taking South to top

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/07/19/a-good-mans-job-…ing-south-to-top

Bruce Chubick builds winner at South: State title adds capstone to strong foundation

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/18/bruce-chubick-bu…trong-foundation

 

Omaha South Coach Bruce Chubick Sr. recovers from heart attack. https://t.co/u7xdhliQwG @nebpreps

 

 

Storybook hoops dream turns cautionary tale for Omaha South star Aguek Arop

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/09/18/storybook-hoops-…-star-aguek-arop/

What if Creighton’s hoops destiny team is not the men, but the women?

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/08/what-if-creighto…en-but-the-women

Diversity finally comes to the NU volleyball program

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/14/diversity-finall…lleyball-program

Ann Schatz on her own terms – Veteran sportscaster broke the mold in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/30/ann-schatz-on-he…he-mold-in-omaha/

 

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The Silo Crusher: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Trev Alberts

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/27/the-silo-crusher…ove-trev-alberts

Former Husker All-American Trev Alberts Tries Making UNO Athletics’  Slogan, ‘Omaha’s Team,’ a Reality

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/15/former-husker-al…s-team-a-reality

Omaha North superstar back Calvin Strong overcomes bigger obstacles than tacklers; Record-setting rusher poised to lead defending champion Vikings to another state title

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/08/29/omaha-north-supe…ther-state-title/

Having Survived War in Sudan, Refugee Akoy Agau Discovered Hoops in America and the Major College Recruit is Now Poised to Lead Omaha Central to a Third Straight State Title

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/01/having-survived-…ight-state-title

Dean Blais Has UNO Hockey Dreaming Big

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/29/dean-blais-has-u…key-dreaming-big

 


 

 

Gender equity in sports has come a long way, baby; Title IX activists-advocates who fought for change see much progress and the need for more

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/gender-equity-in…he-need-for-more

Omaha fight doctor Jack Lewis of two minds about boxing

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/21/omaha-fight-doct…nds-about-boxing

An Ode to Ali: Forever the Greatest

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/04/an-od-to-ali-forever-the-greatest

A Kansas City Royals reflection

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/01/a-kansas-city-royals-reflection

Bob Boozer, basketball immortal, posthumously inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/20/bob-boozer-baske…all-hall-of-fame/

Firmly Rooted: The Story of Husker Brothers

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/09/firmly-rooted-th…usker-brothers-2

Sparring for Omaha: Boxer Terence Crawford Defends His Title in the City He Calls Home

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/01/08/sparring-for-oma…ty-he-calls-home

The Champ looks to impact more youth at his B&B Boxing Academy

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/14/the-champ-looks-…ations-expansion/

 

FrontCover

 

 

 

The Champ Goes to Africa: Terence Crawford Visits Uganda and Rwanda with his former teacher, this reporter and friends

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/06/26/the-champ-goes-t…rter-and-friends

My travels in Uganda and Rwanda, Africa with Pipeline Worldwide’s Jamie Fox Nollette, Terence Crawford and Co.

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/01/my-travels-in-ug…-crawford-and-co

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

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/21/omaha-conquering…outside-the-ring/

UNO hockey staking its claim

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/06/uno-hockey-staking-its-claim

Austin Ortega leads UNO hockey to new heights

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/05/austin-ortega-le…y-to-new-heights

Homegrown Joe Arenas made his mark in college and the NFL

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/05/homegrown-joe-ar…lege-and-the-nfl/

High-flying McNary big part of Creighton volleyball success; Senior outside hitter’s play has helped raise program stature

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/10/24/high-flying-mcna…-program-stature

 


 

 

Doug McDermott’s magic carpet ride to college basketball Immortality: The stuff of jegends and legacies

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/05/06/doug-mcdermotts-…nds-and-legacies/

UNO resident folk hero Dana Elsasser’s softball run coming to an end: Hard-throwing pitcher to leave legacy of overcoming obstacles

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/04/28/uno-resident-fol…coming-obstacles

HOMETOWN HERO TERENCE CRAWFORD ON VERGE OF GREATNESS AND BECOMING BOXING’S NEXT SUPERSTAR

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/23/hometown-hero-te…s-next-superstar

Terence “Bud” Crawford in the fight of his life for lightweight title: top contender from Omaha’s mean streets looks to make history

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/25/terence-bud-craw…-to-make-history

In his corner: Midge Minor is trainer, friend, father figure to pro boxing contender Terence “Bud” Crawford

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/07/30/in-his-corner-mi…nce-bud-crawford

Giving kids a fighting chance: Carl Washington and his CW Boxing Club and Youth Resource Center

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/12/03/giving-kids-a-fi…-resource-center/

JOHN C. JOHNSON: Standing Tall

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/14/john-c-johnson-standing-tall

Deadeye Marcus “Mac” McGee still a straight shooter at 100

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/15/deadeye-marcus-m…t-shooter-at-100

Rich Boys Town sports legacy recalled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/rich-boys-town-s…-legacy-recalled/

 

Rosenblatt Stadium
Rosenblatt Stadium - 2004 College World Series
The exterior of Rosenblatt Stadium
Approaching Rosenblatt Stadium on 13th Street

 

The series and the stadium: CWS and Rosenblatt are home to the Boys of Summer

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/25/the-series-and-t…e-boys-of-summer

Hoops legend Abdul-Jabbar talks history

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/09/hoops-legend-abd…ar-talks-history

The man behind the voice of Husker football at Memorial Stadium

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/20/the-man-behind-t…memorial-stadium

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum exhibits on display for the College World Series; 

In bringing the shows to Omaha the Great Plains Black History Museum announces it’s back

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/17/negro-leagues-ba…nounces-its-back

Steve Rosenblatt: A legacy of community service, political ambition and baseball adoration

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/27/steve-rosenblatt…seball-adoration/

Houston Alexander, “The Assassin”

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/22/houston-alexander-the-assassin

 

 

The Pit Boxing Club is Old-School Throwback to Boxing Gyms of Yesteryear

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/04/the-pit-boxing-c…ms-of-yesteryear

The Last Hurrah for Hoops Wizard Darcy Stracke  

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/the-last-hurrah-…rd-darcy-stracke/

Going to Extremes: Professional Cyclist Todd Herriott

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/25/going-to-extreme…st-todd-herriott/

Danny Woodhead, The Mighty Mite from North Platte Makes Good in the NFL

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/05/danny-woodhead-t…-good-in-the-nfl/

Kenton Keith’s long and winding journey to football redemption

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/04/kenton-keiths-lo…tball-redemption/

One Peach of a Pitcher: Peaches James Leaves Enduring Legacy in the Circle as a Nebraska Softball Legend

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/one-peach-of-a-p…-softball-legend

 

 

 

Green Bay Packers All-Pro Running Back Ahman Green Channels Comic Book Hero Batman and Gridiron Icons Walter Payton and Bo Jackson on the Field

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/05/green-bay-packer…son-on-the-field

Ron Stander: One-time Great White Hope still making rounds for friends in need

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/ron-stander-stil…-friends-in-need

Buck O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City Offer a Living History Lesson about the National Pastime from a Black Perspective

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/27/buck-o’neil-and-…lack-perspective

Memories of Baseball Legend Buck O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Live On

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/memories-of-buck…-leagues-live-on

My Midwest Baseball Odyssey Diary

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/my-midwest-baseball-odyssey-diary

Lifetime Friends, Native Sons, Entrepreneurs Michael Green and Dick Davis  Lead Efforts to Revive North Omaha and to Empower its Black Citizenry

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/20/lifetime-friends…-black-citizenry

A Good Deal: George Pfeifer and Tom Krehbiel are the Ties that Bind Boys Town Hoops

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/a-good-deal-geor…-boys-town-hoops/

Tom Lovgren, A Good Man to Have in Your Corner

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/03/tom-lovgren-a-go…e-in-your-corner/

Omaha’s Fight Doctor, Jack Lewis, and His Boxing Cronies Weigh-in On Omaha Hosting the National Golden Gloves

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/20/omahas-fight-doc…al-golden-gloves/

The Fighting Hernandez Brothers

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/the-fighting-hernandez-brothers/

Redemption, A Boys Town Grad Tyrice Ellebb Finds His Way

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/redemption

Wright On, Adam Wright Has it All Figured Out Both On and Off the Football Field

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/wright-on

A Rosenblatt Tribute

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/a-rosenblatt-tribute

The Little People’s Ambassador at the College World Series

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/26/the-little-peopl…ege-world-series/

The Two Jacks of the College World Series

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/26/the-two-jacks-of…ege-world-series

 

Image result for don benning omaha uno

 

 

UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/17/uno-wrestling-dy…-social-change-2

Requiem for a Dynasty: UNO Wrestling

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/28/requiem-for-a-dy…ville-university/

UNO Wrestling Retrospective – Way of the Warrior, House of Pain, Day of Reckoning

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/21/a-three-part-uno…day-of-reckoning/

Omaha native Steve Marantz looks back at city’s ’68 racial divide through prism of hoops in new book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/01/omaha-native-ste…of-omaha-central/

 


 

 

It’s a Hoops Culture at The SAL, Omaha’s Best Rec Basketball League

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/its-a-hoops-cult…asketball-league/

Born again ex-gangbanger and pugilist, now minister, Servando Perales makes Victory Boxing Club his mission church for saving youth from the streets

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/born-again-ex-ga…from-the-streets/

Fight Girl Autumn Anderson

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/fight-girl/

Brotherhood of the Ring, Omaha’s CW Boxing Club

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/19/brotherhood-of-the-ring/

Harley Cooper, The Best Boxer You’ve Never Heard Of

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/05/harley-cooper-th…e-never-heard-of/

Requiem for a Heavyweight, the Ron Stander Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/requiem-for-a-heavyweight/

When We Were Kings, A Vintage Pro Wrestling Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/when-we-were-kin…-wrestling-story/

Heart and Soul, A Mutt and Jeff Boxing Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/heart-and-soul/

The Downtown Boxing Club’s House of Discipline

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/04/the-downtown-box…se-of-discipline

 


 

 

Making the case for a Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/27/making-the-case-…rts-hall-of-fame/

OUT TO WIN – THE ROOTS OF GREATNESS: OMAHA’S BLACK SPORTS LEGENDS

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/12/20/out-to-win-the-r…k-sports-legends/

Opening Installment from my series Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness

An exploration of Omaha’s Black Sports Legends

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/from-my-series-o…k-sports-legends

Closing Installment from my series Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness

An appreciation of Omaha’s Black Sports Legends

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/closing-installm…k-sports-legends/

Bob Gibson, A Stranger No More (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/16/bob-gibson-a-stranger-no-more

 

 

Bob Gibson, the Master of the Mound remains his own man years removed from the diamond (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/18/bob-gibson-the-m…from-the-diamond/

My Brother’s Keeper, The competitive drive MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson’s older brother, Josh, instilled in him (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/my-brothers-keep…instilled-in-him/

Johnny Rodgers, Forever Young, Fast, and Running Free (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/18/johnny-rodgers-f…ots-of-greatness/

Ron Boone, still an Iron Man after all these years (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/18/ron-boone-still-…ots-of-greatness

The Brothers Sayers: Big legend Gale Sayers and little legend Roger Sayers (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/15/the-brothers-say…end-roger-sayers/

 

 

Bob Boozer, Basketball Immortal (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/14/bob-boozer-basketball-immortal

Prodigal Son: Marlin Briscoe takes long road home (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/13/prodigal-son-mar…e-long-road-home/

Don Benning: Man of Steel (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/17/don-benning-man-…ots-of-greatness

Dana College Legend Marion Hudson, the greatest athlete you’ve never heard of before (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/14/marion-hudson-th…ots-of-greatness/

Soul on Ice – Man on Fire: The Charles Bryant Story (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/09/soul-on-ice-man-…ots-of-greatness/

The Boxers – Sweet Scientists from The Hood (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win Series: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/11/from-my-series-o…ts-from-the-hood/ 

The Wrestlers – Masters in the Way of the Mat (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win Series: The Roots of Greatness) 

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/11/from-my-series-o…e-way-of-the-mat

A Brief History of Omaha’s Black, Urban, Inner-City Hoops Scene (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/25/from-my-series-o…city-hoops-scene/

Neal Mosser, A Straight-Shooting Son-of-a-Gun (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/16/from-my-series-o…ing-son-of-a-gun

Alexander the Great’s Wrestling Dynasty – Champion Wrestler and Coach Curlee Alexander on Winning (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/from-my-series-o…ander-on-winning

Black Women Make Their Mark in Athletics (from my Omaha Black Sports Legends series, Out to Win: The Roots of Greatness)

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/from-the-series-…ark-in-athletics

 

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Perez finds home away from home in York


Perez finds home away from home in York

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in March 2018 issue of El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

It seems like destiny now to Brianna Perez, the ex-York (Neb.) College softball standout and recent Nebraska Greats Foundation recipient. She dreamed of playing on a national stage. Instead, she eded up 1,500 miles from home at tiny, private York in southeast Neb., where she overcame injury to become a diamond legend. Then, when more hard times hit, she discovered an entire community, even some strangers, had her back.

Perez was a star high school competitor in her native Madera, California. She suffered an ACL tear as a junior when, covering second base, her cleats got stuck in the dirt and her left knee torqued. She came back strong her senior year. But missing time didn’t net the exposure she needed to land a major college athletic scholarship.

York entered the picture because her aunt Roni (Arellano) Miller played there – graduating in 2001. She’d been a Madera softball star herself. She, too, dreamed of Division I glory before finding her destiny at York. She took Perez on her campus visit and was happy when her niece enrolled on scholarship there. But the homesick Perez lasted only one semester.

“I was closed-minded and not open to the culture of York College. It was different from what I was used to,” Perez said.

She returned home to be near family and friends. She attended Reedley Junior College, where she played ball two years. But leaving York the way she did never felt right. She pined to get back. An unexpected opportunity to do that arose when Miller took the York head coaching job and called to recruit her niece. who had two years eligibility left, to come play for her.

“I was given the opportunity continue my education and softball career, so, I took a leap of faith and decided to go back,” Perez said. “That was the best decision I ever made in my life. I got more involved and made friends I will cherish the rest of my life.

I’m really happy with the way things worked out. I definitely think  everything happens for a reason. The relationships you build at a small school like York College are things you can’t really replace or get anywhere else. I think everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Having her aunt as her coach helped.

“What I learned from her was not only how to be a better player but how to be a better person. I really appreciate that because I use it now in my everyday life.”

Miller’s husband, Kenny Miller, assists coaching the team and Brianna helps out, too.

“Roni and Kenny are two of the biggest influences in my life. I live with them and help coach with them. They’ve been huge mentors. They’ve helped me grow as a person. If I have questions about life and need advice, I know i can always go to them.”

Perez needed support when, as a York junior, she had the same ACL injury she endured in high school. This time, she made a shoestring catch and as she came up to throw the runner out at home, she stepped in a hole and the same ligament twisted and tore.

“Having already been through it once, I knew what to expect. I learned it was just a set-back to reaching my goals and that I had to work twice as hard. I also learned to be mentally tough because there were many days when the pain was too much and I didn’t think I could do it. But with the help of family, friends, teammates and coaches, I was able to push through.

“I think it has made me more mentally tough for difficult situations in life.”

Just as before, she came back strong. For her 2016 senior campaign she played outfield and batted .433 with an .803 slugging percentage. Her 68 hits included 22 doubles and 12 home runs. She drove in 55 runs. She became the Panthers’ first softball All-American.

Then she got tested again when she fell behind paying medical bills from the knee surgery she underwent. A collection agency threatened legal action.

“It was scary and embarrassing. I didn’t really know what to do.”

She depleted her few resources traveling home to be with her mother, who was fighting pancreatic cancer. “I worked three jobs just so I could afford to go home.”

Then her car broke down. “It was a pretty tough year.”

That’s when she learned about the nonprofit Nebraska Greats Foundation that helps ex-athletes in need.

“It’s been such a blessing in my life,” Perez said of the foundation, which paid off her debts.

Her mother has made a full recovery.

Perez views everything that’s happened as a gift.

“It was completely worth it. It’s made me into the person I am today.”

She left after graduating only to return for her master’s in Organizational and Global Leadership. She compiled a 4.0 GPA. She hopes for a human services career.

“I’m passionate about helping the less fortunate and homeless. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with that.”

She works in admissions at York, where one day her younger sisters, also softball phenoms, may follow her.

“I tell them all the time, ‘Don’t let anything hold you back.’ I showed them that it can be done. They’re capable of doing that and so much more. They might have offers to play softball at bigger schools but,” Perez said, it’s possible” they could continue the family legacy there. “They’ve come out to visit and they like it a lot. I’ll support them in whatever they want to do.”

Perez is enjoying coaching.

“It’s really cool to see players accomplish something they didn’t think they were capable of. When that happens, you see their confidence go up and carry over into everything else they do. That’s satisfying.”

Though she may not stay in York, she said, “It will always be a little home away from home for me. I’ve been given so many opportunities through York College.”

Lea más del trabajo de Leo Adam Biga en leoadambiga.com.

Giving a helping hand to Nebraska greats

March 8, 2018 1 comment

Giving a helping hand to Nebraska greats

©story by Leo Adam Biga

©photos by Bill Sitzmann

Appears in the March-April 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine ( http://omahamagazine.com/ )

Memory-makers.

That’s what former Husker gridiron great Jerry Murtaugh calls the ex-collegiate athletes whose exploits we recall with larger-than-life nostalgia.

Mythic-like hero portrayals aside, athletes are only human. Their bodies betray them. Medical interventions and other emergencies drain resources. Not every old athlete can pay pressing bills or afford needed care. That’s where the Nebraska Greats Foundation Murtaugh began five years ago comes in. The charitable organization assists memory-makers who lettered in a sport at any of Nebraska’s 15 universities or colleges.

“All the money we generate goes into helping the memory-makers and their families,” says Murtaugh.

Its genesis goes back to Murtaugh missing a chance to help ailing ex-Husker star Andra Franklin, who died in 2006. When he learned another former NU standout, Dave Humm, was hurting, he made it his mission to help. Murtaugh got Husker coaching legend Tom Osborne to endorse the effort and write the first check.

“The foundation has been a source of financial aid to many former Huskers who are in need, but also, and maybe equally important, it has helped bind former players together in an effort to stay in touch and to serve each other. I sense a feeling of camaraderie and caring among out former players not present in many other athletic programs around the country,” Osborne says.

The foundation’s since expanded its reach to letter-winners from all Nebraska higher ed institutions.

By the start of 2018, more than $270,000 raised by the foundation went to cover the needs of 12 recipients. Three recipients subsequently died from cancer. As needed, NGF provides for the surviving spouse and children of memory-makers.

The latest and youngest grantee is also the first female recipient – Brianna Perez. The former York College All-America softball player required surgery for a knee injury suffered playing ball. Between surgery, flying to Calif. to see her ill mother, graduate school and unforeseen expenses, Perez went into debt.

“She found out about us, we reviewed her application and her bills were paid off,” NGF administrator Margie Smith says. “She cried and so did I.”

It’s hard for still proud ex-athletes to accept or ask for help, says all-time Husker hoops great Maurtice Ivy, who serves on the board. Yet they find themselves in vulnerable straits that can befall anyone. Giving back to those who gave so much, she says, “is a no-brainer.”

The hard times that visit these greats are heartbreaking. Some end up in wheelchairs, others homeless. Some die and leave family behind.

“I cry behind closed doors,” Murtaugh says. “One of the great ones we lost, a couple weeks before he passed away said, ‘All I’m asking is take care of my family.’ So, we’re doing our best. What I’m proud of is, we don’t leave them hanging. Our athlete, our brother, our sister has died and we just don’t stop there – we clear up all the medical bills the family faces. We’re there for them.”

“We become advocates, cheerleaders and sounding boards for them and their families,” Smith says. “I am excited when I write checks to pay their bills, thrilled when they make a full recovery and cry when they pass away. But we’re helping our memory makers through their time of need. Isn’t this what life is all about? “

Smith says the foundation pays forward what the athletes provided us in terms of feelings and memories.

“We all want to belong to something good. That is why the state’s collegiate sports programs are so successful.  We cheer our beloved athletes to do their best to make us feel good. We brag about the wins, cry over the losses. The outcome affects us because we feel a sense of belonging. These recipients gave their all for us. They served as role models.

“Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”

Murtaugh is sure it’s an idea whose time has come.

“Right now, I think we’re the only state that helps our former athletes,” he says. “Before I’m dead, I’m hoping every state picks up on this and helps their own because the NCAA isn’t going to help you after you’re done. We know that. And that’s what we’re here for – we need to help our own. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Monies raised go directly to creditors, not recipients.

He says two prominent athletic figures with ties to the University of Nebraska – Barry Alvarez, who played at NU and coached Wisconsin, where he’s athletic director, and Craig Bohl, who played and coached at NU, led North Dakota State to three national titles, and now coaches Wyoming – wish to start similar foundations .

Murtaugh and his board, comprised mostly of ex-athletes like himself, are actively getting the word out across the state end beyond to identify more potential recipients and raise funds to support them. He’s confident of the response.

“We’re going to have the money to help all the former athletes in the state who need our help, Athletes and fans are starting to really understand the impact they all make for these recipients. People have stepped up and donated a lot of money. A lot of people have done a lot of things for us. But we need more recipients. We have some money in the bank that needs to be used.”

Because Nebraska collegiate fan bases extend statewide and nationally, Murtaugh travels to alumni and booster groups to present about the foundation’s work. Everywhere he goes, he says, people get behind it.

“Nebraskans are the greatest fans in the country and they back their athletes in all 15 colleges and universities. It’s great to see. I’m proud to be part of this, I really am.”

Foundation fundraisers unite the state around a shared passion. A golf classic in North Platte last year featured the three Husker Heisman trophy winners – Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Eric Crouch – for an event that raised $40,000. Another golf outing is planned for July in Kearney that will once more feature the Heisman trio.

Murtaugh envisions future events across the state so fans can rub shoulders with living legends and help memory-makers with their needs.

He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”

Visit nebraskagreatsfoundation.org.

The State of Volleyball: How Nebraska Became the Epicenter of American Volleyball

January 21, 2018 1 comment

The State of VolleyballHow Nebraska Became the Epicenter of American Volleyball

©by Leo Adam Biga

©Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine


For generations, football gave Nebraska a statewide identity. But with Husker gridiron fortunes flagging, volleyball is the new signature sport with booming participation and success.

Here and nationally, more girls now play volleyball than basketball (according to the National Federation of State High School Associations).

“It’s the main or premier sport for women right now,” Doane University coach Gwen Egbert says.

Omaha has become a volleyball showcase. The city hosted NCAA Division I Finals in 2006, 2008, and 2015, with the Cornhuskers competing on all three occasions (winning the national title in 2006 and 2015).

Packed crowds at the CenturyLink Center will once again welcome the nation’s top teams when Omaha hosts the championships in 2020. Meanwhile, Creighton University is emerging as another major volleyball powerhouse, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha has made strides in the Mavericks’ first two years of full Division I eligibility since joining the Summit Conference.

In the 2017 NCAA tournament, Creighton advanced to the second round (but fell to Michigan State). As this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press, the Cornhuskers headed to regionals in hopeful pursuit of a fifth national championship.

“The fact Nebraska has done and drawn so well, and that kids are seeing the sport at a high level at a young age, gets people excited to play,” says Husker legend Karen Dahlgren Schonewise, who coaches for Nebraska Elite club volleyball and Duchesne Academy in Omaha.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln first reached a national title game with Schonewise in 1986. The dominant defensive player set Nebraska’s career record for solo blocks (132)—a record that still stands—before going on to play professionally. (The Cornhuskers didn’t win the national championship until 1995.)

“I think the amount of kids that play in Nebraska is No. 1, per capita, in the country. I think the level of play is far higher than many states in the country,” says Omaha Skutt Catholic coach Renee Saunders, whose star freshman, 6-foot-3 Lindsay Krause, is a UNL verbal commit.

Volleyball’s attraction starts with plentiful scholarships, top-flight coaching, TV coverage, and professional playing opportunities.

Few states match the fan support found here.

“We have probably the most educated fans in the nation,” Saunders says. “They’re a great fan base. They know how to support their teams, and they’re very embracing of volleyball in general.”

The lack of physical contact appeals to some girls. The frequent team huddles after rallies draw others.

Omaha Northwest High School coach Shannon Walker says “the camaraderie” is huge. You really have to work together as a unit, communicate, and be six people moving within a tiny space.”

Volleyball’s hold is rural and urban in a state that has produced All-Americans, national champions, and Olympians.

The Husker program has been elite since the 1980s. Its architect, former UNL coach Terry Pettit, planted the seeds that grew this second-to-none volleyball culture.

“He really spearheaded a grassroots effort to build the sport,” says Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth. “Besides winning, he also worked diligently to train our high school coaches.”

“It’s important to realize this goes back many years,” former Husker (2009-2012) Gina Mancuso says, “and I think a lot of credit goes to Terry Pettit. He created such an awesome program with high standards and expectations.”

Pettit products like Gwen Egbert have carried those winning ways to coaching successful club and high school programs and working area camps. Egbert built a dynasty at Papillion-LaVista South before going to Doane. Several Papio South players have excelled as Huskers (the Rolzen twins, Kelly Hunter, etc.).

 

Their paths inspired future Husker Lindsay Krause.

“Seeing the success is a big motivation to want to play,” Krause says. “Just watching all the success everyone has in this state makes you feel like it’s all the more possible for you to be able to do that.”

Many top former players go on to coach here, and most remain even after they achieve great success.

Walker says quality coaches don’t leave because “it’s the hotbed of volleyball—they’re staying here and growing home talent now.”

“It’s us colleges that reap the benefits,” Bernthal Booth says.

Pettit says it’s a matter of “success breeds success.”

Schonewise agrees, saying, “Once you see success, others want to try it and do it and more programs become successful.”

“The standard is high and people want to be at that high level. They don’t want to be mediocre,” UNO coach Rose Shires says.

Wayne State, Kearney, Hastings, and Bellevue all boast top small college programs. In 2017, Doane was the first Nebraska National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics program to record 1,000 wins.

“We’ve got great Division I, Division II, NAIA, and junior college volleyball programs,” says Bernthal Booth, who took the Creighton job in part due to the area’s rich talent base. She feels CU’s breakout success coincided with the 2008 opening of D.J. Sokol Arena, which she considers among the nation’s best volleyball facilities.

“All these colleges in Nebraska are in the top 25 in their respective divisions,” Saunders says. “It’s crazy how high the level of play has gone, and I think it’s going to keep going that way.”

“It’s really built a great fan base of support,” Mancuso says, “and I think the reason the state produces a lot of great volleyball players is the fact we have great high school coaches, great college programs, and great club programs.”

Club programs are talent pipelines. There are far more today than even a decade ago. Their explosion has meant youth getting involved at younger ages and training/playing year-round. Nebraska Elite is building a new facility to accommodate all the action.

“The athleticism found in the state has always been pretty high, but the level of play has definitely improved. The kids playing today are more skilled. The game is faster,” Egbert says. “When I started out, you’d maybe have one or two really good players, and now you could have a whole team of really good players.”

“You have your pick of dozens of clubs, and a lot of those clubs compete at the USA national qualifiers and get their players that exposure,” says Shannon Walker, the Northwest High School coach who is also the director of the Omaha Starlings volleyball club.

“Volleyball is such a joy to be a part of in this state,” Mancuso says.

“It’s cool to be a part of everything going on in Nebraska and watching it grow and develop,” Skutt freshman phenom Krause says.

“My goal is to make Lindsay ready to play top-level Division I volleyball by the time she graduates here,” Saunders says. “She already has the physicality, the competitive edge, the smarts. Now it’s just getting her to play to her full potential, which she hasn’t had to yet because she’s always been bigger than everybody. She’s definitely not shy of challenges. I feel like every time I give her a challenge, she steps up and delivers.”

Krause values that Saunders “gives great feedback on things I have to fix.”

Native Nebraskans dot the rosters of in-state and out-of-state programs. Along with Krause, Elkhorn South freshman Rylee Gray—who holds scholarship offers from Nebraska and Creighton—may emerge as another next big name from the Omaha metro. But they are both still a few years from the collegiate level.

UNO’s Shires says “impassioned” coaches like Saunders are why volleyball is rooted and embraced here. Shires came to Omaha from Texas to join the dominant program Janice Kruger built for the Mavericks at the Division II level. Kruger, now head coach at the University of Maryland, was previously captain of the Cornhuskers’ team (1977).

Further enhancing the volleyball culture, Shires says, is having former Olympian Jordan Larson and current pro Gina Mancuso come back and work with local players. Mancuso’s pro career has taken her around the world. She wants the players she works with at UNO, where she’s an assistant, to “see where it can take them.”

As volleyball has taken off, it’s grown more diverse. Most clubs are suburban-based and priced beyond the means of many inner-city families. The Omaha Starlings provide an alternative option. “Our fees are significantly lower than everybody else’s,” says Walker, the club’s director and Northwestern’s coach. “Anybody that can’t afford to pay, we scholarship.”

Broadening volleyball’s reach, she says, “is so necessary. As a result, we do have a pretty diverse group of kids. I’ve had so many really talented athletes and great kids who would have never been able to afford other clubs. We’re trying to even the scale and offer that same experience to kids who have the interest and the ability but just can’t afford it.”

“It’s very exciting to see diversity in the sport—it’s been a long time coming,” Schonewise says.

Forty-five Starlings have earned scholarships, some to historically black colleges and universities. Star grad Samara West (Omaha North) ended up at Iowa State.

Starlings have figured prominently in Omaha Northwest’s rise from also-ran to contender. Eight of nine varsity players in 2017 played for the club.

Walker knew volleyball had big potential, yet it’s exceeded her expectations. She says while competition is fierce among Nebraska coaches and players, they share a love that finds them, when not competing against each other, cheering on their fellows in this ever-growing volleyball family/community.

“It’s awesome,” Walker says. “But I don’t think we’ve come anywhere close to reaching our peak yet.”

 

Terence Crawford, Alexander Payne and Warren Buffett: Unexpected troika of Nebraska genius makes us all proud

August 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Terence Crawford, Alexander Payne and Warren Buffett:
Unexpected troika of Nebraska genius makes us all proud

©by Leo Adam Biga
Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

Terence “Bud” Crawford has fought all over the United States and the world. As an amateur, he competed in the Pan American Games. As a young pro he fought in Denver. He won his first professional title in Scotland. He’s had big fights in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in Orlando, Florida, in Arlington, Texas. He’s showcased his skills on some of the biggest stages in his sport, including the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and New York City’s Madison Square Garden. He;s even traveled to Africa and while he didn’t fight there he did spend time with some of its boxers and coaches. But he’s made his biggest impact back home, in Omaha, and starting tonight, in Lincoln. Crawford reignited the dormant local boxing community with his title fights at the CenturyLink Center and he’s about to do the same in Lincoln at the Pinnacle Bank Arena, where tonight he faces off with fellow junior welterweight title holder Julius Indongo in a unification bout. If, as expected, Crawford wins, he will have extended his brand in Nebraska and across the U.S. and the globe. And he may next be eying an even bigger stage to host a future fight of his – Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium – to further tap into the Husker sports mania that he shares. These are shrewd moves by Crawford and Co. because they’re building on the greatest following that an individual Nebraska native athlete has ever cultivated. Kudos to Bud and Team Crawford for keeping it local and real. It’s very similar to what Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne from Omaha has done by bringing many of his Hollywood productions and some of his fellow Hollywood luminaries here. His new film “Downsizing,” which shot a week or so in and around Omaha, is about to break big at major festivals and could be the project that puts him in a whole new box office category.These two individuals at the top of their respective crafts are from totally different worlds but they’re both gifting their shared hometown and home state with great opportunities to see the best of the best in action. They both bring the height of their respective professions to their own backyards so that we can all share in it and feel a part of it. It’s not unlike what Warren Buffett does as a financial wizard and philanthropist who brings world-class peers and talents here and whose Berkshire Hathaway shareholders convention is one of the city’s biiggest economic boons each spring. His daughter Susie Buffett’s foundations are among the most generous benefactors in the state. He has the ear of powerbrokers and stakeholders the world over Buffett, Payne and Crawford represent three different generations, personalities. backgrunds and segments of Omaha but they are all distinctly of and for this place. I mean, who could have ever expected that three individuals from here would rise to be the best at what they do in the world and remain so solidly committed to this city and this state? They inspire us by what they do and motivate us to strive for more. We are fortunate that they are so devoted to where they come from. Omaha and Nebraska are where their hearts are. Buffett and Crawford have never left here despite having the means to live and work wherever they want. Payne, who has long maintained residences on the west coast and here, has never really left Omaha and is actually in the process of making this his main residence again. This troika’s unexpected covergence of genius – financial, artistic and athletic – has never happened before here and may never happen agaiin.

Let’s all enjoy it while it lasts.

New approach, same expectation for South soccer

April 14, 2017 1 comment

Omaha South High boys soccer is good again. No news there. By now, it’s become a tradition. In a you-can’t-take-anything-for-granted world, few things have become more dependable in Omaha high school sports than this program competing for district and state honors. It’s not exactly a given but at this point the team is expected to win every time out no matter who they play, no matter how few returning starters there on the roster, no matter who’s injured. The 2017 team lacks experience and suffered some key injuries before the season even began and yet the expectations both inside and outside the program remain high. As in get-to-the-state-tournament and win- it-all high. South did it last year and a couple years before tha, toot. The Packers have been in the hunt for the title several other years. Coach Joe Maass has a full-blown dynasty on his hands and he’s trying to learn from the past to help keep his latest defending champion squad hungry and peaking at the right time. Here’s an El Perico story I wrote in late March laying out how Coach Maass sees his team shaping up.

 

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New approach, same expectation for South soccer

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

Lessons learned when Omaha South boys soccer won it all in 2013 inform the way coach Joe Maass does things now following last year’s second state title. He not only draws on that earlier experience but on a recent family challenge and the expertise of fellow coaches.

Heavy graduation losses from last year’s championship team have him invoking “a Bill Belichick approach.” he said, referring to the New England Patriots head coach. “The Patriots don’t always have the best players yet he’ll grab somebody’s second-team player or a late round draft pick and make them a fit for his system, We’ve focused a lot more on working hard in practice then maybe we did the year after we won it the first time.”

Hard work rubs off the youth on so many new faces.

“We feel like our talent level could drop off because we’re younger,” Maass said. “We only have four or five seniors, so we’ve had to just kind of bring a blue-collar mentality to it.”

He said his Packers reflect South Omaha’s personality.

“Blue-collar tough. That’s South Omaha to me. We’re not the biggest, but we’ll bang with you if you want.”

Attitude’s everything for this perennial power everyone wants to take down.

“These guys have to remember they play for South. Every team we play approaches it like the World Cup, so we can’t let up or coast. The fact we’re defending state champions just adds to it. The first time we won it we took it serious but I didn’t realize how serious it had to be. This time it’s been more of a business-like approach.”

Twin brothers Issac and Israel Cruz, along with Emilio Margarito, are top returnees who model high expectations.

“Those guys get it. The trick is getting some of the younger guys to. Like we’re starting a freshman and a sophomore. But a lot of new players are buying into the culture those older guys set. It’s good to see.”

Regarding the Cruz boys, he said, “They’ve been starting since their freshman year. They’ve always been leaders. Everyone respects them. It’s just how it is.

They set the standard.”

“Same thing for Emilio Margarito. He’s a team captain now.”

Maass believes in open competition at practice. Nobody’s spot is guaranteed.

“If they don’t work hard, they’ll be called out. Every day you’re competing.”

This year even more so because of injuries.

“There’s been a lot of attrition – more than we’ve had in years. One of the things we talk about is next man up.”

That mantra’s extended from preseason tryouts for open spots to now and it’s already paid dividends.

With returning goalkeeper Adrian Feliz out due to injury, his spot came down to two players until one quit. That gave the job to Jeramiah Gonzales, whose brilliant opening weekend performance included a shutout of Burke in his first career start, followed by five stops of penalty kicks in a shootout against South Sioux City.

“Extraordinary,” is how Maass described what Gonzales did. “I’ll probably never see it in my lifetime again.”

He said when Felix comes back, he won’t automatically step into the starter role. He’ll have to earn it.

“They will be competing every day.”

 

Image result for joe maass omaha south high

Joe Maass

 

 

Since Maass adopted next-man-up as a team philosophy, he said, “it feels like things are working better – there’s a lot more team harmony.” He added, “Back in the day, with some hot shot kids who wanted to do things their way it caused problems. We might have won, but it wasn’t fun.”

Forward Jose Hernandez is another player who, Maass said, “gets it.” “He was promoted from the sophomore team to the varsity for the Tennessee (Smoky Mountain) tournament last year and he scored the goal that helped us beat one team. He scored the first goal at state last year coming off the bench. He knows this is what you have to do. It’s not how many minutes you get, it’s what you do with them.”

Now in his 18th year, Maass has learned patience.

“We tell our kids, ‘Don’t worry about the first few games, let’s worry about games 17-18.’ As long as we’re clicking at the end, it doesn’t even matter what we’re doing right now. We just have to figure each other out and get better every day.”

His own priorities got a reality check last year when his wife Ann, an ESL instructor at South, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chemo treatments and a double mastectomy later, the cancer’s in remission.

“When it first hits you, your whole life just kind of spins.”

During Ann’s illness he took a more active hand in their two young children’s lives and extracurricular activities.

“I even contemplated stepping down as coach to be a better family man but at the end of the day we managed it, and here I am. I want to win games and championships but helping younger kids is probably more important after this.”

Having taken South soccer from the bottom to the top, he’s focused on maintaing excellence.

“I just want to keep it moving along.”

He readily acknowledges assistant coaches have helped South become a dynasty.

“I’m not afraid to go out and find someone who challenges me as a coach and who on top of that can run drills and do things at a higher level than myself.

“We evolve with every coach we bring in.”

By May, South aims to win its district, return to state and compete for another title. Packer coaches, players and fans expect it. But, Maass said, “the key is to get there.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

The end of a never-meant-to-be Nebraska football dynasty has a school and a state fruitlessly pursuing a never-again-to-be-harnessed rainbow

March 26, 2017 1 comment

The end of a never-meant-to-be Nebraska football dynasty has a school and a state fruitlessly pursuing a never-again-to-be-harnessed rainbow

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Let’s start with the hard truth that the University of Nebraska never had any business being a major college football power in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, NU had every right to ascend to that lofty position and certainly did what it takes to deserve the riches that came with it. But my point is NU was never really meant to be there and therefore fundamentally was always out of its class or at least out of place even when it reigned supreme in the gridiron wars.

The fact is it happened though. Call it fate or fluke, it was an unlikely, unexpected occurrence whose long duration made it even more improbable.

In pop culture, self-identification terms, it was both the best thing that ever happened to the state of Nebraska and the worst thing. The best because it gave Nebraskans a mutual statewide rooting interest and point of pride. The worst because it was all an illusion doomed to run its course. Furthermore, it set Nebraskans up for visions of grandeur that are sadly misplaced, especially when it comes to football, because the deck is stacked against us. Far better that we aspire to be the best in something else, say wind energy or the arts or agriculture or education, that we can truly hold our own in and that reaps some tangible, enduring benefit, then something as inconsequential, tangential and elusive as football.

Husker football became a vehicle for the aspirational hopes of Nebraskans but given where things are today with the program those aspirations read more like pipe-dreams.

The critical thing to remember is that it was only because an unrepeatable confluence of things came together at just the right time that the NU football dynasty occurred in the first place. NU’s rise from obscurity to prominence took place in a bubble when peer school programs were in a down cycle and before that bubble could be burst enough foundation was laid to give the Huskers an inside track at gridiron glory.

The dynasty only lasted as long as it did because the people responsible for it stayed put and the dynamics of college football remained more or less stable during that period, thus prolonging what should have been a short rise to prominence and postponing the rude awakening that brought NU football back down to earth,.

Please don’t point to the program as the reason for that remarkable run of success the Huskers enjoyed from 1962 through 2001. It was people who made it happen. The program was the people. Once the people responsible for the success left, the results were very different. I mean, there’s never stopped being a program. It’s the people running the program who make all the difference, not the facilities or traditions.

Yes, I know there was a time when NU was successful in football prior to Devaney. From the start of the last century through the 1930s the Huskers fielded good, not great teams before the death valley years of the 1940s and 1950s ensued. But NU was never a titan the way Notre Dame, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State or other elite programs were back then.

The late Jerry List (left) and Red Beran carry Bob Devaney off the field at the 1972 Orange Bowl.

 

Make no mistake about it, Bob Devaney was the architect of the wild success that started in the early 1960s and continued decade after decade. He deserves the lion’s share of credit for the phenomena that elevated NU to the heights of Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama. Without him, it would not have happened. No way, no how. His path had to cross Nebraska’s at that precise moment in time in the early 1960s or else NU would have remained an after-thought football program that only once in a while would catch fire and have a modicum of success. In other words, Nebraska football would have been what it was meant to be – on par with or not quite there with Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and Wyoming. During NU’s half-century run of excellence the state schools in those states not only envied NU but despised the Big Red because they couldn’t understand why that same magic didn’t happen with their football operations. Among those states, all but Wyoming have larger population bases. Among the Division I schools, all but Wyoming have larger student enrollments. Those realities alone should have put NU at a decided disadvantage and given those schools a leg up where football was concerned.

But Devaney found ways to compensate for the lack of bodies, not to mention for all the other disadvantages facing Nebraska. One of Devaney’s chief strategies for overcoming these things became national recruiting and eventually the recruitment of African-American student-athletes in enough numbers to be a difference-maker on the field.

The continuity of Devaney’s staff was an important factor in sustaining success.

His hand-picked successor Tom Osborne was like the apprentice who learned from the master to effectively carry on the tradition without so much as one bad season. Osborne ramped up the national recruiting efforts and especially made African-American recruits more of a priority. Like his mentor, he maintained a cohesive staff around him. He also made even greater use of walk-ons than Devaney had in that no scholarship limit era. And most importantly he saw the future and embraced an ahead-of-its-time strength and conditioning program that made NU players bigger and stronger, no doubt with some help from steroids, and he eventually adopted the spread option on offense and the 4-3 on defense, emphasizing speed and quickness on both sides of the ball. The option-based, power running and play-action passing game became NU’s niche. It allowed the program to recruit to a style and identity that stood it apart. Now, NU runs a variation of what virtuarlly everybody else does in college football, thus giving it one decided less advantage.

As long as was one or the other – Devaney or Osborne – or both were still around, the success, while not guaranteed, was bound to continue because they drove it and they attracted people to it.

First Devaney died, then Osborne retired and then athletic director Bill Byrnes left  The first two were the pillars of success as head coaches and Devaney as AD. The third was a great support. There were also some supportive NU presidents. Osborne’s curated successor, Frank Solich, and other holdover coaches managed a semblance of the dynasty’s success. And then one by one the pretenders, poor fits, revisionists and outliers got hired and fired.

Ever since Osborne stepped down, NU has been playing a game it cannot win of trying to recapture past success by attempting to replicate it. That’s impossible, of course, because the people and conditions that made that success possible are irrevocably different. Whatever manufactured advantages NU once possessed are now long gone and the many intrinsic disadvantages NU has are not going away because they are, with the exception of coaches and players, immutable and fixed.

Besides Nebraska being situated far from large population centers, the state lacks many of the attributes or come-ons other states possess, including oceans, beaches, mountains, cool urban centers filled with striking skylines and features and a significant African-American and diversity presence on campus. It also lacks a top-shelf basketball program to bask in. And while NU has kept up with the facilities and programs wars the Huskers’ peer institutions now possess everything they have and more.

The dream of NU fans goes something like this: Get the right coach, and then the right players will come, and then the corresponding wins and titles will follow. Trouble is, finding that right coach is easier said than done, especially at a place like Nebraska. The university has shown it’s not willing to shell out the tens of millions necessary to hire a marquee coach. I actually applaud that. I find abhorrent the seven figure annual salaries and ludicrous buy-out guarantees paid to major college coaches. I mean, it’s plain absurd they get paid that kind of money for coaching a game whose intrinsic values of teamwork, discipline, hard work, et cetera can be taught in countless other endeavors at a fraction of the cost and without risk of temporary or permanent injuries. If NU stands pat and doesn’t play the salary wars game, then that leaves the next scenario of offering far less to an up and coming talent who, it’s hoped, proves to be the next Devaney or Osborne. Fat chance of that fantasy becoming reality.

The other wishful thinking is that some benefactor or group of benefactors will pump many millions of dollars, as in hundred of millions of dollars, into the athletic department in short order to help NU buy success in the form of top tier coaches and yet bigger, fancier facilities. There are certainly a number of Nebraskans who could do that if they were so inclined. I personally hope they don’t because those resources could go to far more important things than football.

In terms of head coaches, NU hit the jackpot with Devaney. He then handed the keys to a man, in Osborne, who just happened to be the perfect one to follow him, NU has missed on four straight passes since then. I count Mike Riley as a miss even though he’s only two years into his tenure because someone with his long coaching record of mediocrity does not suddenly. magically become a great coach who leads teams to championships just because he’s at a place that used to win championships. What Riley did in the CFL has no bearing on the college game.

Even if Riley does manage more success here than he’s been able to accomplish elsewhere, everything suggests it would be short-lived and not indicative of some enduring return to excellence. That once in a school’s lifetime opportunity came and went for NU, never to return in my opinion.

Sinking resources of time, energy and money into retrieving what was lost and what really wasn’t NU’s to have in the first place is a futile exercise in chasing windmills and searching for an elixir that does not exist.

Far better for NU to cut its losses of misspent resources and tarnished reputation and accept its place in the college football universe as a Power Five Conference Division I also-ran than to covet something beyond its reach. Having been to the top, that’s a tough reality for NU and its fans to accept. Far better still then for NU to swallow the bitter pill of hurt pride and do the smart thing by dropping down to the Football Championship Subdivision, where it can realistically compete for championships that are increasingly unattainable at the Football Bowl Subdivision. If it’s really all about the process, pursuing excellence and building character, and not about getting those alluring TV  showcases and payouts, those mega booster gifts and those sell-outs, then that’s where the priority should be. If it’s about developing young men who become educated, productive, good citizens and contributors  to society, then that certainly can be done at the FCS level. Hell, it can be done better there without all the distractions and hype surrounding big-time football.

 

Steven M. Sipple: After latest loss, NU leaders face tough decisions

 

This isn’t about quitting or taking the easy way out when the going gets rough, it’s about getting smart and honestly owning who you are, what you’re ceiling is and making the best use of resources.

Nebraskans are pragmatic people in everything but Husker football. With this state government facing chronic budget shortfalls. corporate headquarters leaving and a brain drain of its best and brightest in full effect, it seems to me the university should check its priorities. I say let go of the past and embrace a new identity whose future is less sexy but far more realistic and more befitting this state. Sure, that move would mean risk and sacrifice, not to mention criticism and resistance. It would take leadership with real courage to weather all that.

But how about NU leading the way by taking a bold course that rejects the big money and fat exposure for a saner, stripped-down focus on football without the high stakes and salaries and hysteria? Maybe if NU does it, others will follow. Even if they don’t, it’s the right thing to do. Not popular or safe, but right.

When has that ever been a bad move?

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