Tag Archives: Eric Crouch

A Home for Husker Healing

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraska football fans’ nationally recognized devotion to their team—the “Sea of Red” spilling from Memorial Stadium throughout downtown Lincoln on game days, and the subsisting pride of the `90s glory days—is epitomized by Tait Rief of Seward, Nebraska.

FanCave7Rief was a kid in the `90s, a kid captivated by the era’s Huskers heroes. His bedroom and basement are a testament to Nebraska football pride. Huskers décor fills the rooms: National Championship mugs, vintage Cornhusker Beverage soda bottles, rugs, pillows, pins, and team pennants—which, as a kid, Rief ordered each week by conference standings, always placing Nebraska first. In his bedroom, a bookcase displays three encased autographed footballs—signed by Joel Makovicka (fullback, 1994-1998), Grant Wistrom  (rush end, 1994-1997), and Sam Koch (punter, 2001-2005)—and a copy of the book Hero of the Underground signed by author Jason Peter (defensive tackle, 1993-1997).

Rief’s most cherished pieces of his collection—and his first autographs—are signed 1997 offense and defense posters. During a tour of Memorial Stadium when he was nine, Rief had his picture taken in then-head-coach Tom Osborne’s office and by the championship trophies, and then stood outside the weight room with his posters as the players came out. They signed his posters, and Scott Frost—all sweaty—patted his shoulder. “I was just in awe for the next week or two and never wanted to wash my shoulder again.” Rief hung up the posters with tacky in his room, circling Tom Osborne’s autograph in excitement.

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The `97 posters now hang framed in the basement, where Rief’s expansive collection continues. On the same wall is a Husker quilt, each block signed by members of the 2001 football team, a hutch displaying a miniature Nebraska helmet signed by Tommie Frazier (quarterback 1992-1995), a Memorial Stadium poster signed by head coach Mike Riley (his collection’s most recent addition), and a framed note signed by Ahman Green (I-back, 1995-1997) that reads, “Keep it going!!” On the opposite wall sits another hutch with more autographed footballs, including the signatures of Zach Wiegert (offensive tackle, 1992-1994), head coaches Osborne, Bo Pelini (2007-2014), and Frank Solich (1998-2003), and most of the 2001 team starters; a square of `90s Memorial Stadium turf; and ball caps signed by Osborne and Heisman winners Johnny Rodgers (wingback, 1970-1973), Mike Rozier (I-back, 1981-1983), and Eric Crouch (quarterback, 1998-2001).

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.As a freshman in 2001, Rief was involved in a Seward High School bus accident that left him with partial paralysis and short-term memory loss. In his bedroom and the basement are two identical small black-framed collages. Each collage depicts black-and-white photographs of Husker players including Rodgers, Wayne Meylan (middle guard, 1965-1967), and “Thunder” Thornton (fullback and lineback, 1960-1962), foregrounded with a color photograph of Jeff Kinney (halfback, 1969-1971) in the 1971 Game of the Century. “DETERMINATION” is printed in bold red lettering across the bottom of the image, followed by the quote, “The Harder You Work, The Harder It Is To Surrender.” Rief says that he values these words, as they “always inspired me to keep focused . . . during recovery.”

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His dad, Tom, recalls, “Tait’s always been a Husker fan. He always told me that he was going to be on the football field at Memorial Stadium one way or another—either as a player, because he was a pretty good football player himself before his accident, or (Tait) said, ‘If I have to, I’ll play in the band or be a male cheerleader.’”

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Much of Tait’s memorabilia was acquired after the accident. His collection is both meaningful and joyful. As for expanding it, he says, “I’d like to add a picture of me shaking Mike Riley’s hand.”

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So, Coach Riley, if you’re reading this, there is a fan in Seward who would like to
say hello. 

Visit huskerhounds.com for more information. OmahaHome

*Correction: The September/October 2016 print edition misspelled Tait Rief’s last name.

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Playing it Safe

June 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in June 2015 Her Family.

If you come from early Omaha stock, it’s likely your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and maybe even your great-great-grandparents grew up frolicking on the City of Omaha’s playground equipment.

“The movement for playgrounds really came about in the late 1890s,” says Tracy Stratman, recreation manager for the City of Omaha Parks & Recreation Department. “It all started in the inner cities to create locations for kids to actually get out and have constructive play. That way they could deter negative activities and youth crime.”

Gone, though, are many of the early playground standards. You won’t see the sheet-metal slides that sizzled in the sunshine and featured steep, narrow steps. It’s nearly impossible to find tall teeter-totters (Anyone else remember crashing to the ground when the child on the other end suddenly scooted off?) or high, slick, monkey bars positioned over a shallow layer of sand on hard ground. Oh yes—don’t forget those flat merry-go-rounds that sent children skidding off the perimeter.

As children, we wanted playground toys that were faster, higher, and more intense, but from an adult perspective, it’s safety first. Or as Stratman puts it, “Your perception of what you see on a playground drastically changes when you become a parent.”

Contemporary playgrounds still deliver the thrill, but rein in the risk for kids of all ages and abilities, says owner of Crouch Recreation Eric Crouch. As a Heisman Trophy winner for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, he knows about the unpleasantness of hitting the ground hard.

The company’s installations can be seen all over the metro area in public locations such as Benson Park, Vogel Park, and Stinson Park, as well as other sites such as SIDs, commercial daycares, and schools throughout Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.

“Accessibility is huge and safety is one of the top factors. Quality of equipment, and sometimes design, factors into it as well,” Crouch says. “We want things to be safe, to look nice, and to stand the test of time.”

Industry standards are guided by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Crouch says. But manufacturers have found ways to keep the old standbys (“You really miss the mark if you don’t include slides or swings”) only with safer—and sometimes more fun—options from saucer seats and wide platform slide entrances to spring supports for see saws and pliable surfacing.

“We are so safety-conscious today and we’re making improvements, but we’re seeing the throwback to what we did as kids,” Stratman says.

Larger playground structures are typically modular so clients can create one-of-a-kind arrangements with more features than ever available, Crouch says.

“Now kids will get to a park and they see something that will interest them: How do I use this? It takes a little bit of their mind and their body strength to look at a piece of equipment and interact with it,” Crouch says. “New designs stimulate creative thinking.”

Other innovative elements seen on today’s playgrounds include the use of environmentally-friendly materials, custom designs that integrate into the surroundings, shade structures, seating for parents or caregivers, stroller- and wheelchair-accessible paths, and even sports and fitness features to make parks appealing to all ages.

But one thing never changes, Stratman says. “The confidence building as well as the social skills you learn on the playground are limitless.”

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