Tag Archives: ESPN

Like a Kid Again

September 9, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Don Byers’ teammates on the Bellevue University golf team saw the notion of shooting your age—one of the rarest feats in the sport—as a canard of the wildest conceit.

But the athlete who played for one semester with the Bruins came within a mere stroke of doing just that last year during a golf vacation in Arizona.

That’s because Byers, who is 61 (and shot a 62 on a Par 62 course that day in the desert), had a four-decade advantage over most of his collegiate competitors.

This most unlikely of feel-good sports stories began with a chance meeting on the first tee of his home course, Champions Run, when he was introduced to Rob Brown, the school’s head golf coach and a friend of one of Byers’ golfing buddies. 

There was nothing senescent about Byers’ swing that day. He was crushing it—with drives of nearly 300 yards and playing well under par.

Brown came to learn that Byers was a former pitcher who had blown out his arm before ever taking the mound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball team back when Gerald R. Ford was in the White House. The coach playfully inquired as to whether Byers had any remaining college athletics eligibility.

But Brown, it turned out, wasn’t joking, and he discovered that Byers could play for Bellevue University because the Bruins play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. While the NCAA restricts student-athletes to playing within five years of graduating from high school, there is no such limit in the NAIA. So the longtime insurance agent, who lives in Elkhorn with his wife, Debra, enrolled at the university with an undeclared major and green goals.

Byers encountered several challenges in joining a team of students who could be his grandkids, the first being that he was no longer the lean, lanky, 6-foot-4-inch fire-baller of his youth. 

When uniforms were issued, the father of three and grandfather of four explained, “Coach handed me a pair of 38-inch-waist pants, the largest size they come, and I just kind of stared at them. I hadn’t worn a 38 in, well, quite a while.”

The team’s winter training regimen incorporates CrossFit, and Byers’ return to college athletics led to him shedding 50 pounds the hard way.

“The whole floor around me was soaked at the end of our first workout,” he says, “but the other guys hadn’t even begun to break a sweat.” 

And it wasn’t the end of the workout, one of his teammates explained. “That was just the warm-up!” Byers recalls, “I could barely walk the next day.”

As he came back into fighting weight—and shape— he looked forward to contributing on the course. 

He played in three rounds in the spring 2018 semester: shooting 21 strokes over par in two rounds at the March 30-31 TPC Deere Run Invitational in Silvis, Illinois, then finishing seven strokes over par at the April 17 Midland University Spring Invitational.

Records on the subject are sketchy, but Byers is among the oldest players in any sport in the history of college athletics, and his back-to-school story was featured in Sports Illustrated, the Golf Channel, Golf Digest, ESPN’s website, and USA Today.

Although he only pursued collegiate golf for five months, Byers insists his quest was anything
but quixotic.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Byers says, “and this [was] no lark. My goal was to make the team and then make the starting five” on the squad of seven golfers. “I was treated like everyone else. I earned my place.”


Visit bubruins.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Man Who Invented the College Football Playoff

December 28, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are scripts,but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation. It’s improv. You get into character and run with it.

Larry Culpepper is either delusional or a consummate bullshitter, claiming, among other whoppers, that he created the College Football Playoff. He is raucous, chippy, and self-absorbed. His hair, shirt, visor, and flip-up glasses scream 1976. He’s a guy you’d buy a pop from, but likely shy away from having a beer with.

But Culpepper, the fictional character brought to life by actor/improv pro Jim Connor, is an increasingly beloved traveling minstrel who now transcends the Dr. Pepper brand he was created to peddle. Three years after his birth in an ad campaign with a potentially short leash, Culpepper now is mobbed by fans during live appearances; is part of a 10-part, football-season-long ad series; is the face of Dr. Pepper’s $35 million sponsorship of the College Football Playoff; and, increasingly, is a media darling beyond the confines of paid advertising slots.

For marketing purposes, Culpepper is from nowhere in particular. But in late August, Culpepper appeared on ESPN’s College Football Live and was asked to give his prediction for the playoff’s final four teams. His answer: Alabama, Clemson, LSU, and Nebraska (fresh off their losing season).

“Nebraska?” One commentator scoffed, before asking a cohort, “Is he from Nebraska or something?”

larryculpepper2Culpepper isn’t, but Connor is. For the Omaha native and Husker fan, that moment on ESPN illuminates why he has enjoyed playing Culpepper so much. “There are scripts, but there’s also all kinds of room for improvisation,” Connor says during a call from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s improv. You get into character and run with it. It’s a great time.”

Connor, the youngest of seven children (“which explains my personality right there,” he says), attended Creighton Prep, where, along with classmate Alexander Payne, he performed with the school’s improv acting troupe. He remembers one gig in particular that fueled his passion for the rush and satisfaction of successfully winging it for a crowd. “It was for a local service group,” he says. “We did some silly birthing scene, and the women in the group—you know, who had some experience with such a thing—really had a good time with it. It’s so cool when you connect with an audience.”

Connor was a gifted ham and public speaker. He served as vice president of the student council at Prep, wrote and acted in pep rally skits, and even placed first place for Humorous Interpretation at the National Forensic League’s National Speech Tournament in Minnesota.

After what he described as a “difficult” freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (“it just wasn’t for me”), he transferred to Saint John’s University in Minnesota. After college, he moved to Boston and worked as a carpenter while performing in theater and short films, then moved to Denver to pursue his MFA in acting at the famed National Theatre Conservatory.

The goal, “was never to get famous,” he says. “I just wanted to make a living being an actor. I wanted acting to be my full-time job.”

A dream of tens of thousands who have moved to Los Angeles. And while at 54, Connor is no household name, he has succeeded at stringing together enough commercials and small parts to make acting his career.

Besides nearly 150 commercials, his film credits include Watchmen, Meet Dave, Blades of Glory, The Onion Movie, Home Invasion, and Horrible Bosses 2. Alexander Payne asked his old friend to give the drunken wedding-reception toast in About Schmidt.

He also had numerous recurring roles in television comedies such as Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Scrubs, and The King of Queens.

In 2014, Connor and about 500 other actors auditioned for the role of the Dr. Pepper concessionaire in a national ad campaign targeting college football fans. Actors were given latitude to define the character and riff. Connor created an amalgam of “a lot of people I’ve known” to create Culpepper, a loud, proud, gregarious huckster who seems to actually believe—in the face of constantly presented information to the contrary—that he created the four-team college football playoff system.

For all of Culpepper’s failings, he’s also affable, wide-eyed, and childlike in his zeal for the job and the game, appealingly un-self-aware, and extremely clever. “Larry is a real guy, he’s a smart guy,” Connor says. “He’s just got some unusual ideas sometimes.”

larryculpepper1Among myriad other reasons why he claimed the Cornhuskers would make the playoffs: “Nebraska runs that classic passive-aggressive offense,” he told the ESPN crew. “They’re playin’ real nice, and then you’re like a puddle on the 50-yard line.”

It was inspired nonsense, which is the foundation to good improv, which is what Connor would love to spend the rest of his career getting paid a living wage to do.

Indeed, as Culpepper increasingly becomes a star beyond the confines of college-game broadcasts, as Dr. Pepper continues to expand the ad campaign (Connor’s character is now essentially the spokesman in football matters for the company, which AdWeek magazine estimated paid at least $35 million to be a “championship partner” in the College Football Playoff).

He is hoping to land more significant movie and television roles, especially in one of the increasing number of loosely scripted, improv-heavy comedies.

“I’m not going to get cast for scripted stuff in front of a studio audience,” he says. “That’s not what I’m built for.  Shows like Parks and Recreation—where you have space to work more freely with a talented group—that’s where I belong. That’s where I love to be.”

Visit larryculpepper.com for more information.

Tharein Potuhera

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jacopever. The exotic fish with bulging eyes and reddish color sank Tharein Potuhera’s hopes at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee. But the 14-year-old Potuhera did not let the obscure misspelling dissuade his academic and literary ambitions.

“When I was at the bee, I really wanted to make Omaha and Nebraska proud. I still do, actually,” he says.

The local prodigy advanced from the St. Wenceslaus School spelling bee, to the Archdiocese bee, to his second appearance at regionals, then onward to the national contest in National Harbor, Maryland. He joined 285 elite spellers, culled from the countless nationwide contests last spring.

Potuhera was among the 45 finalists who made it to the finals of the National Spelling Bee, broadcast live on ESPN. Upon correctly spelling “propinquity,” the Omaha teen made national headlines with his dab, (a bow with one arm bent, one arm outstretched) imitating NFL quarterback Cam Newton’s popular touchdown celebration.

After missing Jacopever—the slippery lettered fish of Dutch/Afrikaans origin—Potuhera and his family made a circuitous journey back home to Omaha.

Tharein-Potuhera1“On the way back, we went to Princeton, Yale, Cornell, and also did a tour at Harvard,” says his father, Asthika Potuhera. “After the Harvard tour was done, the director of admissions came and sat down with Tharein away from everyone else and had a chat for about an hour and a half. We were in awe.”

The Harvard administrator was impressed by the young Potuhera’s resume. After all, the Omaha teen published his first book at the age of 12.

His book, Tome Riders: Mr. Custo’s Book, is a historical novel with heavy doses of time travel. Potuhera says he wants to challenge kids to learn history, and improve their vocabularies, while encouraging reading as a leisure pastime.

The family’s homeward trip provided an opportunity for sightseeing at important American history sites that Potuhera mentioned in Tome Riders (but had never himself visited).

With attention freed from spelling bee preparation, Potuhera dove headlong into writing his next book.

“It’s going pretty well; it’s almost done,” Potuhera says. “Both books have the same message to readers, but the second is more concerned with teachers than kids. It’s hard to say if the second book is a prequel or the sequel (because of all the time travel). It’s the teacher as a kid, so technically it’s a prequel.”

The trip home from the National Spelling Bee also featured a stop in Connecticut. Asthika and his wife, Durga, migrated to the U.S. from Sri Lanka in 1998 to study at Eastern Connecticut State University. They came to Omaha seeking a better life. Tharein and his younger brother have always lived here.

Potuhera enjoys the camaraderie of new friends gained from spelling bees. He also maintains social media correspondence with fellow spelling phenoms selected by Kindle for a promotional advertisement last spring.

His experience befriending other top students nationwide has inspired him to foster academic camaraderie among Omaha’s gifted students. In fact, he began working on such a project to obtain his Eagle Scout badge.

“I want to make a club for people who are gifted, and then help them get even better, to help them realize what they want to do, whether it’s a spelling bee, geography bee, or something else,” he says. FamilyGuide

The Silo Crusher

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The story of athletics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has fluctuated from wild success to heartbreak (and back). All-Americans, post-season runs, and national title traditions collided with mismanagement and sparse spectator attendance.

Then a fresh Maverick joined the fray. Trev Alberts—one of the most decorated defensive players in the history of Huskers football and a former ESPN anchor—took the mantle of UNO’s athletic director in April of 2009.

Tensions bubbled behind the scenes. Chronic budget shortfalls clashed with fractious booster relations. Although new to his administrative role, Alberts knew enough about balance sheets and group dynamics to recognize systemic disarray and dysfunction. “We were in trouble and we needed to find some solutions,” he says.

The current academic year marks five years since Alberts dismantled UNO’s beloved wrestling and football programs. Alberts looks back on his crucial decisions without regrets. But the “solutions” didn’t come easily. In 2011, the former football star had to cut the sport that defined his own athletic career.

He saw that the financial equation for UNO’s splintered athletic programs no longer worked. A struggling Division I hockey program could not prop up the remaining Division II programs. Even with a hefty university subsidy, low athletic revenue painted a bleak picture amidst rising costs.

UNO’s bold response was to transition its entire athletic program to Division I by joining the Summit League in 2011. Because the conference does not accommodate wrestling or football, those two sports had to go.

News broke with awkward timing. Maverick wrestlers had just clinched the Division II national championship for the third straight year. A few hours after their victory, UNO Athletics began reaching out to notify celebratory wrestling coaches of the grim news.

Public rancor ensued. Coaches and student-athletes of the winning programs were left adrift. History, however, has proven the difficult decisions were healthy for the university and its athletics department.

Alberts found a key ally in chancellor John Christensen. The man who had initially recruited Alberts promoted him to vice chancellor in 2014, thus giving athletics a seat at UNO’s executive leadership table. “There needs to be absolute integration and now we have internal partnership, collaboration,” says Christensen.

Five years have passed. Athletics programs are stable. Sport teams no longer operate in silos. Alberts dismantled the barriers to build a strong overall athletic department: “When I got here, it appeared we had 16 different athletic departments,” he says. “There was no leadership. We hated campus. The mindset was the university leadership were out to get us, didn’t support us, didn’t understand us. The athletic department would blame the university; the university would blame the athletic department. 

“Strategically, my job was to get on the same page as part of the university team. I asked John Christensen to define his goals. He said community engagement, academic excellence, and (being) student-centered. I had to explain to staff everything we do is going to try to help the university advance its goals and every decision we make, if it isn’t student-centered and doesn’t support academic excellence and community engagement, we’re going to ask ourselves why are we doing that.”

Since then, the athletic department has made major strides. The hockey team made the 2015 Frozen Four, men’s basketball contended for the 2016 Summit title and saw a 65 percent attendance increase, and other sports have similarly fared well. With added academic support, the cumulative student-athlete grade point average of 3.4 is among the nation’s highest.

Alberts says that cutting the beloved football and wrestling programs meant “a really trying time, but galvanized the department and the university.” He continues,“We came together as a university. This was an institutional decision. It wasn’t John and I in a corner room deciding. We had a lot of people involved.”

Even with unanimous University Board of Regents approval for the athletic department shake-up, emotions ran high among constituents opposed to the cuts. Despite pleas to save wrestling and football, Alberts says, “The data was going to drive the decision-making. We weren’t going to manage the outcome of a good process. We moved to Division I because the market had an expectation about what the experience would be like, and we weren’t able to meet that expectation.” Maintaining the programs, especially football, would have required larger expenditures at the next level and exacerbated the fiscal mess.

Everything was on the table during deliberations: “We looked at trying to stay at Division II and regaining profitability in hockey, we looked at Division III, we looked at having no athletics, and then we looked at Division I. The conclusion was Division I would bring us an opportunity to get at more self-generated revenue through NCAA distributions.”

It was all about athletics better reflecting the “premiere urban metropolitan university” that Christensen says defines UNO. As the strategic repositioning set in, academics flourished, new facilities abounded, and enrollment climbed. Christensen says going to D-I was “a value-add” proposition.

“We looked at our peer doctorate-granting institutions and they were all Division I,” Alberts says. “The real value an athletics department has to a campus is essentially a brand investment. You have alumni come back, you have student engagement. That’s really the role you play. We are the front porch of the university.”

What followed was the rebranding of UNO to associate more with Omaha and embrace what Alberts and Christensen call “the Maverick family.” The rebrand is encapsulated in the construction of Baxter Arena, a D-I sporting facility adjacent to UNO’s midtown campus that also provides a venue for community events.

The past five years were not without tumult. Some longtime donors withdrew financial support in response to UNO cutting wrestling and football. Businessman David Sokol reportedly cut part of his pledged donation in reaction. But donors have since returned in droves.

Van Deeb, another longtime booster and a former UNO football player, was initially an outspoken critic of UNO cutting wrestling and football. “My big disappointment was not that it did happen but the way it happened. Even being on the Maverick athletic board, we had no clue it was coming,” says the Omaha-based entrepreneur.

“But that’s in the past,” says Deeb. “I couldn’t be prouder of where UNO is headed as an athletic department and as a university. I’m 100 percent behind the progressive leadership of Trev Alberts and John Christensen. They’re all about the student-athlete and the future.”

Alberts realizes that some hard feelings linger. “We have people who I don’t think will ever be a part of what we’re doing, and I understand that,” he says.

Regardless, there was enough community buy-in that private donations reached new heights ($45 million) and helped build the showplace Baxter Arena. Alberts cites the construction of Baxter Arena as a tangible result of the move to Division I.

Deeb says Baxter Arena has propelled UNO to another level. “When you’re around campus or at a UNO event there’s a level of excitement I can’t describe,” he says. “It’s a great time to be a Maverick supporter.”

The arena has proven a popular gathering spot for greater Omaha. This past spring, some 100,000 people attended high school graduations there, a realization of the chancellor and Alberts’ desire for greater community engagement.

Although few of UNO’s current students remember what campus was like before the rebrand, that doesn’t mean that Alberts or his team have forgotten. They still recognize the historic importance that the canceled sports provided to the university.

In fact, Alberts joined Van Deeb and several other community leaders on a steering committee seeking to honor one of UNO football’s greatest athletes, Marlin Briscoe. “An Evening with The Magician,” will celebrate the school’s most decorated football player, an Omaha native and civil rights trailblazer, at Baxter Arena on Thursday, Sept. 22.

As a quarterback at UNO (then called Omaha University), the Omaha South High School grad set 22 school records (including 5,114 passing yards and 53 touchdowns during his collegiate career). Briscoe became the first African-American starting quarterback in the NFL during his 1968 season with the Denver Broncos. He played for several franchises during a nine-year NFL career, spending the majority of time in the league as a wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills. He won two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins.   

On Friday, Sept. 23, UNO will unveil a life-size statue of Briscoe on campus. Alberts says he envisions that the sculpture might be added to “a champions plaza” whenever the south athletics complex gets built-out. “This is not necessarily a UNO thing; it’s an Omaha thing,” Alberts says. “Marlin is a great person with a great story, and it’s been an honor to get to know him.”

Under Alberts’ leadership, the university does not seek to diminish the importance of those former storied programs. But he has to keep an eye toward the future. “I’m absolutely bullish on where we are today and where we can go,” says the optimistic Alberts. “We’re only scratching the surface. We are an absolute diamond in the rough.”

Visit baxterarena.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

TrevAlberts1

Kevin Kugler

October 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As die-hard Husker, Hawkeye, and NFL fans begin the sprint that is football season, the man with the voice girds for an 11-month-long marathon of his own. Omaha-based sportscaster Kevin Kugler logs tens of thousands of air miles every year hopscotching across the country to the next city on his itinerary, providing radio play-by-play  for college games on the Big Ten Network and Sunday night pro football games on Westwood One. Kugler begins revving up his vocal cords in August, broadcasting the Houston Texans pre-season games. Come September, the pace picks up.

“I will leave on a Thursday or Friday, fly to my college site wherever that is in the Big Ten, meet with coaches, do my game, leave my game, go to the airport, hop on a plane Saturday night, fly to wherever my NFL game is Sunday night, do the game, and fly back home Monday morning,” the 42-year-old Lincoln native says, without taking a breath. “I’ll prep for the upcoming college game Tuesday and Wednesday [at home], transition to the NFL prep Thursday morning, then head out. Rinse and repeat.”

While most mortals would cry “uncle,” Kugler is just getting started. College basketball intersects with football in November, adding a middle-of-the-week Big Ten game to an already tight schedule. And, oh yes, Kugler tapes the popular Big Red Wrap-Up on Tuesdays in the fall for NET, the Lincoln TV station that gave a newly-minted UNL journalism graduate his first real job 20 years ago. “I was the sideline reporter for the Shrine Bowl, the high school football all-stars, and I was terrible,” Kugler admits, shaking his head. “I wore sunglasses and chewed gum. I was pathetic.”

Mentors along the way polished the rough edges, creating a versatile sportscaster who’s upbeat, enthusiastic, exciting to listen to—and dedicated. Kugler’s former Omaha radio partner can attest to that. “His plate is as full as any Thanksgiving meal you will see,” says Mike’l Severe, who teamed with Kugler for almost a decade on the popular Unsportsmanlike Conduct. “He is an extremely hard worker. When he got the Big Ten job, he followed all of college football—not just the Big Ten.”

In addition to football and basketball, Kugler calls baseball on the Big Ten Network, meshing his schedule with Westwood One duties, which include the NCAA Final Four followed immediately by The Masters golf tournament and, of course, the College World Series in his own backyard. Kugler has also traveled to four Olympics.

Kugler credits his wife, Michelle, an attorney, with enabling him to follow his dream while she raises their two daughters in west Omaha. But when college sports hibernate in July, Kugler’s favorite arena is home.

Omaha’s Hole in One

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by 2013 U.S. Senior Open

When officials with the United States Golf Association (USGA) began the selection process for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open more than five years ago, one city and one course stood above the rest.

Prior to an expansive renovation of the Omaha Country Club in 2007, every time Omaha tried to lure a major golf event to town, the USGA declined, saying there was no course in the state of Nebraska that was capable of hosting this level of national championship.

Not anymore.Fred-Couples_Web

“The USGA was impressed with what the club and [designer] Keith Foster had done when they renovated the golf course,” says Tim Flaherty, senior director, U.S. Women’s and U.S. Senior Opens for the USGA. “By bringing back the Maxwell features [put in place during a 1952 renovation of OCC by renowned golf course architect Perry Maxwell] and by lengthening the course, we felt it was a worthy test for the Senior Open. Our number-one issue is the golf course, and we really feel like Omaha Country Club is a hidden gem that a national audience will not be familiar with.

“We were also impressed with the club leadership and [general chairman] Patrick Duffy in particular. These championships are a collaborative effort, and we felt like the club would be a wonderful partner in this endeavor. Lastly, we were intrigued with the city of Omaha and all of the success it’s had with major, national events. There is a strong corporate base which supports events of this kind and that was readily apparent when we made the decision to accept the club’s invitation.”

“This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history.” – Liz Leckemby, Championship Director

Convincing the USGA to host such a widely followed and prestigious event as the U.S. Senior Open was quite a coup for Omaha. It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase Omaha to an international audience, as the championship will be broadcast live on ESPN and NBC to more than 100 countries for four days between July 8 and 14.

With internationally known names like Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Couples, and Mark O’Meara—among many other former tour championships—competing for the title, Championship Director Liz Leckemby says spectators will experience an event like none other in Nebraska.

According to Leckemby, Omaha and the Omaha Country Club were selected from an elite list of clubs interested in hosting the championships—some past sites and some new contenders. This is the first time the U.S. Senior Open has been in the state of Nebraska, although there have been two smaller USGA championships held in the state.Crowd-2_Web

“Because the Senior Open is the biggest event for the players over 50, it provides the largest purse, and the trophy is the one the players all want to win, so we never need to go out and actively recruit players to come to this event,” Leckemby says. “This championship will go down in the record books for being what we anticipate to be the biggest Senior Open in history, so while having the top-name players is important, if someone does not make the field list due to injury or another reason, the championship will go on.”

“The rookie class for 2013 is pretty exciting, as we have Colin Montgomery, Steve Elkington, Vijay Singh, and Rocco Mediate who will all be eligible for their first U.S. Senior Open.”

“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events.” – Tim Flaherty, USGA Senior Director

From an economic impact, Leckemby says the USGA is conservatively expecting a crowd of 150,000 for the week to watch the 156 players and their caddies. Add in a few hundred media and broadcasters, volunteers, spectators, manufacturers, rules officials, USGA staff, USGA executive committee, and some vendors traveling to, staying and eating, and spending money in the city, and Leckemby is anticipating an economic impact of $30 million-plus to the local community.

She adds that the local public and private communities, as well as large and small companies, have been tremendous in supporting the championship. Ticket sales have been strong in both Omaha and Lincoln, and companies understand why it’s important to support major national championships like the U.S. Senior Open.Fred-Funk_Web

Flaherty agrees with Leckemby in predicting this championship is poised to be the most successful Senior Open in history. The event has already eclipsed the previous benchmark for corporate support, and ticket sales will end up in the top two or three championships in history.

“These are significant results and confirmation that Omaha is a great town for these types of events,” Flaherty says. “The club has been a pleasure to work with, and our championship staff is excited to be there in July. Successful Senior Opens are the ones that transcend the club and the USGA and truly become a community event. The unprecedented corporate support, strong ticket sales, and a full volunteer force are all indicators of a successful championship on the horizon.”

Leckemby says she expects the coverage and notoriety Omaha will get as host city of the Senior Open will intrigue organizers and decision-makers of sporting and entertainment events to investigate and ultimately choose the city for a variety of reasons.

“Anytime you can feature a successful event to a national and international audience, it opens the door for future events,” Leckemby says. “There are many people who may be learning about Omaha for the first time when the NBC broadcast coverage opens at the Senior Open on Saturday afternoon.

“I personally grew up in New Jersey, an hour outside of NYC, so Omaha was never a place I knew much about. I think this championship will do wonders to educate people about Omaha, and the golf fans in particular.”

A Major Moment

A total of 200 phone lines, 125 shuttle buses, 700 cases of beer, 250 kegs, 200 golf carts, and 196 portable restrooms…sounds like a big party and it is! Add in a celebrity guest list that includes big-name golfers, such as Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Hale Irwin, Corey Pavin, plus 152 other professional and amateur players and the party just got bigger and better.

The U.S. Senior Open, July 8 through the 14 at the Omaha Country Club, is expected to attract 150,000 spectators throughout the week-long event and put Omaha center stage in front of an international audience. The premier golf event for the senior tour will be broadcast to more than 100 countries and will include four days of live television coverage on ESPN and NBC Sports. That means millions will see what Omaha has to offer, generating valuable awareness for our city, as well as building upon Omaha’s growing reputation as a destination that knows how to successfully host big events.

And if there was any doubt as to the value tourism brings to our city, not only will the U.S. Senior Open provide premium media exposure, it will add $30 million to the local economy—$30 million in one week…Now that’s a party worth celebrating.

Questions or comments? Email us at info@visitomaha.com.

Greg Groggel

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Native Omahan Greg Groggel, 29, has always had an adventurous spirit and an ambition to see the world.

As a high school student at Millard West (Class of 2002), Groggel spent a semester as an exchange student in Finland. He went on to attend the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, where he pursued a degree in International Political Economy.

During a college break, he volunteered as a runner for ESPN during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. “Mostly, I carted around athletes to and from the ESPN studio for interviews,” he said. “I had to learn how to drive a stick-shift in 24 hours,” he remembered with a nervous laugh.

Following college, Groggel applied for and won a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which awarded him $25,000 to pursue his proposed project: travel to six former Olympic host cities—Mexico City, Mexico; Sydney, Australia; Seoul, Korea; Sarajevo, Yugoslavia; Munich, Germany; and Bejing, China—over the course of a year to study and document the social, economic, and political ramifications of hosting the Games. The experience taught him to be self-reliant and resourceful. “I spent two months in each city,” he said. “Each time, I was on my own to find my own housing, transportation, my sources…it was challenging.”

“I was Bob Costas’ right-hand man, researching and writing for his prime-time [Olympic] show.”

When NBC Sports learned of Groggel’s ambitious efforts, they offered him a job with the network covering the Beijing Olympics. “I spent about eight months on that job,” he said. In 2009, NBC hired Groggel back for a year to research and conduct pre-interviews with athletes in preparation for their coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I was Bob Costas’ right-hand man, researching and writing for his prime-time [Olympic] show,” Groggel added. He served a similar role again for NBC this summer during the Summer Olympic Games in London. He’s been recognized with two Sports Emmy Awards for his work with NBC.

Today, Groggel works for a television production company in New York, producing and developing new television shows for CBS, Bravo, CNBC, and others. “It’s a lot of fun, and very interesting—jumping around, doing field shots, some writing…”

When asked if he’s ever been star-struck either at the Olympics or on the red carpet, Groggel replied, “Just once, really…I was excited to meet Tom Brokaw.” It seems the former KMTV reporter/NBC News anchorman and Groggel had a good bit in common.

“We visited about Omaha mostly.”

One of four kids, Groggel said in his family, venturing far from home is the norm. “I have three sisters. One lives in San Francisco and is a lawyer, one is in grad school, and one just moved to NYC after doing a stint in Togo with the Peace Corp.” Where did the Groggel kids get their wordly ways? “…Our mom, Martha Goedert. She works in the medical profession and goes to Haiti every year to do mission work and act as a midwife,” he shared proudly. Her example is all they needed to fly.