Tag Archives: football

Homecoming

September 16, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

The origins of the first homecoming celebration are unclear. Baylor University, Southwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Missouri have all made claims, dating back to around 1910, that they originated the concept. 

Regardless of when and where it started at the college level, within a few decades high schools across the country were hosting fall celebrations tied to a football game and dance that welcomed graduates back to visit their alma maters.

Although certain traditional elements like the election of royalty and a pre-game pep rally can be found at nearly all homecomings, among local schools, there’s no one right way to celebrate this event. 

“We do quite a few different things; we’ve made homecoming more into a weeklong celebration rather than a Friday night celebration at a football game,” says Ralston High School Spirit Squads Sponsor Jordan Engel. 

Volleyball and softball games are incorporated, a “Mr. RHS” pageant for male students is a popular tradition, “spirit week” activities, and a pep rally are part of the fun, Engel explains. The middle school hosts its own spirit week concurrently, and in past years the school has organized activities for the residents of Ralston from a recreational fun run to a bonfire with s’mores. “We try to change it up each year for families of the students and the community,” she says. 

Jeremy Maskel, Ralston School District’s director of external relations and engagement, says the community involvement is especially important for the small, close-knit city. 

“I’m not native to the area but when I joined the district it really struck me—the amount of alumni who continue to live in district and send their own children to Ralston [High School],” he says. “That intergenerational pride is something I haven’t seen in any other school community I’ve been connected to. Last year we did our first alumni and family tailgate before the homecoming [football] game and we’re looking for ways we can continue to bring alumni in the community back to really celebrate the district and the high school during that week.”

Westside High School has made its homecoming week a districtwide event, says Meagan Van Gelder, a member of the board of education and immediate past-president of Westside Alumni Association. She was also the 1987 Westside homecoming queen.

“Part of our goal is to keep the connection alive for our graduations, so we have tried to create a pathway for alumni to return home, and one way we do that is [with] a homecoming tailgate the Friday before the football game. In the past we had it in the circular area of the parking lot. Recently we have moved it to the grassy area on the alumni house with a nice buffet dinner. There is a parade in the neighborhood around the high school. There is a pep rally that follows the parade, and [that] is when they announce the homecoming court. There are fireworks after the game.”

Millard School District has three high schools, and each organizes its own homecoming activities. Millard West Principal Greg Tiemann says, “We’ve kept the week relatively the same since the building opened in 1995.” In conjunction with the designated football game, the Millard West Student Council coordinates themed dress-up days, a pep rally, and the elections for junior and senior homecoming royalty. The activities are mainly for the students.

Millard North’s student council also coordinates a homecoming week featuring themed attire days, a dance the week of the football game, and other schoolwide events. This high school, however, has abandoned the practice of electing a homecoming court. 

“As a ‘No Place for Hate’ school, and out of concern for protecting students from being bullied or excluded, Millard North has not recognized royalty since 2010,” says principal Brian Begley. “Instead, they make a concerted effort to engage and involve all students in homecoming activities, including those with special needs.”

Bellevue Public Schools’ two high schools coordinate some activities but most of the festivities are school-specific. Amanda Oliver, the district’s director of communications, says parent and student groups are involved in planning.

“Bellevue East has brought back an old tradition, a homecoming parade, the last two years,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of alumni and former staff, long-time community members.”

Bellevue West now hosts a Unity Rally at the beginning of the school year. Although not technically a homecoming event, “It allows us to feature and highlight all our schools and all our kids, and we’ve seen the community piece behind that,” Oliver says.

Elkhorn also has two high schools that plan homecoming activities independently.

 “We have spirit days, a trivia competition about the school, a powder puff game and pep rally that introduces the homecoming court, the cheerleaders and dance team do a special dance and cheer at halftime together, Pinnacle Bank has a pep rally with hotdogs before the game, and the dance is Saturday night,” says Brooke Blythe, Elkhorn South’s cheer coordinator. She adds. “The middle schoolers always have their own section in the stands at the football game.”

According to Omaha Public Schools Marketing Director Monique Farmer, students at each of the district’s seven high schools organize their own homecoming events—and alumni are invited to them at many schools—and create unique traditions. Benson holds a classroom door decorating contest, Bryan has a pep rally at the stadium, Burke concentrates on targeted inclusion for special education students, and North and Northwest host parades. Last year, J.P. Lord School, an all-ages school for students with a variety of complex needs, hosted what Farmer believes to be its first homecoming dance. Parents were welcome and the evening’s culmination was the coronation of a king and queen. 

“That was pretty neat to see,” Farmer says.

Westside alumni association Immediate Past-president & 1987 Westside homecoming queen


 

Written By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

Photos contributed by Glenwood Opinion-Tribune

Homecoming is a huge celebration for this town of 5,300, which more than doubles in size for one fall weekend each year.

“I’ve been in other school districts, and it’s frequently a presentation of the king and queen at the football game and a dance afterwards. This town, this week, is amazing,” says Glenwood Schools Superintendent Devin Embray.

Beyond the coronation of a king and queen, Glenwood recognizes its 25-year reunion class as the “honor class.” Most of the class members return for this weekend in which they are honored at the pep rally and circle the town square twice during the parade. They are also a part of the Saturday-night coronation ceremony, as the past student body president gives a speech to the senior class that is similar to a graduation speech.

While many homecoming parades feature the high school classes, clubs, and athletics along with a few politicians, Glenwood’s parade includes at least 180 entries, with class floats from kindergarten through seniors; class reunion floats from five-year through 50-year and higher, entries from homeschoolers and special interest groups such as tractor clubs, and more. 

Coronation is open to the public and includes the presentation of pages, scribes, and gift bearers along with the king and queen. The prior year’s king and queen come back and sit in their thrones before turning them over to the newly-crowned monarchs.

“I can’t even explain the coronation—you have to see it to believe it,” says high school principal Richard Hutchinson.

Glenwood’s homecoming also includes the Outcasts, which was started by a group of non-native residents who felt like outsiders. This group now crowns their own king and queen each year, has a float and royalty car in the parade, and holds a separate dinner and dance.

“There’s so many people within the town that play a big part in this,” says Hutchinson. “The band parents have been the ones that oversee the king and queen nominations. There are parents in charge of the coronation. We have [community members] that oversee the parade…It is a community event.”


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

In Frost We Trust

September 4, 2018 by
Photography by contributed

When the University of Nebraska football program again failed to produce a winning season last fall, new athletic director Bill Moos fired head coach Mike Riley and promptly hired former Husker Scott Frost. After years of losing, Nebraska is hopeful that they have found a winner with Frost. The Wood River, Nebraska, native quarterbacked NU to its last national championship in 1997, under the direction of legendary Husker head coach Tom Osborne.

Bringing Frost back into the fold for the much-scrutinized role of head football coach in Lincoln was an easy decision because he fits NU culture to a T.

“Nobody else would have generated that type of enthusiasm,” Osborne says. “He’s here now and we’re glad to see it. Where Scott really brings a lot to the table is he understands Nebraska and what you have to do in a sparsely populated state where there’s cold weather and not a lot of geographical advantages like beaches or mountains.” 

Osborne continues, “I don’t think there’s anybody more prepared than Scott to do the job. He’s intelligent, he has energy, he’s played and coached offense and defense at a high level.”

In Nebraska, Frost has only coached the 2018 exhibition spring game, but he is viewed as the deliverer who will lead the program out of the wilderness of mediocrity and irrelevancy it has fallen into. 

Fans are voicing their approval via social media and sports talk shows. They are also purchasing extensive amounts of Husker merchandise and tickets, making donations, and turning out for events at increased rates. 

Call it the Scott Frost Effect.

NU is taking advantage of this return-of-the-conquering-hero narrative by ramping-up development efforts wherever large bases of Husker fans reside.

“We’re really reaching outside the borders,” says NU Executive Associate Athletic Director Marc Boehm, who oversees external operations.

He says fundraising junkets to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Palm Springs and Naples, Florida, are tapping into “enthusiasm over the hire and for the direction the program is heading.”

Nebraska Alumni Association Executive Director Shelley Zaborowski notes a ripple effect.

“We have certainly seen increased interest from alumni,” she says. “Our trip to Chicago for the upcoming Northwestern football game sold out in record time, our allocation of football tickets sold quickly, and we have received a high volume of calls about the Nebraska Champions Club.”

The association’s previous trips for the Northwestern game sold out between July 1 and the start of football season. This year tickets were nearly gone by the spring game in April; however, this is also the first year the alumni association has used an online ticketing system.

The waiting list for tailgate spots at the Nebraska Champions Club has grown by nearly 50 percent this spring. Zabroski wrote in an email that the membership numbers for May were the third best since 2014.

“It’s a little soon for us to attribute a spike in membership to ‘the Frost Effect,’ but we have high hopes the collective enthusiasm will pay off in that way, too. Anecdotally, there are a lot of people excited—[with] our local alumni and our chapters across the country. His return home is a point of pride and enthusiasm for Nebraska alumni and friends.”

University of Nebraska Foundation President & CEO Brian Hastings echoes the sentiment.

“Our fundraisers travel around Nebraska and the country, and they certainly are hearing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from our alumni and supporters. Athletics—especially football—is a front door to the university, so we are excited to have a lot of eyes on the University of Nebraska this fall.”

Wherever Frost has appeared, he has been well received. A record 86,000-plus fans attended the April 21 spring game at Memorial Stadium. 

The June 11-12 Husker Nation Tour saw the new head coach, his assistants, and Moos and other administrators criss-cross the state to pump the Big Red well in anticipation of the 2018 season. High-energy crowds turned out at all 26 town stops. 

All good signs the Frost Effect is paying dividends.

“There are barometers in which to confirm that,” Moos says. “We sold out our spring game, which is basically a scrimmage, in less than 36 hours. [It was the first time the game has sold out] It was incredible. Our season ticket renewal rate was 96 percent. That’s about 1.5 percent higher than in 2017, but you’ve got to realize there aren’t a lot of seats available year-to-year.

“Our novelty stores and online site Fanatics were up about 10 percent in December [over the previous December] after Scott’s hire from people jumping on the wagon to celebrate the coming home of one of our stars. We’ve seen a great surge in sales—over 15 percent—in Husker items from all of our licensees.”

Husker Hounds owner Scott Strunc says, “Coach Frost has generated a ton of excitement again with Husker Nation. Our sales are up 40 percent from last year through May. I anticipate the excitement building as the first game gets closer. The ‘Frost Effect’ has been the best thing to happen to our business in 20 years.”

Positive media spin generates free publicity.

“The media has been all over our campus following this new era,” Moos says. “We’ve had USA Today, Sports Illustrated, espn.com, The Athletic, Bleacher Report, cbsports.com, and the Big Ten Network. It’s a big story and big excitement.”

Boehm has “seen a lot of ups and downs” with Husker football’s following since 2001.”This past year it was getting concerning, where you saw a little apathy setting in, which is never good,” he says. “Then once that hire hit, it was game on. The biggest thing is that the state is now unified. When that happens, it can be a pretty big force.”

Boehm says the economic engine of Husker football will be most felt in-season, when fans spend thousands of dollars at the stadium and at bars, restaurants, hotels, and shops in Lincoln.  Fans watching the games at Omaha venues will do
the same.

“Nebraskans are very proud, and right now that pride is back,” he says, “and it’s much more than the investment—it’s the time and energy donors and prospects put into coming to the games. Forget about the financial end, it’s actually showing up and being emotionally invested again.”

Nebraska proudly touts the NCAA record for consecutive home football sellouts and Osborne says that streak “certainly was in dire jeopardy if we hadn’t got somebody like Scott to come back,” adding, “I think it’s important that people have hope and I think there’s a renewed sense of hope.”

Moos observes how “the feverish pitch of the fan base” is in stark contrast to the mood he found upon arriving in November.

“I’ve always felt that what intercollegiate athletics could do for an institution is be a source of leadership, morale, and positive feeling,” Moos says. “All those things are in place and it’s just a real good time to be involved with the University of Nebraska. It’s been my experience that when football is firing on all cylinders, then all boats rise. The attention a school’s football program brings to it is something you can’t really put a price tag on. Applications for admission grow. Already have. Donations across campus improve. When people have a good feeling about their university, are happy with the results, and anticipate a good future, they’re more apt to loosen the purse strings and get involved, and that’s where I feel we are right now.”

Moos says the savvy Frost knows that as football goes, so goes the athletic department, and that, despite NU’s recent on-the-field struggles, the school boasts the tradition, facilities, financial resources, and fan support to be competitive.

“He’s aware. Scott’s been around the game a lot at every level and has been involved in some big-time college programs, so he knows what we have in comparison to others and is very appreciative.”

Few wish to broach what will happen if things don’t pan out with Frost. Osborne suggests this may be NU’s last, best chance to regain top status. “I think people more or less realize if this doesn’t work we’re going to be really hard-pressed to find somebody who can do better, because Scott has pretty much all the pieces you’re looking for.”

Moos echoes Osborne in expressing guarded optimism that all the right moving parts are in place—Frost being the key chess piece on the board.

“Scott definitely has the coaching know-how and not many times do you get to implement that at a place you love and that loves you. It’s a dream come true.”

Moos also knows fans’ fickle nature can turn this honeymoon into hell if NU doesn’t win big
under Frost. 

He quips, “But, hey, we’re still undefeated.”


Visit huskers.com for more information about Nebraska football.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Adam Devine Chugs the Big Red Kool-Aid

September 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is an all-out prank war in the office. After one of three slacker telemarketer friends/roommates got a big promotion, the other two conspired to humble his inflated ego (by stealing the car keys and clamping a bike lock around his neck before an important client meeting). 

While pretending to be busy as their distraught bud arrives late to the office, Adam Devine—playing his character Adam DeMamp in the Comedy Central series Workaholics—makes a passing reference to his home state over the phone: “I’m gonna go ahead and get two dozen throwing stars out to your residence in Bellevue, Nebraska. You’re gonna enjoy that, Mr. Johnson. Thank you, OK, I love you, too.” he says before hanging up. Then the on-screen office pranking escalates further.

The throwing stars reference was merely a small personal touch to the ridiculous storyline of  “The Promotion,” the fourth episode in season one of a series dedicated to zany office antics and often-intoxicated misadventures of three cubicle-mates (played by Devine and his real-life friends, roommates, and co-creators of the show). Name-dropping Bellevue was a subtlety to the script from Devine that connects his breakout role in the show back to his roots in The Good Life. 

“It’s just specificity,” Devine says. “In comedy, it really helps—instead of just saying some generic town or being vague—to use an exact place. I know a lot of Nebraska town names, and they’re always at the tip of my tongue. It’s always fun to rep Nebraska when you get a chance, too. Why not? Go Big Red!” 

Devine’s fans in Nebraska can delight from the occasional references to Nebraska littered throughout his creative works. Meanwhile, any media-consuming Nebraskans who are unaware that the actor grew up in Omaha are likely familiar with his characters in Workaholics, the Pitch Perfect franchise, or other notable roles.

Workaholics concluded its run after seven seasons in March 2017, as Devine and his partners decided it was time to move on to other projects. A cursory look at his TV and film credits, however, shows that Devine truly is a “workaholic.” 

Between 2013 and 2018, he appeared regularly on the ABC sitcom Modern Family as “Andy.” He starred in and co-wrote Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central between 2013 and 2016 (a stand-up comedy show that he co-directed and co-created with fellow “Workaholic” Kyle Newacheck), starred in Pitch Perfect 1 and 2 as the egotistical leader of an all-male a cappella group (2012 and 2015), starred opposite Zac Efron in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016), voiced a mammoth in the animated film Ice Age: Collision Course (2016), voiced the Flash in The Lego Batman Movie (2017), and hosted the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards. But that’s only naming a few of the projects from his young yet jam-packed filmography. 

Recently, online streaming platforms have become an important avenue for finding his latest projects. Not only can viewers binge all seven seasons of Workaholics on Hulu, Netflix also released two films in 2018 that showcase his writing, producing, and directing in addition to his starring on the screen: the rom-com When We First Met (February) and the raunchy action-comedy Game Over, Man! (March). In August, after this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press, Netflix also planned to debut The Package, a film that Devine co-produced with Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, and Newacheck of Workaholics. The movie tells the story of teenagers on a camping trip that devolves into a mission to save their friend’s “most prized [anatomical] possession.” 

Of course, Devine was not always such a big-shot comedian/actor. In fact, he wasn’t even originally from Nebraska—though he considers Omaha his hometown (a fact that Omaha Magazine heartily endorses). He was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and moved to Millard when he was about 10 years old. 

“It was 1994, and we [Nebraska football] were just dominant at that time,” he says. “I remember watching the Orange Bowl with my dad and a bunch of his friends and just a bunch of people from the neighborhood, and just being in awe of how much people loved the Huskers and how much it meant for people and how exciting it was to put on all the gear [red-and-white shirts with the team’s logo] and watch the Huskers play.”

If the Huskers had sucked, Devine admits, he might not have been such an enthusiastic convert. But it was like watching Michael Jordan play for the Chicago Bulls. “It was fun to watch because we won absolutely every time, and you know, that solidified it for me,” he says. “And now I still watch every game. I’m waiting for us to regain our glory because I already drank the Big Red Kool-Aid. Once you drink it, there’s no going back.” 

When he first moved to Omaha, he was just a kid trying to fit in. Mom-dictated fashion choices didn’t help. He had previously attended a Catholic elementary school in eastern Iowa where uniforms were mandatory—navy blue pants with a shirt tucked in—and that’s what she made him wear for his first day of class at Millard Public Schools.

“After that, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do anything I can to fit in,’” he recalls. “I noticed Husker gear was a very popular thing to wear, so I was like, ‘I have to get decked out, Mom, and she was like, ‘You’re not even a Husker fan. We’re from Iowa,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t care, we’re buying the gear. I’m not wearing the turtleneck again.’” 

The ’94 Orange Bowl came a few months after his family’s relocation. Devine made friends and settled into the start of a stereotypical suburban Omaha childhood. Until one summer day, a collision with destiny changed his life. Destiny, in this case, was a 42-ton truck that ran him over as he crossed the street to catch up with a friend going to buy candy at a neighborhood gas station. 

Devine’s world went black. He woke up two weeks later. “They told me that I probably would have died if I didn’t have my bike on the right-hand side of my body,” he says, adding that the local news coverage of the accident showed a gnarly scene with the bike crumpled like a pretzel. “I kind of fell underneath it and got spit out, as opposed to taking the full hit myself.” 

Physical recovery was many years in the making. Although disabled in the aftermath of the accident, Devine was a sponge for the sublime awesomeness of Nebraska football in its 1990s heyday. Tom Osborne’s Huskers squads helped sustain his soul. Bedridden and incapacitated during the ’95 national championship, he was limping around on crutches by the time the Huskers clinched another national championship in ’97. Thousands of fans once again gathered in the city’s major intersections to pump their fists and shout the “Go Big Red” call and response ad infinitum. Devine was there, and he loved it.

“It was the most mayhem I’d ever seen,” he says. “What I love about Omaha—and what I love about Nebraska and the Midwest in general—is that it was mayhem, and everyone was having a great time, but everyone was so cool and so polite and really open and giving. Here I am, a little boy on crutches, and I’m crutching around out there, and no one stole my crutches to use them as timber to start a fire [laughing], which I feel in most other cities it would have been, ‘Hey kid, give me that, I gotta bash in this window and quickly steal this TV as we start this liquor store on fire.’” 

His role with Workaholics and Adam Devine’s House Party on Comedy Central would eventually make partying a visible part of his on-screen persona. But the mass of Huskers fans celebrating a national championship was his first epic party (or at least, his first big party that did not involve rollerblades, bowling, and a lot of pizza). Women were flashing boobs in jubilation. He and his friends had sneaked beer from the cooler at home and felt buzzed for the first time. He was having the time of his life. “I was such a little kid,” he says. “I didn’t really know where I was. If I wasn’t on Millard Avenue, I was probably thinking, ‘Oh my, we are MILES from home. I’m in the big city!’”

Unfortunately, he never had a chance to explore his own athletic prowess in Omaha. The cement truck of destiny smashed Devine’s dreams of advancing from peewee football to the Blackshirts of UNL. Nevertheless, he kept his athletic ambition alive by lowering the rim of his driveway basketball hoop and pretending he was Michael Jordan. Then, every year of high school, he would try out for the Millard South basketball team. 

“I really just wanted to make the team, and I tried really hard,” he says. “But our team was pretty good throughout my high school life, and I ran like a 17-minute mile at that point because I was just relearning how to walk. So there was no way that I was going to make the cut. But I tried out every year…For whatever reason, players had to buy the shoes before you actually knew if you made the team or not, so I always bought the shoes. Finally, my senior year during tryouts, the coach yelled over to me like ‘Devine!’ and I was thinking, ‘Uh oh, he’s calling me up! He’s gonna say I’m the sixth man! I’m coming off the bench, here I go!’ and he’s like, ‘You don’t need to buy the shoes.’ I’m sure my mom appreciated the brutal honesty because she did not want to buy those shoes. I still think I did, though, I still think I got that last pair.” 

In his roles in Workaholics and Pitch Perfect, Devine played characters oozing with overconfidence. These performances were shaped by his own youthful experiences deflecting hostility from occasional bullies. Humor, he found, was the great defensive strategy. 

“The thing about bullies that always made me laugh is they’re usually the dumbest guy in the room; they’re never the smartest,” he says. “It’s funny, when playing a character like that, to have this braggadocio, that confidence, when you’re really an idiot masking all your insecurities. That’s what bullies are. They’re insecure about something, and that’s why they’re lashing out. Because they don’t want everyone to think they’re not cool, or to acknowledge whatever they’re insecure about. So they mask it by bullying someone else. I played that role a lot with Adam DeMamp on Workaholics. I created the character, and I loved playing it because he was so confident. But with his friends, he would cry in front of them and be super sad and be like, ‘No one likes me!’ because that’s what he’s really thinking. But when he goes out, he tries to act like the most confident, coolest guy, which usually backfires—which is what it does for most people when they try to act like something they’re not.” 

Making gag phone calls to a now-defunct Omaha radio station, KDGE-FM 101.9 “The Edge,” gave Devine his earliest exposure to comedic performance for the general public. He was just having fun, not thinking of it as any sort of career development. But it was. 

“After I had my accident, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do anything,” he says. “So I would call into The Edge every day and do different voices and impressions. The DJs liked it, so I kept calling back. I would be writing bits at school in class and run home, well, not ‘run’ but aggressively crutch home or have someone push me up a hill in a wheelchair home, and then do my bits on the radio. I remember they were like, ‘Hey, you’re calling every day, we want you to be a color commentary guy on the radio station. We’ll think of bits for you to do every day and we’ll pay you. This could be your job, you call in every day anyway.’ And I was like, ‘This is great!’ so I went down to The Edge headquarters in the Old Market. My mom had to drive me all the way down there, I was 12 or 13 years old at this point and in a wheelchair. My mom pushes me in, and the guys are like, ‘What, we thought you were an adult!’ Because I never talked with them out of character, I would just be in character 100 percent of the time, and they were like, ‘Well, we can’t hire you, but what we can do is give you free concert tickets and free CDs to any events we throw.’ For the next couple of years, I got dozens and dozens of free concert tickets, which, at that age—13 and 14 years old—is better than any amount of money that they could have given. I would roll to Rockfest, Edgefest, and all the local rock shows put on by The Edge with 15 to 20 people. Which was a good way to have kids not make fun of you or punk you, since I was just getting over being crippled.”

Doing the bits on the radio gave him ammunition to negate the would-be meanness of monstrous middle schoolers. After all, the only thing these kids wanted more than making fun of someone else was getting to go to a concert for free. He had the power, like Devine intervention.  

Three different telemarketing jobs during high school, likewise, gave him more unexpected fodder for his eventual foray into mainstream comedy and his role on Workaholics. But when he was working in his cubicle, he was just trying to pass the time. 

For Professional Research Consultants, he conducted surveys over the phone for health care companies. “It was pretty straight forward,” he says. “You just had to have a polite voice on the phone, and people for the most part were like, ‘Yeah, my hospital stay was good,’ and you could take it from there. That being said, I would definitely change my voice for which part of the country I was calling. If I was calling the South, I would have a Southern accent [he says with a Southern drawl], and then if I was calling New York [he says with a Bronx accent], I would use more of a East Coast thing, and I would change my name to sound more New York. I remember my boss took me in and was like, ‘You’re doing great, just don’t change your name and your voice. You should not do that. Use your regular voice everywhere that we’re calling.’” 

Selling meat for Omaha Steaks was more difficult. “Because as much as steaks are delicious and everyone likes steak, and Omaha Steaks is a great name brand, if you’re not hungry for steak, you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I should buy $500 in steaks right now,’” Devine says. “So it was a lot of me taking a piece of paper and wiggling it in front of the phone and going, ‘What’s this?’ and then acting like I’m talking to someone else and going like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe this. The boss just brought this to me from upstairs’—there were no upstairs; it was a one-story building—‘and we are going to give you this amazing discount.’ It was the exact same discount we were going to give everybody else. But this was my sales technique, and it worked.” 

The third of his telemarketing jobs was the worst. It was a company that sold everything from knives to Time-Life Books over the phone. “That was the worst phone job because, have you ever wanted to buy a Time-Life Book in your life? No. No one has,” he says imagining the poor souls who got stuck receiving the books month after month and having to scatter them around the house everytime Grandma came to visit. Grandparents, it seems, were a solid target for sales.   

There were classes that helped his comedy and acting career along the way, too. He enrolled in the theater arts program at Millard South during his freshman year. But it wasn’t until his junior year that he began to take the school’s theater program more seriously.

“My drama teacher at Millard South High School, Robin Baker, was just awesome,” Devine says. “She was cool, and she knew people that were actually working actors in Hollywood and people who were producers and writers and people that were actually doing it—not just on the small level, but actually making careers out of it.” 

Baker helped him to believe that he could do it, too. She saw that Devine enjoyed making videos, and she encouraged him by showing the videos during classes or at rehearsals. He had focused only on comedy in his first three years of high school. But, at her urging, he began to branch out from comedy to dramatic roles in his senior year.

“OK, this is what I want to do,” he realized. “My legs aren’t going to suddenly super-heal, and I’m not going to be the freak athlete that I once thought I was, so I should do something else.” So, Devine took parts in five plays his senior year. 

“She was like, ‘For comedians, the reason they’re usually funny is they have a depth of emotion that they can easily tap into, and that lends itself to being a good dramatic actor,’” Devine says of his high school drama teacher. “She gave me a shot at doing some more dramatic stuff, so I ran with it. She gave me the confidence to move out to Hollywood and pursue a real career. And to her credit, during my senior year, when I was telling my parents that I wanted to move to L.A. and try to give acting and comedy a real go, she told them that she thought that I had the chops to make it. And that gave my parents the confidence to allow me to go.”

Off to California he went. Devine applied to UCLA and was accepted, but didn’t have enough money to cover tuition. He ended up studying at Orange Coast Community College, thinking he might transfer the credits to another California university afterward. Soon after enrolling at the community college, Devine met Blake Anderson and Kyle Newacheck (two of the four core members of Workaholics).

“On day one of improv class at the community college, I just kind of clicked with them,” Devine says. “Blake, as you know from Workaholics, ends up having these long, beautiful, luscious locks that the ladies just adore. But at that time he had the cutest little afro, very Justin Guarini-esque, and he was super funny, so I kind of latched on to him and we started writing comedy together. After a couple years, I realized that I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted to do comedy full-time. Kyle, who plays Carl the drug dealer on Workaholics, who directed many of the episodes for us on Workaholics, he moved up [to L.A. from Orange County] to go to film school, and at that time I was like, ‘I’m going to move up as well and really start to take my comedy/acting career seriously.’”

Devine never graduated from Orange Coast Community College, though he speaks highly of the school. He didn’t want to take the math and science credits needed to complete a degree. He only took improv, creative writing, screenwriting, and the classes that he thought would make him better at the job he actually wanted to do. 

That strategy doesn’t work out for everyone, he admits: “I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. But I really put my nose down. I was determined that this is what I’m gonna do, and I’m gonna do it full-steam ahead. Luckily things kind of clicked into place for me.” 

Devine intervention strikes again. Two years after moving to Orange County, the 20-year-old aspiring comedian took a job at the Hollywood Improv Comedy Club in L.A. He was just answering phones and working the door. Nevertheless, he considers it to be his first break. 

“Even though it’s not like a true Hollywood break, I got to see comics like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Fortune Feimster, Daniel Tosh, and all these guys from all different walks of life at the top of their game, these A-list comedians,” he says. “Second City, at that time, was connected to the Improv. It was right next door. If you worked at the Improv, you got half off of classes at Second City. So I was like, ‘This is perfect!’ I took as many classes over there as I possibly could.”

In the Second City musical improv class, Devine met Anders Holm, the fourth member of the yet-to-assemble Workaholics squad. A troupe associated with the class was planning to go on tour and do corporate gigs. Singing musical improv at the Mead Paper Corp. turned out to be Devine’s first paying comedy gig.

Devine found Holm to be like the yin to his yang, or vice versa. “He actually was the first person I met who was a writer that was serious about writing,” Devine says. “He was more serious about writing than performing, and I was kind of the other way. I was performing so often and doing stand-up every night. I think he wanted to be more of a performer, and I wanted to be more of a writer, and we sort of helped each other. We started writing together, and then he joined my class, and we started to perform together.” 

YouTube was still a new phenomenon on the internet, and Devine saw an opportunity for his comedian friends to assemble like Voltron. “So I call my old friends Blake Anderson and Kyle Newacheck. I was living with Kyle at the time,” Devine says. “I was like, ‘We need to start making videos,’” as the only comedy-focused videos he was seeing on YouTube were from Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island crew. 

“I think we came out with about 80 videos in about two years,” Devine says, “That’s when we started to get the attention of Comedy Central, because we were putting out so much stuff, and at the same time, I was doing stand-up and I started to catch the attention of Comedy Central. They had me on Live at Gotham, which was the new faces show before Adam Devine’s House Party. So that was my first TV stand-up show.” 

The Comedy Central execs started watching all of their material on YouTube—which remains available under their group’s channel, Mail Order Comedy—then Devine says they were approached: “‘Oh, you guys can actually create something. Do you have any ideas for shows?’ And we were like, ‘We sure do.’” 

Gangster-rapping wizards were going to be the next big thing in comedy. Almost. “We went through a weird period where we created an entire album of us as gangster-rapping wizards from another realm,” he says. “I mean, you can buy the album, it’s called Purple Magic, I believe it’s on iTunes still. We thought it was awesome, and we were getting great feedback, and those were our first videos that went really viral. That was right around the same time Comedy Central asked about show ideas.”

They also had done a Mail Order Comedy web series that Devine says “was basically Workaholics before Workaholics,” and the executives had expressed interest in that concept of the guys living together and working together and getting into hijinks, “and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea, but what’s a better idea is us as gangster-rapping wizards from another realm that come to this realm to take over the rap game.’ And they’re like, ‘What? No. That’s a horrible idea. We do not want that.’ But we kept pitching it anyway. We pitched the lower level execs; they were like, ‘Great, don’t pitch that when you go to the vice president.’ So we’re like, ‘OK,’ and then we pitch it to the vice president, and they’re like, ‘Great, you’re going to pitch the president next week, do not pitch the wizard rap,’ So then we go there and we pitch Workaholics; she’s loving it, she’s like, ‘This is a really great idea. We’re excited about this.’ Then we pull the rug out from under ourselves, and we’re like, ‘Well, it’s great you’re excited about that, but what we really wanna do is…’ and pitch her the wizards. And she’s like, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’ Well, thank God the execs at Comedy Central were nice enough to just not go, ‘OK, you know what, just leave. Don’t come back. We’re trying to give you your shot, but you won’t shut up about wizards.’”

Whether or not the gangster-rapping wizards concept ever magically resurrects itself, Devine has remained plenty busy with other projects—minus his wand and Gandalf beard. “I’m coming off a whirlwind,” he says. “Last year I shot three movies and did a stand-up tour, a huge tour, and then I just promoted a bunch of those movies and was all over the country promoting, and went on a USO tour with my dad this last Christmas to Iraq and Afghanistan, and then went on a stand-up tour to Japan and Australia for about a month, and then here I am. This is like the first gasp of air these last couple weeks.” 

Back in his regular routine, he’s still on the grind. He describes a regular day as, “Waking up, then I usually have an interview or two, then some meetings with someone, and then I chug coffee and go do shows. I usually try to do a couple shows a night still.” 

His stand-up push is fodder for his next goal for his comedy career—a Netflix special, which Devine will be shooting this fall at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha. The discussion with Netflix was still under negotiation over the summer when Devine spoke with Omaha Magazine for this article. His desire to film the potential comedy special back in his Homaha once again demonstrates his genuine love of Nebraska. 

But that’s not all on the horizon for him. With an anticipated 2019 release on Disney’s new streaming platform, Devine stars in the upcoming family-friendly Disney film Magic Camp, where he plays a banker returning to the magic camp of his youth. 

Meanwhile, in July, HBO announced plans for a pilot for a new comedy series titled The Righteous Gemstones about a conflicted televangelist family by the name of Gemstone. Devine is signed on for the role of the family patriarch’s hardcore fundamentalist son bent on destroying Satan. 

Devine says he has several other undisclosed projects percolating, and he doesn’t see the term “workaholic” as a negative in his personal circumstances: “It’s not like I’m working so hard that I’m ignoring my family and not making it to a birthday dinner for someone I love, like ‘Sorry, he’s too busy working,’ while I’m just in the other room aggressively writing dick and fart jokes. Like, ‘I can’t make your birthday dinner! I must finish this perfect dick analogy!’ But no, I do work very hard, and that comes from being from the Midwest and having that mentality.” 

He attributes his work ethic to Midwestern parents and upbringing: “Seeing how hard my parents worked to take care of me and my sister, I knew in order to get this career up off the ground, I needed to work as hard as I possibly could. It really just comes down to, surround yourself with people that you think are smarter and more talented than you are, and then try to outwork anyone that you know. If you do that, even if you’re not the smartest or most talented, but you’re willing to work harder than anyone else you know, you can get smarter and you can get more talented. As long as you’re willing to put in the extra work. A lot of people aren’t. I used to work with some people who I thought, ‘These are the funniest people I’ve met in my life!’ and now they’re not even in the business because they weren’t willing to do the 15 shows a week and stay out until 4 a.m. driving around the country doing shows and staying up late to finish that script.”

He has worked as a comedian, writer, actor, voice actor, producer, and director for various projects over the years. But how would he like to be seen? “The thing is, I like doing all of it. I wouldn’t want to do just one thing,” he says. “I have friends that only do stand-up, that’s all they do. To me, I would get bored if I didn’t have other avenues to go down. I love acting. I love playing different roles. I would love to play some more dramatic roles, and do like Robin Williams did toward the end of his career. 

But then I also love producing, I love taking other people’s projects and ideas and using my connections that I’ve made through the years and helping them find money for the projects and actually helping get them made. I also would like to direct movies and have control over making a creative vision come to life. I love writing and coming up with this little nugget of an idea, this little morsel, and seeing it become a full-fledged movie or a TV show that has a life of its own. That is really gratifying, a very cool experience.” 

While experimenting in all aspects of creative production appeals to Devine, he also doesn’t mind letting it all hang out. Literally. As evidenced by his dropping his pants and jumping buck naked from a closet to surprise the armed mercenaries in Game Over, Man!, the Netflix film that Devine and all of his fellow Workaholics co-creators put together as a team. 

The concept for Game Over, Man! evolved from their writing “Office Campout,” their third episode of Workaholics, which first aired seven years ago on Comedy Central. The episode featured an attempted defense of their cubicle maze from nighttime invaders—inspired by the film Die Hard with psychedelic mushrooms. The plot of the Netflix film drives home the Die Hard inspiration even harder (with the trio working as hotel janitorial staff rather than telemarketers) with action combat scenes, mercenaries with automatic weapons, and a big boss, plus illicit substances. 

Did he get any grief from his parents over his family jewels flashing? “No,” he says. “I love my parents. They’re the best, they’re so supportive. My mom was sitting by me at the premiere. I was sitting in front of her actually. I didn’t want to sit right next to her. Then, as it’s happening [as his penis is bouncing on the screen], she’s going ‘Aww’ [in an affectionate motherly way], and then she kept going, ‘Well, this is funny. This is funny,’ which I think is her nervous way of not being like, ‘Ew, gross, why is my son’s dick out?’” 

Around the time that Game Over, Man! debuted on Netflix in spring 2018, the HBO series Westworld started its second season. One of the male actors in Westworld, Simon Quarterman, dropped his pants in the first episode for a full-frontal nude scene. Quarterman told New York Magazine’s Vulture that the experience was liberating and he urged other actors to try it. Well, Devine is all over that trend like a dog humping a leg. “We don’t coast,” as Omaha’s official slogan insists. We’re ahead of the curve. 

“Yeah, yeah we are,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not afraid to let it all hang out.” 

No one in the audience of the premiere was cheering “Go Big Red!” but it would have been a cute way to welcome the actor’s manicured manparts on the big screen.

Like any true Nebraskan, Devine remains a Husker fan in spite of the program’s struggles in recent years. He even had an opportunity to come and work out with the Huskers in 2016 while promoting the film Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

“I love going to Nebraska to promote movies,” he says. “It’s just fun for me, especially when I get to do cool stuff like going on the field and retrieving some punts—which was really much harder than it looks. Turns out, those guys are freak athletes. They gave me a jersey with my name on it, I got to run up and down the field, I got to take the passes, retrieve some punts, and I also got to go in the gym and get my swole on with the weight-training staff. Big shout-out to them, and thanks for the free gym membership. We were doing push-ups, stuff with the medicine ball, and they told me I could come back any time. I have yet to take them up on it, but I kind of want to go back for just a month and really abuse my privileges [laughing] make them be like, ‘You gotta go. We’re trying to work out here.’”

During that promo visit, he had a chance to talk one-on-one with then-Coach Mike Riley. The coach sat the actor down in his office for the recruitment talk. It was likely the closest Devine will ever comes to realizing his dream of playing for the Cornhuskers. 

“He’s a super nice guy,” he says of Riley. “You know, it’s sad because I don’t like it when people lose their jobs—they’ve got family they’re supporting, so that’s never a good thing—but at the same time, it just wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t working out…Coming off of Scott Frost’s [undefeated 2017] season at Central Florida, I think this was the right time to make the move.”  

A die-hard fan, Devine can’t conceal his excitement about coach Frost’s shakeup of the storied football program, even if it’s merely for the morale of the fans. “Who knows what’s going to happen, especially the first couple seasons,” he says. “I think we have to give him time to adjust, but just as far as excitement about the team, thinking we have a shot, that goes a long way. We’re the Huskers, baby. You can’t count us out. It’s a Frost Warning!”

He’s not alone in his outlook on the 2018 season. Devine has witnessed the excitement from fellow roving residents of the Husker Nation all around the country, even overseas. He received a reminder in his adopted home in Southern California.

“This is going to sound like I’m a fancy asshole, but I have a beach house and have a Husker flag at the end of my dock,” he says, “and just the other day, this guy kept driving past and screaming something. I didn’t know what he was screaming. Finally, after he passed the fourth time, I hear him shout, ‘GOHHHHHHHHH BIHHHHHHG REHHHHHHHD,’ and then me and all my friends—I keep a real tight Nebraska/Omaha crew—we all hollered back with the classic call and response: Go Big Red!” 


Follow Adam Devine on Instagram (@andybovine) and Twitter (@adamdevine).

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

Getting a New Sense for Concussions

August 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a linebacker for Omaha Gross High School more than 30 years ago, Stephen Eubanks slammed head-first into an Omaha Westside linebacker.

“I still have a very vivid memory of this,” Eubanks recalls. “It felt like someone opened the top of my scalp and poured warm sand down my neck.”

Eubanks got up and “shook off the cobwebs.”

He couldn’t make sense of the hand signals coaches were giving him as the defensive signal caller. He’s fortunate not to have sustained further damage.

Today, Eubanks is supervisor of athletics for OPS with oversight of sports at seven high schools. It’s in that role that he led a charge last summer to outfit OPS players with Riddell Speedflex helmets—high-tech, data-tracking helmets outfitted with the Riddell InSite Impact Response System.

Inside each helmet is a series of sensor pads that gauge impact. The sensor pads link to hand-held devices that track the number and force of hits players experience—in each practice and game as well as over time. An alert is given when impact exceeds a threshold that is predetermined for each position.

OPS was following the lead of Bellevue West, which started using the helmets in 2016, and Omaha Creighton Prep, which last year purchased the helmets for every player. Prep’s cost was underwritten by alum Jim O’Brien, a former football player for the Junior Jays. Bellevue, which started with 12 helmets, last year was able to purchase one for each member of their teams through the support of donors. 

Whereas Prep had been researching a switch to the helmets for nearly a year, the OPS switch was put into motion in summer 2017. Eubanks (and coaches at other schools) had to learn about the helmets’ technology, their uses, and their cost. Eubanks also worked with the district’s legal team to consider legal implications, and protocols had to be established for what happens when a sensor goes off. He got the input of an OPS sports medicine committee. The sensor-equipped helmets cost up to twice the cost of a standard helmet. Omaha’s Sherwood Foundation paid more than $360,000 for the 800-plus helmets.

Once helmets were received, training was provided to coaches and athletic trainers.

OPS had coaches holding monitors. Prep had its head trainer holding the monitor at varsity games and a coach for other levels. Bellevue had trainers holding monitors. 

Each helmet reports the player’s name, number, and position. A sensor going off does not mean a player has a concussion—only that a force strong enough to cause one has occurred. 

“That first fall it only went off two times,” says Bellevue West head coach Mike Huffman. “Both times it was our running back [current Husker running back Jaylin Bradley] actually running over people. A lot of times its these young men that are bigger, they are faster, they are able to deliver the hits, that cause the sensors to go off.”

Coaches look to see if a player is down or has an observable indicator of a concussion, such as reaching for his head or walking with a wobbly gait. They can call the player to the sidelines and have them go through concussion protocol as outlined by the Concussion Awareness Act that went into effect in July 2012.

So what were results? In OPS it was something of a mixed bag, due in large measure to the compressed timetable in which the helmets were received.

“We wish we had more time on the front end, but we can’t control that or turn back time,” Eubanks says.

Syncing was off between the monitors and the sensors in some helmets. Some had battery issues. A single, malfunctioning helmet went off more than 100 times. 

“There’s some work to do,” Eubanks says. “But we’re very excited, and I think that this next year will be even better.”

Each high school had at least one player whose sensor went off and who, ensuingly, was determined to have sustained a concussion. Other times, sensors went off but no concussion was determined. 

“One time, it went off when a kid was just holding his helmet,” says Huffman.

Overall, sensors went off more frequently for linemen and linebackers—which was expected given the more frequent collisions among those players.

OPS was still pulling numbers at press time, but Eubanks says overall, the number of concussions diagnosed among OPS players was down from the previous year.

At Creighton Prep, Dr. Daniel Schinzel, the schools’ athletic director, couldn’t point to any difference in the number of concussions diagnosed. He did like the cumulative data the helmets give, showing patterns for different positions and for specific individuals.

“If No. 88 has an inordinate number of hits at or near the threshold, you can coach the kid on using proper technique,” Schinzel say. “You can say, ‘Look, your hits are very close to the threshold because you’re not keeping your head up.’”

“It’s definitely a great tool,” says Huffman. “It doesn’t prevent things from happening.”

He continues, “Most of the time, you don’t realize the impact of the head hitting the group. Now, when that device buzzes, it makes you think.”

“I think the technology is great, but technology is only going to be useful as a tool if you have the right people running it,” Schinzel says while praising his school’s head athletic trainer, Bill Kleber. “It just gives him more information as he’s doing his job.”

Another point Huffman made is that costs for these helmets will be ongoing, although the imbedded technology is worth it.

“A helmet is only good for—10 years,” he says, though skeptical of that number. “I keep helmets for about 6. So, starting in two years, I’ll need to start replacing them at about 20 a year.”

Sensors or not, Eubanks says helmets are improved over what he wore when playing. “One-hundred percent,” he says.


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Stephen Eubanks

Seamus Campbell Takes the Stage

June 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like so many kids, 9-year-old Seamus Campbell loves The Jungle Book. He’s one of countless children to be enchanted by the thought of boppin’ around the jungle with cool, scat-singing Baloo, relishing the “Bare Necessities” that can make life so grand.

But he’s not just another kid imagining himself to be Mowgli, the freewheeling man-cub searching for his place in the jungle. This year, Campbell became Mowgli.

Omaha Performing Arts’ Disney Musicals in Schools program, produced in collaboration with Disney Theatrical Group, let Campbell and some of his Harrison Elementary classmates take on the role of storyteller and perform in their own production of The Jungle Book.

Campbell, who played the role of Mowgli, uses words like “proud” and “fun” a lot when describing his experience.

“It’s been so fun,” Campbell says. “Mowgli gets a lot of lines and gets to move around a lot. I like the dancing, running around, talking, getting to put on costumes…It’s fun that we all get to know each other better.”

Campbell’s love of The Jungle Book—particularly Disney’s 1967 animated movie version—was his original inspiration to participate. He describes Mowgli as “very stubborn,” but says his character learns “a whole lot, like trusting your friends and listening to others.”

Kathleen Lawler Hustead, Omaha Performing Arts’ education manager, says her team kicked off the program for the 2016/2017 school year, letting third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students from five OPS elementary schools explore musical theater from a new angle. Omaha Performing Arts is the 13th arts organization in the nation to implement the Disney Musicals in Schools program, which began in 2009.

“Disney only selects performing arts organizations with strong education departments, so we were thrilled to be among the select few brought into the program,” Lawler Hustead says.

The program is designed for sustainability, so Disney-trained, local teaching artists work with each school in its first year to develop school team members into music directors, choreographers, and stage managers, with the skills and confidence to continue the program when the teaching artists transition to the next batch of first-year schools.

“The great part about this program is it will continue for many years to come,” Lawler Hustead says, noting that after schools complete year one, they move to alumni status and continue to receive support and free or discounted materials in subsequent years. “We’ll add five new schools each year, with the eventual goal of nearly every elementary school in the Omaha area, and potentially beyond, having these sustainable musical theater programs.”

“It’s been so fun,” Campbell says. “Mowgli gets a lot of lines and gets to move around a lot. I like the dancing, running around, talking, getting to put on costumes…It’s fun that we all get to know each other better.”

Participating elementary schools are chosen based on need and commitment to sustaining the program in coming years. In addition to Harrison performing The Jungle Book, Omaha’s other Disney Musicals in Schools pioneers were Crestridge, Kennedy, and Wilson Focus—each performing The Lion King—and Liberty performing Aladdin.

After 17 weeks of preparation and rehearsal, Campbell and the other participating students performed the 30-minute shows at their schools. They also performed select songs at an all-school Student Share Celebration, produced by Omaha Performing Arts and held at the Holland Center.

“I am so proud of our kids and staff,” Harrison Principal Andrea Haynes says. “It just shows you that kids have this capacity and latent talent, and it’s our job to give them opportunities to cultivate that.”

Teaching artists Kelsey Schwenker and Sarah Gibson coached the Harrison team, which consisted of (director) fourth grade teacher Callen Goodrich, (music director) first grade teacher Anna Rivedal, (choreographer) librarian Rachel Prieksat, (stage manager) parent Danielle Herzog, (costume and set designer) paraprofessional Elizabeth Newman, and (production assistant) school secretary Linda Davey.

While the team successfully conjured Disney magic, there was much more to it than a simple flick of Tinker Bell’s wand. The school team and students devoted many extra hours of hard work and practice. Campbell is quick to agree that being in a musical is part work and part play—so what made him want to devote extra time between busy school days and evening Boy Scouts meetings?

“To make everyone like the play,” he says. “Since my parents and everyone are going to see it, I want to do a good job and make my family proud.”

Campbell’s eyes light up when he describes seeing the set and costumes for the first time.

“When the door opened, we saw there were vines, plants, and a rock—and it was raining glitter!” Campbell says.

The Harrison team created a vibrant jungle atmosphere and costumed the cast into a believable band of panthers, monkeys, snakes, tigers, wolves, bears, and, of course, one “man-cub.” At the Student Share, the creative, colorful costumes on display from all the schools were second only to the students’ enthusiasm.

“It’s been so inspiring to see what this program does for students and teachers, and to watch the students light up and grow over the process,” Lawler Hustead says. “Not only are they learning to sing, dance, and act, they’re learning critical thinking skills, problem-solving, communication, self-confidence, and how to be a team player.”

Campbell, who also loves Star Wars, football, and Percy Jackson, says his experience taught him to be brave and, of course, that the show must always go on.

“[If you mess up], you just redo the line or skip by that line,” he says confidently.

Haynes says exposing young kids to the arts fosters an important self-reliance.

“It can plant the seed in them that they can do anything,” she says. “That sense of self-confidence is so important in this world, and will carry you through all kinds of obstacles.”

Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Seamus Campbell

Johnny Rodgers

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Johnny Rodgers turned 65 this year. He looks great. The 1972 Heisman Trophy winner and Husker football legend is also busy. He likes it that way.

“Well, I think that retiring, to me, is being in the position to do the things you want to do. I don’t think that retiring is getting somewhere and doing nothing,” Rodgers says. He then adds with a chuckle: “The law of use says, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’ And I’ve found that a lot of people, as soon as they retire and start doing nothing, they die.”

Rodgers is far from retired…and he’s aiming to live to age 100. He works as vice president of new business development for the U.S. and Canada at Rural Media Group Inc., which operates both RFD-TV (the huge rural-focused television network) and Rural Radio on SiriusXM. He also recently published a book and audio book, titled, Ten Minutes of Insanity. The self-help book and audiobook provide insights into moments when a person can “mess themselves up” or “set themselves up.” Rodgers speaks from youthful personal experience coupled with an older man’s perspective.

Referring back to his college years, a “mess yourself up” situation is “like the gas station fiasco that I was involved with,” he says. The opposite, positive kind of moment is “like the punt return against Oklahoma. You’ve got to be pretty insane to stand back there and wait for them to come.” He adds that each scenario “presents dramatic results, just in a different way.”

Johnny-Rodgers1Rodgers has a website in the works (which should be live this fall) aimed at providing help and perspective to business leaders, entrepreneurs, and athletes. “What I really want to do is to help athletes—professional athletes of football, basketball, baseball, all of them—transition from sports to public speaking,” he says. “And to be able to set up mechanisms for them to be able to tell their stories.”

Denny Drake, who has worked with Rodgers for more than 20 years on a variety of charitable and business projects, says Rodgers has always been open to trying new ideas, and to receiving critiques and wisdom from others. Drake is the president and CEO of the marketing company Performance Solutions Worldwide. He is also connected to the Jet Award (named after Rodgers), which honors the top return specialist in college football, and the Johnny Rodgers Youth Foundation. Rodgers serves as the youth foundation’s president; Drake is its CEO.   

“Johnny is a really good idea guy. He’s a good visionary of things,” Drake says. The two men are also working together on Authentic Collegiate Jeans, a venture to provide jeans with school and university logos that should launch this fall.   

With all that is going on in his life, Rodgers says he remains thoughtful about maintaining himself, too. When he was young man, it was about being a high-caliber athlete. Now, it is about being a quality person. He’s a fan of fish and organic chicken, but might only eat one traditional meal a day. For additional nutrition, he consumes kale and greens, frozen cherries and blueberries, and other healthy foods in liquid form in the morning, and fruit or protein bars in the afternoon, prior to dinner. He also tries to drink at least a half a gallon of lemon water every day. 

Rodgers plays tennis, golf, and racquetball weekly, and plays at a higher level now after having knee replacement surgery this past year. Rodgers says (with a smile) that 60 is the new 40.

“At 60, you’re smarter than you’ve ever been,” he says.  “And at 20, you’re about as dumb as you’ve ever been.”


Johnny Rodgers has long been known for his unique take on many subjects. Below are some of his quips to reporter Tim Kaldahl.

On Mike Riley, the University of Nebraska’s head football coach:
“Mike is probably a mix between Osborne and Devaney, as I see it.”

On the future of Nebraska football:
“I think our future is so bright that we’ve got to wear shades.”

On current concerns about the safety of football:
“I can’t think, overall, that it’s any more dangerous than it always has been, and I think that that risk factor is what people liked all the time. The possibility that, you know, you could get jacked.” (Rodgers chuckles.)

On good habits for life:
“And you don’t want a habit that’s taking you down. You want to create the type of habits that build you up, so you have to make a change.”

On staying mentally focused and goal setting:
“Thoughts are not just things. Thoughts are the cause of things. So if you can hold a thought long enough, you can have it.” 


Visit thejetaward.com for more information. Sixty-Plus

From Omaha to Notre Dame

October 27, 2015 by
Photography by Bill SItzmann

On a seasonably pleasant Friday evening last July, members of the Jenkins and Wessling families gathered at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church for a wedding. The bride’s uncle had traveled back to his hometown to officiate. Dr. Erin Jenkins and her dozens of cousins know the priest simply as Uncle John. You know him more formally as the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. (Congregation of Holy Cross), president of the University of Notre Dame.

As leader of the most renowned Catholic school in the country—perhaps in the world—Jenkins’ responsibilities and schedule leave little room to breathe. Yet he found time to honor a twin daughter of his older brother, Tom, and to squeeze in another opportunity to visit with his beloved 86-year old mother, Helen.

“My father, Harry Jenkins, was a gastroenterologist who taught at Creighton Medical School and mother went to nursing school,” says the Rev. Jenkins.  “Dad died in 2004,” shortly after his son’s election as Notre Dame’s president. “Our parish was St. Pius X and then St. Leo’s. My mother still lives in the family home.”

“Omaha is still very important to him,” says Tom Jenkins. “Even though he has another family [the priests], he’s very interested in coming back here and spending time with Mom and our family. He’s humble that way. Genuine.”

Returning to the city that formed his Catholic faith and to the family that molded him as a man seems to agree with Jenkins. Laughter and a relaxed mood punctuated the wedding weekend.

“John has always been kind of quiet and calm,” Tom says. “People don’t realize he’s also a lot of fun and quick to laugh. He’ll be the first one to share a joke or a story.”

The Holy Cross priest’s sense of humor has served him well since assuming the helm of the 12,000-student campus near South Bend, Indiana, a decade ago. Under his leadership, Notre Dame’s reputation as an academically elite undergraduate program and a top research school has ballooned, its endowment has tripled to $10 billion, and the Fighting Irish football team has fought its way back into the conversation.

As president, how does he balance the decidedly secular issues of academics and research with the school’s Catholic identity?

“Notre Dame is a place of faith,” Jenkins says. “That gives it a distinctive role in being a place of conversation, of inquiry that can take up issues of faith and morality in ways that are powerful. We have a set of Catholic principles that guide our educational efforts as well as our work in the world.”

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, some would argue, has hit turbulent times.

Like many Catholic institutions, including Creighton University, Notre Dame has recently drawn fire for its response to hot-button social issues—granting employee marriage benefits to same sex couples, for example. Jenkins has absorbed the blows with grace, for beneath his quiet, thoughtful demeanor lies the steeliness of a man with a keen sense of identity and mission. As Creighton theology professor Dr. Eileen Burke-Sullivan points out, “Anyone who actually operates on behalf of the kingdom of God knows that you draw criticism on yourself. I don’t think any religious leader can have thin skin.”

Jenkins2Jenkins’ quick wit, his seeming ease with everyone he meets, and his ability to listen and compromise no doubt spring from a childhood surrounded by what can politely be described as controlled chaos.

“We had 12 kids in our family, six boys and six girls,” says Jenkins, who checks in at number three in the lineup. “I’m very close to my brothers and sisters.”

In 1966, when Jenkins was 12, the family moved from 75th and Blondo to a new, seven-bedroom home in a lively Catholic neighborhood on 100th Street, then the western edge of the city.

“I would say on our block alone, there were about 50 kids,” says Tom, an attorney. “We never had any trouble getting baseball teams together. We usually had 11 to a side.”

The Kizers lived next door and contributed nine children to the mayhem.

“There was something different about John, something special, even when we were young,” muses John Kizer, the Rev. Jenkins’ best friend growing up. “He was a big thinker and was always looking for a place to get quiet time, which was tough in a household of 12 kids.”

The friendship between the two Johns extended all through St. Pius X grade school and Creighton Prep, where Jenkins ranked high on the popularity meter. His classmates voted him Prom King senior year.

“I got a lot from Creighton Prep,” says Jenkins, whose middle name, Ignatius, honors the founder of the Jesuit order. “I’m very grateful to my Jesuit friends.”

Jenkins’ popularity at Prep benefited from his athletic abilities. He was one of the top swimmers in the state and played on the school’s inaugural soccer team, following his parents’ example of mental discipline and physical activity.

“Our dad entered the Hawaii Ironman contest when he was 58,” Tom marvels. “And his triathlon buddies dedicated a steel-sculpted bench with depictions of bike riders along [Omaha’s] Keystone Trail to him.”

Harry and Helen Jenkins also encouraged each child to follow their heart, opening the door for the third oldest to explore his desire to contribute to society. That desire became evident during a backpacking trip through Europe with Kizer the summer between their freshman and sophomore years in college.

“We had two different sets of interests,” laughs Kizer, president and chairman of Central States Indemnity Co. of Omaha. “I had the beaches of Saint-Tropez and [golf’s] Old Course at Saint Andrews on my list. John was more interested in Dachau [Concentration Camp] outside Munich, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We spent lots of time in Rome.”

Following his continental adventure, Jenkins decided to join Tom at Notre Dame. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1976, followed by a master’s degree in the same subject.

“Notre Dame gave me a superb education, a very vibrant and robust intellectual life, and an ability to combine that with a serious faith,” Jenkins says. “I had questions about my life and what I should do with it. That eventually led me to prayer and to the seminary about a year after I graduated.”

“It didn’t surprise me he became a priest and rose through the ranks,” says Kizer. “There are certain people that, when you meet them, you know they’re a cut above.”

Jenkins’ decision to join Notre Dame’s founding community of priests necessitated a separation from his Omaha family and, according to a 2005 Chicago Tribune article, “a difficult breakup with his [Omaha] girlfriend.” After receiving his doctorate from Oxford, Jenkins returned to his alma mater in 1990 as a professor of philosophy.

Since he first stepped onto what is called the campus “God Quad” in 1973 as a sophomore transfer student from Creighton University, Jenkins’ goal has been to serve the school he loves in whatever capacity it needs. That he would reach the highest level of service makes for an impressive Omaha success story, but not an isolated one.

Jenkins joins several current, high-profile priests with doctorate degrees who call the Omaha area home. William Leahy, S.J., 67, the president of Boston College, was born in Omaha and raised across the Missouri in Imogene, Iowa. Leahy still has family here. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., 45, is Creighton University’s new president. He calls Fremont home and attended Mount Michael Benedictine High School in Elkhorn. His identical twin, the Rev. Scott Hendrickson, also a Jesuit, teaches at Loyola Chicago. Archbishop Blase Cupich (pronounced SOO-pitch), 66, was recently appointed by Pope Francis to head Chicago’s archdiocese. He grew up in ethnically rich South Omaha. He and Jenkins first met in Rome during the aforementioned backpacking trip and remain friends.

Omaha produces not only heavy hitters in the Catholic Church, but heady intellects as well.

“Omaha has always had an excellent system of Catholic schools,” Jenkins says. “It had a big impact on me, and I’m sure it had a big impact on Bishop Cupich. It’s a vibrant Catholic community.”

“Historically, we have had an unusually high Catholic population,” explains Dr. Burke-Sullivan. Much of that can be traced to the European and Eastern European immigrants who came to work in South Omaha’s meat packing plants. “They brought with them a rich, progressive Catholicism, plus the belief that hard work and cooperation with others is the norm.” She says Omaha’s Jesuit and Benedictine communities influence intellectual pursuit. “And I would not discount the importance of the excellently educated orders of religious women who set up the lower school system.”

The belief in civil, open discourse characterizes much of President Jenkins’ response to a seismic shift in this country’s social thinking. Unlike many of their brethren, neither Archbishop Cupich nor Jenkins condemned the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Cupich, in a letter, pointed out the high court had redefined civil marriage, with no bearing on the Catholic sacrament. He cautioned against discrimination—a sentiment echoed by Jenkins.

“It’s incumbent on us to articulate our views clearly and in a persuasive way, but at the same time to respect those who disagree,” he says. “That’s one of the great challenges: to nurture a more healthy exchange of ideas.”

That “exchange of ideas” turned testy in 2009 when Notre Dame invited President Barack Obama to speak at graduation. Because of Obama’s stance on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, his presence at the school caused a furor. Some Catholic bloggers and newsletter editors hurled verbal vitriol at Jenkins. More than 70 bishops condemned the Obama appearance, calling it a “scandalous decision,” as did many faculty members, students, alums, and activists. The emails, letters, and phone calls piled up and piled on.

“The backlash was greater than I expected,” admits Jenkins, who went on to explain the tradition behind the invitation. “From the very beginning, Notre Dame has always invited newly elected presidents to come and receive an honorary degree; just about every one, except for Johnson and Nixon in the ‘60s,” which corresponds to campus unrest during the Vietnam War. “I thought it was particularly important to invite the first African American president, but for a number of reasons it created a tense controversy in the Catholic community and the wider world,” he says in a calm, measured manner.

Through tough times and good, Jenkins “relies on his faith to get him through and uses it for guidance,” says his brother, Tom.

Jenkins’ quiet time, once found in the corner of a basement on 100th Street in Omaha, has moved to a chapel on the Notre Dame campus. His apartment in the Graduate Student Residence also provides solitude.

Known on campus as “Father John” or simply “JJ,” Jenkins, who’ll turn 62 in December, looks fit, lean, and youthful. He works out in the gym and takes daily walks. Exercise, he says, continues to be “an effective stress reliever.”

The recent success of the school’s storied football team also helps relieve stress. When asked if he has gotten over last season’s offensive pass interference call that cost the Fighting Irish the game against Florida State, the priest chuckles and—ever the tactful diplomat— refuses to criticize “the higher power” that is a referee.

“We were kind of thin and had some injuries, but that’s football, as anyone from Nebraska knows.” Jenkins takes pride in a great football team and in the fact the players are also serious students. “The most important thing I tell them is, ‘national championships are great, but get a degree.’”

Amen to that.

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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.

Husker (Mom) Fever

September 4, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

If you’re anything like Stephanie Heibel, you haven’t stopped thinking “Huskers” since the end of last season. It’s my passion,” Heibel says. “Being a Husker fan is what everyone knows me for.”

How big a fan is she? Perhaps the biggest in the history of Husker football? Some supporting evidence:

Heibel took athletic training classes during her time at UNL. Once, back in the fall of 2000, she was helping a trainer tape the ankles of linebacker Carlos Polk. When Polk asked her who her favorite player was, she responded Matt Davison.

Polk said she only liked Davison because he was cute. “Which made me mad,” Heibel says. Heibel says she simply respected Davison as a player. “I told (Polk) I could prove him wrong.” Heibel asked Polk what sort of information he would expect a male fan to know. Probably some statistics, right? Heibel knew Davison’s first touchdown, where he was from, his total yards for his career. She even knew his stats from high school in Tecumseh, Neb. Polk couldn’t stump her with any question he asked.

After Polk consulted with a fellow player, Erwin Sweeney, Sweeney concluded it wasn’t too difficult to memorize one player’s stats. “So I respond with, ‘I know you are Erwin Sweeney No. 16, cornerback from Lincoln, Nebraska.’ I looked at Carlos and said, “You are Carlos Polk, No. 13, middle linebacker from Rockford, Illinois.” I went on to name the rest of the players along with their number, position, and where they were from, and ended with ‘I can start at No. 1. That’s Thunder Collins, running back from Los Angeles. I told them ‘I could go down the list numerically if you want.’”

Word of the Husker savant spread quickly. At Heibel’s next training session, she had several players approach her asking if she was the fan. “They said that they had heard about this girl who schooled Carlos and they wanted to meet her.”

Being a fanatic actually started when Heibel was young.  Her dad, she says, always told her that she was born a Husker, what with her scarlet hair and cream-colored skin.

Heibel has passed along the fever to her 3-year-old son, Lucas.  He loves when he gets to put his Husker stuff on, Heibel says.  Lucas was born in August, right at the beginning of the Husker football season. As a baby, when Husker games came on, “If he didn’t have his head pointed toward the screen, he would try to move it so he could.” Even his nursery is covered in Husker gear.

And while Heibel usually chooses a favorite player each season, her favorite player of all time is easily Matt Davison.

If you’re a diehard fan, you’ll understand her first reason for liking Davison: The first Husker game she ever attended was Nebraska versus Missouri in 1997. That was the game in which Davison made perhaps the most famous catch in Cornhusker history.

Her favorite number is 3 (Davison’s jersey number). She buys a No. 3 jersey every season for Lucas to wear for game days. She has her ticket from that game with Davison’s signature on it. She has a signed 16 x 20 picture of him from when she met him at fan day as a freshman.

Her collection of Husker memorabilia goes on and on.

“I still even have my pompom that I had at the game,” she says.   

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Omaha! Omaha!

June 10, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Picture a drop of water balancing on a leaf, or a Zen master poised on one foot—mid-air—for what seems an eternity. NFL referee and Omaha attorney Clete Blakeman maintains his own special equilibrium by excelling in two distinctly different careers.

“It really is a nice balance,” especially now in the off-season, he says. “I’m able to focus back on law for a little bit. And I do enjoy it.”

Blakeman, an attorney and NFL referee, was there the day Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s pre-snap count of “Omaha! Omaha!” became a viral media sensation.

“It got so much attention because the microphones on the field picked up so much,” he says. “Omaha!” had been part of Manning’s and other quarterback’s cadence over recent seasons, so Blakeman didn’t give the familiar audible too much thought. But at halftime, Blakeman learned that, thanks to microphone placements, the name of his hometown was being heard repeatedly by tens of millions of viewers.

“In the second half,” he says, “I did mention to Peyton that I was from Omaha, and he chuckled about it.”

From childhood Blakeman was immersed in the world of sports and officiating. He would tag along with his referee father for both football and basketball seasons in his hometown of Norfolk.

“It’s in my blood,” he adds.

Blakeman has served six seasons in zebra stripes. He manages a whirlwind travel schedule with an eye to minimizing time away from his wife, Katie, and their two children, daughter Maeve, 3, and son Hudson, 1. Blakeman makes his turf time essentially a 36-hour gig. He flies out the day before and, with the exception of Sunday night games, returns home the next night.

Blakeman has a front-row seat to the violence of the NFL and closely follows the league’s safety initiatives. “I have a sense that the sport is going to continue to change probably in the next 10, 15, 20 years.” The idea that his son may follow in his father’s football footsteps makes Blakeman doubly concerned.

“I’m very aware of health and player safety.”

Managing his jet-setting, multiple-career balancing act is more important now that his family is growing. “It’s great to be able to travel and experience other places,” he says.

And then, it’s even greater to get back home to “Omaha! Omaha!”

“To call this home, especially now with two little ones, it’s pretty special,” Blakeman says.