Tag Archives: Wayne State College

Curling for Gold

November 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Curling anyone? The winter sport often described as “shuffleboard on ice” still gets pegged as a Canadian import. In Husker-hungry Nebraska, the broom-swept sport remains something of an oddity.

That’s about to change.

The 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling sweep into Omaha Nov. 10-18 at the 7,800-seat Baxter Arena. Curling enthusiasts from all over the country will join the uninitiated in viewing a competition to determine which American teams will vie for curling gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Why Omaha? Competitive curlers like Steve Jaixen represent part of the answer.

“Not many people know that Omaha has a very active curling club,” says Jaixen (pronounced Jackson), an Omaha native who became a local fixture of the sport at a young age. “My mom and dad both played at the Aksarben Curling Club.

People remember holding me at the rink as a baby. My entire family has played at some point,” he says.

“We had our own building until 2000 in the old Aksarben Fairgrounds,” explains Steve Taylor, current president of the 59-year-old club. “We had a barn that we’d use every winter. Then, in the summer, the city used it as a pig barn during the fair. So the club was kind of born in a barn.”

Jaixen, 38, played in that pig barn growing up and learned to love this game requiring both skill and athleticism.

While on the juniors team of the Aksarben club, they won at nationals four years running in the late ’90s. The team traveled to Sweden one year to compete in the World Junior Championships, where they lost to Switzerland in the semifinals. He now heads the juniors program at the local curling club.

“To me, curling is more like golf,” Jaixen says. “You’re aiming for a target that’s in the distance, and it takes precision and a perfect touch.”

It also takes a lot of squatting, crouching, bending, sliding, sweeping, and overall flexibility to propel and rotate a 42-pound circular granite rock across a sheet of ice. Two teams—each with four members— compete to get their rock closest to the “button,” or the middle of the target area (also known as the “house”). A player can make the rock “curl” (i.e., turn) more or less as it slides down the sheet.

The brooms create friction that heats up the ice a little bit, enabling the rock to glide farther and straighter.

“One of the things I love about curling is the sportsmanship,” says Jaixen, a father of four who works for a financial company. “Touching the stone with a broom is a violation, but it’s up to the sweeper to be honest and say, ‘Yea, I burned it.’”

Since the U.S. Olympic Trials announcement, coupled with the recent taping by NBC Sports Network of “Curling Night in America” at Baxter Arena, interest in curling has spiked in Omaha. Steve Taylor expects membership at Aksarben Curling Club, which now calls Baxter Arena home, to reach 240 this season.

Teams from the University of Nebraska system (UNL, UNO, and UNMC), Wayne State College, and Creighton University play under the Aksarben Curling Club umbrella.

Who knows? Maybe curling terms like “bonspiel,” “hack,” “slider foot,” “broom stacking,” “pebble,” and “skip” will become part of Nebraska’s sports vocabulary after all.

Visit curlaksarben.com to learn more about the Aksarben Curling Club.

This article was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Magazine.

Jennifer Nguyen

September 28, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jennifer Nguyen is bright and soft-spoken. Sitting in the living room of her family teachers’ home on the Boys Town campus, the high school senior thoughtfully considers her answer before explaining why she chose to run for mayor of Boys Town.

“This is my home,” Jennifer says, after a moment. “I want to give back to Boys Town.”

In May, the 17-year-old was elected the 115th mayor of Boys Town. Nguyen and Vice Mayor Tessa Miller are only the second female mayor-vice mayor duo in Boys Town’s history.

Nguyen wants to serve the community, her home since she was 12, that has done so much for her. After she graduates from high school, she would like to attend Wayne State College and study business. The future looks bright, but it wasn’t always quite like this.

“It was tough,” Nguyen says. “For a while, I wasn’t sure I’d get past junior year.”

Her family teachers, Scott and Kim Kavanaugh, affirm her statement, saying they have seen a remarkable change in her over the past four and a half years they have known her. Like many kids her age, Nguyen had trouble in school and her grades suffered, but she turned things around in a remarkable way.

“We’re just so proud of her,” Scott says. “She strives for excellence in everything she does. It was tough there for a while, but now she gets upset when she gets a B.”

 

BoysTownMayor2Still, when Nguyen first told them she wanted to run for mayor, the Kavanaughs were a bit surprised. It’s a lengthy, selective process. Nguyen, who has always been a little reserved and reluctant to speak up in a group, would have to give a speech before the entire student body.

“We asked her, ‘Do you really want to do this?’” Kim says.

But Nguyen was sure.

“Ever since we were in eighth grade, my friends and I talked about it,” she explains. It was something she really wanted and she was willing to put herself out there to accomplish it.

With help from the Kavanaughs, Nguyen got endorsements from her teachers and community director. They created posters and pamphlets. She prepared to address the entire student body. And on May 5, the students voted and Nguyen was elected the 2015-2016 mayor of Boys Town. She says she hopes other students will see her as a positive example.

“Being able to role model for others is really neat to me,” she says.

In addition to her new role as mayor, Nguyen is captain of the soccer team and a member of the color guard, student council, junior ROTC, and National Honors Society. Even with a busy schedule of school and extracurricular activities, she believes making time for service to others is important.

“Jennifer has always been a person who gives back,” Scott says. “She sees the needs of others.”

Boys Town founder Edward J. Flanagan conceived its student government system as a way for students to build character, citizenship, and a sense of community. In Nguyen, that legacy lives on.

“I want to make Boys Town feel like home for all of the students and encourage everyone to get involved.”

BoysTownMayor1

Todd Schmaderer

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For a man who never thought he’d be a police officer, Todd Schmaderer’s career in law enforcement certainly has seen a meteoric rise. Omaha’s once interim police chief was selected from four applicants for the Chief of Police position this past August. As the new commander, he leads a force of 796 sworn officers and just over 1,000 employees total, oversees a budget of $119 million, and is responsible for the safety of the citizens living in the city’s 114 square miles.

It is a job he performs with pride. Chief Schmaderer is Omaha born and bred. A 1990 graduate of Roncalli Catholic High School, he attended Wayne State College in northeast Nebraska on a football scholarship his freshman year. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to prepare for a potential career in business. But while at UNO, he shifted academic gears and sought a degree in criminal justice with the original intention of pursuing the enforcement side of the IRS.

However, the allure of immediate job placement upon graduation was too enticing to pass up, and Schmaderer joined the Omaha Police Department. That was 18 years ago. Today, the man who once “walked the beat” is reaching out to community groups, other law enforcement agencies, and social services to build on the police department’s commitment to service.

One of his top priorities is a reduction in violent crime. Schmaderer seeks to emulate metro areas that have successfully addressed this pressing issue: “Police tactics need to be reflective of practices that work with other cities with similar problems.” But, he continues, Omaha’s solution cannot be an exact replica of Cincinnati’s or Boston’s approach, either; “We must tweak it to fit Omaha’s unique situation.”

He also believes that establishing a solid community-policing program will help address crime. Gone are the days of “an officer on every corner,” Schmaderer acknowledges. Social media, such as the police department’s Facebook page, can be instrumental in the exchange of information between the police and the community.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan.”

Communication with the city’s various neighborhood associations will also help Omaha police streamline its approach to crime prevention by allowing police to tailor its presence to a neighborhood’s particular need. Graffiti might be a primary concern for one neighborhood, whereas car break-ins might be uppermost on another area’s mind. Community groups are stakeholders in the problem, he asserts, and can play an integral role in crime reduction by identifying ways the police can serve them.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan,” asserts Schmaderer.

Reducing crime is also a shared responsibility with other city departments, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit and civic social service agencies. Poverty and lack of employment are two of the root causes of crime, he firmly maintains. Social services can play a significant role in crime prevention by intervening in potential offenders’ lives before they turn to crime as “a fix” for their problems.

Schmaderer takes the helm of the police department at a time when Omaha is experiencing great growth. He believes that “long-term planning is so important to keep up with this growth” so that expansion of the police department is commensurate with city expansion. He plans to increase staffing in the department’s gang and homicide units. He also will augment personnel in the cold case squad, an indication of his commitment to “never forgetting the victim.”

As Chief, Schmaderer may not have time to teach criminal justice classes at Bellevue University as he has done since 2010. Nor will he be able to coach his two children’s athletic teams. But he will continue to etch out opportunities to go for a run, spend time with his children, and enjoy free moments with his girlfriend, a sergeant with Omaha’s police force and whom Schmaderer describes as “my best friend and strongest supporter.”

Time-consuming and complex as his job is, this is where he wants to be. “At the end of the day, I am glad if I made a difference in the community and the people who work with me.”