Sheridan Blanco, Makinzie Gregory and Carsyn Long were just little girls when Gering’s Teresa Scanlan made history as Nebraska’s first Miss America. Now, all three will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska, hoping to bring their hometown a second Miss America crown. Blanco, Gregory and Long, all 2018 Gering High graduates, will compete at the 2019 Miss Nebraska competition in June in North Platte.
Blanco, 19, has already won thousands of dollars in cash scholarships competing in the Miss Nebraska program, including a $2,000 scholarship to Western Nebraska Community College, where she is pursuing a degree in physical therapy. Blanco was crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County 2019 over the summer, and has since volunteered at events across Western Nebraska advocating for causes including Special Olympics, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and sharing her personal message about Arthritis Awareness.
“The Miss Nebraska Organization has been a very rewarding program to be a part of,” said Blanco. “I have learned public speaking skills, how to promote myself, and am able to go to college for free all because of this organization.”
Gregory, 19, has won more than $7,000 in cash scholarships competing in the Miss Nebraska program. One of the youngest contestants at the 2018 state competition, she was named 2nd Runner Up, honored with a Preliminary Talent Award, and named a finalist for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award. In addition to volunteering across Western Nebraska, Gregory is an active social media advocate for individuals with special needs, serving as Miss Kool-Aid Days 2019.
“I am so excited to represent all that I stand for in the Miss Nebraska competition this year from my spiritual beliefs, to my hometown and state, to various social issues, organizations, and businesses that I have become involved in!” said Gregory. “I am grateful for the voice and platform that the Miss America Organization gives me to advocate for my chosen causes!”
Long, 19, is currently a student at the University of Alabama on a full-ride scholarship she earned by winning the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017. Long travelled the state performing for various events, speaking to schools and organizations, and volunteering for a variety of causes. Long, whose parents now live in Bennington, was crowned Miss Douglas County in October, and has made frequent trips back to Omaha to promote foster care and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“It’s so incredible that Gering gets to be represented in this way, and it’s even more incredible to have such successful and esteemed young women representing it,” said Long. “We have seen each other’s successes throughout high school and it’s exciting that we get to continue to see each other’s success at the Miss Nebraska competition this summer. I am confident that any one of these young women would execute the job of Miss Nebraska so eloquently and beautifully! Our program truly does encourage us to be the best version of ourselves. We become advocates for causes larger than ourselves. We strive to achieve our educational goals in receiving cash scholarships. We evolve into the women that Nebraska truly needs.”
The Miss Nebraska Scholarship competition will be held June 2-8 in North Platte, Nebraska, where candidates are eligible for more than $70,000 in prize packages and an estimated $1.4 million in in-kind college scholarships. Tickets are available for the event, which will also be streamed live online, at http://www.MissNebraska.org.
One year ago, I sat alongside my fellow ‘retired’ journalist Kamie Stephen in the front row of the North Platte High School auditorium. Hearts racing, we waited impatiently for the announcement of the new Miss Nebraska, the woman who would represent our state and continue another chapter in a program that’s spanned 80 years.
It came down to two: Allison and Wellesley. Both were PHENOMENAL young women. Both were well spoken, driven and purposeful, organized and responsible, charismatic and exceptional in all aspects. When host Dave Griek announced Allison had won, I watched her… she hugged Wellesley, she focused on her, Wellesley walked away… and all of the sudden emotion engulfed her.
Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography
Tears filled my eyes as I realized several things in that one moment. What an INCREDIBLE woman to focus her words and thoughts in those first few seconds on her fellow titleholder, who has just finished second. Then, watching a woman who was typically so composed, even reserved, allowing herself to become overcome with joy and gratitude, it truly hit home how much of her heart and soul Allison had put into the journey to become Miss Nebraska.
That one moment was just the beginning.
“I remember after I won Miss Nebraska that I wanted my goal to be to visit every county in Nebraska,” Allison told me recently.” There has only been one Miss Nebraska who was able to accomplish that, Kelly Keiser Terrell – Miss Nebraska 2005, and she was one of the judges! She was able to do so much during her year of service and I wanted to have a year like hers. I have visited students in 57 schools across Nebraska. School visits was not the only thing that I focused on this year. I had 165 appearances which includes meeting many Kiwanis, Rotary, and Legion clubs. I visited nursings homes, VA hospitals and clinics, retirements communities, pre-schools, and attended many fundraisers all across the state. With attending all these different events, I traveled over 40,000 miles. I went through a lot of audio books this year with all the long drives.”
There are titleholders who slow down after winning Miss Nebraska, or competing at Miss America. The high wears off; the goal has been reached. For Allison, the mission continued every, single day she held the title Miss Nebraska 2017. In her first few weeks, I threw about 12 radio, TV and newspaper interviews at her, one after another. I told her once, ‘feel free to say no if you’re getting burned out.’ Her response: ‘I’m only Miss Nebraska for one year. I want to do as much as I can.’
Allison was our first Miss Nebraska to work directly with Governor Pete Ricketts, attending Homecoming at the Governor’s Mansion and traveling with his office to Nebraska’s four Blue Ribbon Schools. She solidified our new partnership with Teammates Mentoring Program, securing a new arena of speaking opportunities and networking. She was invited to the College World Series, kicking off the team barbecue at arguably one of our state’s biggest events. She attended the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Heart Ball, spoke with hundreds of veterans in La Vista before their Honor Flight, performed live on Omaha TV for a fundraising telethon.. the list goes on and on.
“Another highlight of my year was each school visit,” said Allison. “I visited schools all over the state of Nebraska had so much fun learning what made each school unique. I also had an absolute BLAST giving my presentations and answering all of the students’ wild questions. While traveling Nebraska and meeting the students, teachers, and citizens of these communities, it gave me a great sense of pride for our state. I was able to meet some of most genuine and hard working individuals in Nebraska. I will forever cherish the people and communities that treated me with such kindness when I came to visit. I can tell you that “Nebraska Nice” is a true statement!”
THIS is what I want people to know about Miss Nebraska and our program. Allison Tietjen is a woman of SUBSTANCE. All of America got a glimpse of that in September, when she represented our state at the iconic Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.
“Miss America was the first big moment for me,” said Allison. “I remember being very nervous for Miss America, not knowing how it was going to go. Miss America was a mix of emotions, but overall it was pure joy. I met some of the most amazing women, and friends that would help me all throughout my year as Miss Nebraska. In the dressing room I sat next to Miss Missouri (Jennifer Davis) and Miss Illinois (Abby Foster) and in those two weeks we became really close. There were many times all three of us would be in tears we were laughing so hard. These are the moments that I always look back on and cannot help but smile. I also will never forget walking out on the Miss America stage for the first time in my gown. I have never had a gown that I have loved more and having that moment on the Miss America stage is probably going to be a highlight of my life. I would not trade those two weeks at Miss America for anything, and if I had the chance I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
The sentiment about her year of service is the same – and that’s exactly what it was for Allison Tietjen. We refer to this title as a job, and folks, it is absolutely that and so much more. These women put their lives on hold – their college careers, marriage plans, and off the free time, partying and adventurine’ing you so often see in early 20-somethings. They dedicate their lives to others. For Allison – to children, to our nation’s heroes, to military families, and so many more.
“I have had an absolute incredible year and have loved every moment of being Miss Nebraska, for that reason I am sad that it is coming to an end,” said Allison. “For something that I have put so much work into and has been my life for the past year, it is a unique feeling that my Miss Nebraska journey will be over. I am not going to let this chapter end completely though. I will always support the pageant and want to continue to help in any way that I can.”
And with that, Allison Tietjen continues a journey, incredible with or without that crown. She’ll gain a new sister when her brother gets married this summer, she’ll regain some privacy with her longtime boyfriend, Garrett, and she’ll continue her work at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, pursuing a Bachelors degree in Family Science with an emphasis in Nutrition and Psychology. Her hope is to be accepted into graduate school for Occupational Therapy.
At a time when ‘pageants’ are under near-constant scrutiny – that they degrade and objectify women, that they place a woman’s focus on outer beauty rather than intelligence and talent – Allison Tietjen has a message for all young women who want the absolute best in all facets of their lives.
Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography
“I was someone who had to take a leap of faith and try something completely out of my comfort zone. I was someone who thought “what if I would try to compete for Miss Nebraska”. I can say with 100% confidence that I have not a single regret for taking that leap of faith,” said Allison. “Miss Nebraska pushes you to become the best version of yourself and it pulls you outside of your comfort zone. With girls that might be considering it but don’t know for sure, I would encourage them to watch Miss Nebraska. I remember being unsure of it but interested in the program when I was in high school. My mom and I watched Miss Nebraska 2013, and from then on I was hooked. From there I competed in the next local and learned along the way. For me, becoming Miss Nebraska didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work. I encourage anyone who may be considering it to take that chance and try!”
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
Close your eyes, and think of the moments that define your life. Moments in time, adding up to one story. You have ONE life. None of us know how many moments we’ll get.
Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography
Thank you, Allie, for showing all of us how to make the absolute most of every, single moment. Thank you for taking our organization to the next level and building a legacy that can continue to titleholders down the road; you gave everyone reason to pause and say ‘yes, this is something I want to support and be part of.’ And thank you for sharing those moments with so many others. Your one moment in time, your year as Miss Nebraska, may be over, but your impact will certainly live on – in photographs, in autographs, in memories, and in countless hearts.
Yellow is the perceived color of sunshine. It is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.
Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography
Have you guys ever seen the Lego Batman movie? That part when Alfred tells him he has to go to Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party, and Batman just doesn’t want to?
Yeah. Click that. Because that’s how I feel about saying goodbye to our Yellow, our sunshine, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long.
When you are around a person like this, do you just KNOW they are destined to be something amazing? Carsyn Long is a young woman who isn’t just good at everything she does, SHE IS OUTSTANDING.
Carsyn has won state championships and other honors in DECA, competitive speech, and theater. She is a gifted singer, performing for the Harlem Globetrotters and winning the Overall Talent Award at last year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen competition. She is confident and well-spoken, nailing live TV interviews repeatedly in the last two years. She is a woman of faith, a strong advocate for her church youth group in her hometown of Gering. She is SMART, winning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama, in part because of her Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen resume. And she is kind, voted Homecoming Queen by her peers, a woman with a proven servant’s heart at just 18 years old.
The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program was created for women like Carsyn Long. She’ll pass on that title tonight, crowning a new state titleholder in Omaha.
“As I’m preparing to give up my MNEOTeen title, it’s pretty bittersweet,” Carsyn told me. “This has been such an emotional, humbling, and gratifying year that I am dreading to see come to an end. Honestly, I wish I could be MNEOTeen forever! Of course, I am so read for the college experience (Roll Tide) and to start my adult life, but it’s still so hard to say goodbye to something that has consumed my life (in all the best ways) for an entire year.”
When Carsyn was crowned one year ago, she was closing out her junior year of high school. Immediately, still focusing on finals and state championships, she also turned her attention to preparing to represent our state at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition in Orlando, Florida.
I’m gonna be completely blunt here for a second. I was CONVINCED Carsyn was going to be Nebraska’s first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. I remember texting her director, Heather Edwards, absolutely sure Carsyn was going to win.
Photo courtesy PG Photography
“One thing I remember so vividly (and I pray I never forget this moment), was the very first night of prelims,” said Carsyn. “We marched through the auditorium aisles with our state flags. The music was blaring and the screams of the audience were just deafening. I got to my spot on stage and I saw the big Husker N’s in the audience and could hear my family cheering for me. It took everything I had to not start bawling. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is real life. This is happening. I’m the girl from Nebraska who gets to experience this.’ It was very surreal and so emotional. I was so in awe and so grateful that I was the girl that got to stand on this stage. I felt so humbled, because I knew how many people would have loved to be in my shoes that at moment.”
Carsyn did not take the national crown, but she did take away several incredible friendships.
“I literally talk to Autumn Arsenault from Tennessee everyday, she’s one of my best friends,” said Carsyn. “Mississippi’s Outstanding Teen, Holly Brand, is my college roomie. I love her to death; we really hit it off in Orlando and we’re now forever best friends.”
Carsyn also came home with a resolve to make the absolute most out of the title she had already earned, our Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. She threw out the ceremonial first picture for the Omaha Storm Chasers. She was a featured performer for WOWT-Omaha’s live fundraising telethon, and at the annual Crowns & Gowns weekend in North Platte. She’s emceed local pageants across the state throughout the year, and volunteered her time at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. Carsyn will also be part of the Annual Cattleman’s Ball in June. She has also distributed her Blessing Bags to children across the state, reminding them they are loved and valued.
“I have done a TON of traveling this year,” said Carsyn. “A lot of my events were somewhere like North Platte or Omaha, which can be quite a drive since I am from western Nebraska, basically Wyoming! Most of my appearances, I drove by myself. It hasn’t been easy juggling everything this year, especially my senior year. I have had to sacrifice a lot in order to make it work, but it has all paid off. It was really imperative that I knew which things were most important.”
“I had been feeling really stuck when thinking about life after handing down my title,” said Carsyn. “Obviously, I’d go to college and what not, but I had been wondering, ‘how am I going to continue making my mark?’ But I’ve realized because of this program, being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and my drive to succeed, I am so capable and equipped with everything I need to continue moving mountains.”
And by being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Carsyn was eligible for a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alabama. She found out over Christmas break that the she was accepted, and that every dollar of her higher education, an estimated $115,000, would be paid for.
“In August, I’ll be heading to Alabama to pursue a degree in news media,” said Carsyn. “I’m planning on rushing a sorority to be really involved on campus and meet so many new girls. I’d like to get involved in theatre and performance down south a well. But there’s a lot of things I’m just kind of going with the flow with and knowing that God will provide. I couldn’t be more excited to start this new adventure.”
Will that adventure bring her back to Nebraska someday, to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska?
Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography
“I guess people will just have to wait and see… :),” said Carsyn. “Haha, yes, I plan on competing for Miss Nebraska… or Alabama? Most likely Nebraska because I’ll always be a Husker, even if I do come back with a Southern accent.”
To the 19 young women competing to follow in Carsyn’s footsteps, and to everyone learning more about the program that has been such an important part of her life, Carsyn has a message.
“I wish you could meet 14-year old Carsyn, compared to Carsyn now,” she said. “I not NOT exaggerating when I say that this program has completely transformed me into a different young woman – in the best ways possible. I can no excel in interview for a job or scholarship without hesitation. I take the health and wellness of my body very seriously and have more knowledge of how to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. I know that God has provided me with a voice that I have no problem in utilizing and performing with. I can be proof of the idea that even though you are young, you can accomplish amazing things.”
“My year has been all about small moments,” said Carsyn. “You make the biggest impact in the smallest moments. People aren’t going to remember what songs I sang at Crowns and Gowns or what I wore at Miss Nebraska week, but they remember how I presented myself and how I made them feel included in my journey. That is something that has been really important to me this year and I plan on continuing that legacy no matter where I go.”
“I knew this was something that God made me for and boy, did He use me this year,” said Carsyn. “This may feel like the end, but it really is the beginning of the rest of my life. I will never take for granted the year I had as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017. I have been so inspired and motivated by Nebraska communities and I couldn’t be more appreciative. I can’t believe this is it. I can’t believe I was the girl that got to experience this amazing year. I am forever thankful to be Nebraska’s girl.”
Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography
Carsyn, you are our Yellow. You are joy, happiness, intellect, and energy personified.
You will forever be our Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.
I’m biased, but my son is BRILLIANT. OK, I’m exaggerating, but actually, not by much.. at just 7 years old, he’s already reading at a grade level several higher than his own, he LOVES math and science, and I’m convinced he has a photographic memory. Many aspects of learning come easy to him… so he gets frustrated when something presents a challenge he can’t master on his first attempt. It’s a lesson my husband is always helping him learn, that sometimes, we have to try a little harder and it makes success that much sweeter.
We saw proof of that the other night.. playing a video game at home. Easton FINALLY beat a ‘boss’ that he’d been working on for days, persistently working through the same level over and over again. ‘YEEESSSSSSS!’ he shouted, a huge smile on his tiny face, and he quickly turned around to make sure Brian was watching. We were 🙂
Flashback 16 years to an auditorium in Kearney. Tina Foehlinger stood on that stage, and FINALLY heard her name called as the winner of the Miss Tri-Cities Pageant. In the months leading up to that moment, she had competed in SIX locals, finishing first runner up SIX DIFFERENT TIMES. She never quit.
Neither did Courtney Pelland.
Courtney has traveled Nebraska since last summer, hoping to win a local title and advance to the Miss Nebraska Pageant this summer. Time after time, she was named a finalist, leading to one last attempt in February.
“I was competing in my hometown, North Platte,” Courtney told me. “When my name was called, the crowd went wild. Being crowned in my hometown was an honor, and to have so many supporters there made my crowning 10 times more special.”
Courtney has dreamed of becoming Miss Nebraska for nearly a decade now, when she was a Little Sister to then Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers. With Courtney at her side, Brittany went on to win Miss Nebraska and become our state’s first Top 10 finalist at the Miss America Pageant in 25 years. (Click here for photos!)
“I knew competing in pageants would help build my confidence, develop my interview skills, help pay for college, and build amazing friendships,” said Courtney. “I can proudly say I have friends across Nebraska and it is truly amazing how we inspire one another.”
This is Courtney’s third year competing for a state title, first as Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen, then Miss Fur Trade Days, and now, as Miss Nebraska State Fair. She’s used each title to advocate for a cause very personal for her: blood donation. Courtney has Celiac Disease, the latest in a series of diagnoses her sophomore year of high school that sent her to the hospital and in dire need of blood.
“My favorite part of being a titleholder has been touching the lives of kids, teens and adults with my personal story, and by simply listening what they have to say,” said Courtney. “I love telling them about the importance of blood donation and how someone save my life because of their donations.”
Courtney has also helped organize blood drives, spoken to media and spread awareness in both North Platte and Fremont, where she attends college. Her goal is to collect 200 pledges by June 1st, no small goal considering she is also a full-time Midland University student, education funded in part due to the $60,000 in scholarships she received from Midland at last year’s Miss Nebraska Pageant.
“My career goal is to become a Labor and Delivery Nurse. I love children and babies!” said Courtney. “I may want to work in Children’s Hospital & Medical Center one day. Being a part of the Miss Nebraska Organization has inspired me; I’ve been raising money for them for four years, so why not continue giving back to them when I’m a nurse!”
That smile and passion for life are present everywhere this young woman goes, whether it to be a classroom, a donation site, or to a performance with the award-winning Midland Warriors Dance Team (yeah, Courtney dances, too.)
“My role model is my dance coach, Katie Speicher,” said Courtney. “She came into a team that had just won the NAIA National Championships for 2017, moving from California to Nebraska just to coach a team like us. She has had her battles throughout the year but has overcome them. I am so proud of her for everything she has accomplished and she is someone I truly look up to.”
Now, Courtney is cementing that legacy for herself. She’s building a reputation as a strong woman who never gives up, just like Tina Foehlinger did 17 years ago.
Photo courtesy Ben Fogletto for Press of Atlantic City
Just months after Tina FINALLY won a local title, she was crowned Miss Nebraska 2001 and then a Top 20 semi-finalist at the Miss America Pageant on national TV.
Colin Powell once said, ‘success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.’ Courtney Pelland is hoping to find the meaning of that message early this summer.
Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography
“Success to me is when you achieve your personal dreams and goals,” said Courtney. “Of course, I would love to win, but in all I want to walk away with a whole new group of best friends through an amazing organization. I would love to make Top 8; I’ve been working really hard and I hope I can achieve that.”
I follow many law enforcement officers on the Twitterverse. It’s the same reason I follow celebrities I will never meet; because their random posts give me a little peek into a part of the world we’re not part of. Police officers see things we don’t, and don’t have to. Twitter provides all of us a way to connect with each other through one common thread; we’re all just people who make jokes, feel emotion, and sometimes, are compelled to share our thoughts or opinions in the hopes of impacting maybe one other person.
75 mph with your head buried in your phone, completely oblivious to me following behind you and then beside you. A crash at that speed is catastrophic and kills people. A $200 dollar ticket is cheap compared to what could have happened. #PhoneDownEyesUp – @opdofcbossman
Officer Mike Bossman is a 14-year veteran with the Omaha Police Department. He is a traffic reconstructionist – he is often the first to arrive on the scene after an accident. The warning he posted on Twitter that you see above isn’t just a vague threat, it’s a real-life result he’s witnessed far too many times.
GUYS, THIS HAPPENS. KIDS DIE. I covered it way too many times at KETV, and that’s nothing compared to what Mike has seen on the streets of Omaha.
Krista Hinrichs wanted to do something. She wanted to make a difference in an issue affecting all ages.. something like being a car, put at risk by a distracted driver.
Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography
Krista was crowned Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017, and Miss Douglas County 2018. For the second year in a row, she’ll compete at the Miss Nebraska Competition, hoping to represent our state at the Miss America Pageant. At the max, that’s a handful of days on stage competing.. the rest of every year as a titleholder is spent SERVING. Making sure people are safe behind the wheel has become a key part in Krista’s mission.
“Whether they are in the back seat, the passenger or the driver everyone has a voice and can speak up!” Krista told me. “I partnered with the End Distracted Driving (EndDD) organization which is a group that works everyday to help teach others and prevent distracted driving across the country. One of the most important things to remember when you are driving and there are other passengers in your car…YOU are responsible for everyone’s life and making sure everyone arrives to their destination safely.”
EndDD has provided Krista with resources she’s used in presentations at schools across the state. She’s met with the National Safety Council and State Senator Bob Krist about legislation and current laws regarding distracted driving.
Nebraska is one of few states in the country in which distracted driving in not a primary violation,” said Krista. “This puts us behind all other states who have recognized and established legal consequences for distracted driving. By acknowledging distracted driving as a law violation, it recognizes the risks of that behavior and allows for consequences that may actually result in changed behaviors in the future.”
Krista uses her Facebook page to share statistics and powerful stories from people she’s met.
“I love talking to people of all ages, but I also love listening and being present whenever someone has a question for me or wants to tell me more about themselves,” said Krista. “I absolutely love meeting new people, talking to people, and making a connection as well as using this title to create a positive impact for people in the community.”
And community has been central to Krista over the last two years.
She volunteers with Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. She recently won Omaha’s Dancing With The Stars, benefiting Youth Emergency Services. Fundraisers, parades, galas.. Krista is there, hoping to send others, especially children, home with a brighter outlook.
“I enjoyed getting to settle down during lunchtime [at Miss Omaha] to start to build a relationship with my Little Sister,” said Krista. “My heart was filled when I saw her for the first time and she had made a special good luck card for me! I believe that people may remember a gorgeous gown you wore or your crown at an appearance, but they will also take with them how you made them feel and I want everyone to always feel valued after each conversation or interaction.”
Krista will compete for the title of Miss Nebraska this summer, and while she would love to win, her bigger goal is to connect with people and make an impact.
A will to do more.. it’s something deep within people like Krista Hinrichs and Officer Mike Bossman. Krista is a gifted dancer, a college student, a future child psychologist; she could just focus on those things, or even herself and her goal of winning that sparkly crown. Bossman could just clock in and clock out, hand out tickets and head home knowing he did his job. These two go beyond – they want to make the world better, one visit, one day, and one tweet at a time.
Krista’s latest post… ‘Use your smile to change the world, never let the world change your smile!’
For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook. You can also email Director Devin Howell or Director Marianne Grubaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.
That was the Westside Warriors motto from day one of winter sports practice. Their coach asked them, what is your goal this season? The girls varsity team answered collectively: they wanted to be great. ‘What does that mean?’ Coach Clark responded.
I reached out to Coach Clark in November to see if some of his girls would be willing to visit Westside elementary schools for assemblies or guest opportunities; they had already been doing it for several weeks. They even volunteered at the District Kindness Retreat, mentoring students one on one. Their message: don’t make excuses, and don’t place blame. Love each other.
It was around this time these student athletes were also forced to practice what they preached; they’d suffered a tough loss to a top team in Class A, and lost their #2 and #3 players to season-ending injuries. They told each other and classroom after classroom, we won’t be defined by our challenges. We don’t make excuses. We don’t place blame. We love each other.
Every game day, the Warriors gathered together as a team for breakfast to reconnect and focus. After select home games, they ate pizza with a younger team, invited as their special guests. Their message when things got hard and when things started going right: no matter what happens, we won’t make excuses. We won’t place blame. We love each other.
January – Westside won the Metro Holiday Tournament for the first time in 15 years.
February – Westside won the District Championship and a ticket to State.
March – Westside won the NSAA Class A State Championship for just the 3rd time since Girls Basketball became a sanctioned sport in Nebraska. Their 28 wins in the 2017-2018 season set a new school record.
Monday night, less than 48 hours after their victory.. these players attended the 8th grade league championship, to support the younger girls they had invited to one of their games weeks earlier.
Michael Jordan once said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
The Westside Warriors seemed to understand early on that to Be Great was so much more than taking the top prize at the end of the season; it was about meeting every challenge, and sharing what they learned with others along the way.
Jessica Shultis gets it, too… both the game, and the message.
She was a multi-sport high school athlete who went on to play collegiate basketball for Doane University. She had barely begun.. when everything in her world changed.
“During my sophomore year of college, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer,” Jessica told me. “I [now] speak to students about what it takes to overcome obstacles, whether it is bullying, academic struggles or terminal illness.”
At 23 years old, Jessica found a way to open more doors to share her story ,when she was crowned Miss Kearney and qualified to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska 2017. She finished as 2nd runner-up. Just months ago, Jessica was crowned Miss Lincoln.
“People are far more receptive to having Miss Lincoln come speak as opposed to simply Jessica Shultis. The title gives me an excellent platform to talk about issues that are important to me as well as make a difference in my community,” said Jessica. “Thanks to my connections in the basketball community, I am able to host fundamental camps free of any expense to myself, called Hoops for Hope. Due to the generous donations of others, all proceeds raised directly benefit Children’s Hospital in Omaha.”
But once again, Jessica faced challenges in her journey. At the ‘ripe old age’ of 24, Jessica was past the ‘age cutoff’ for women who hope to compete for Miss America and their state title, and didn’t think she’d be able to get a second chance to represent the state where she’s been her entire life.
“I fell in love with the job of Miss Kearney and was devastated that I only had one opportunity to compete at Miss Nebraska,” said Jessica. “Even though I didn’t walk away with the crown last year, I walked away with thousands of dollars in scholarships that I was able to apply to my educational endeavors. As someone who has completed her Bachelor’s degree and is about to complete a Master’s degree, I cannot emphasize the importance of scholarships enough.”
Then in January, the Miss America Organization announced a historic decision allowing women up to 25 years old to compete. It was the chance Jessica had been watching and waiting for.
“The week before the Miss Lincoln Pageant was a roller coaster waiting for confirmation,” said Jessica. “Friday night before the Saturday pageant, at 11pm, I received a text from Miss Nebraska Executive Director Rachel Daly that I was cleared to compete. I could hardly sleep that night, so I competed on pure adrenaline that stemmed from my excitement to step onstage again.”
Jessica Shultis is a woman who has set goals for herself her entire life. This summer, she will transition into the role of Human Resources Manager with that new Master’s Degree. She plans to earn her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She wants to continue advocating for equality across all social classes, races, and sexes, inspired by women like Oprah Winfrey and the other titleholders she’s gotten to know through the Miss Nebraska program.
Just like her basketball sisters 50 miles east, Jessica wants to be great. Her state championship trophy is the Miss Nebraska crown.
“I want to walk away knowing that I did everything I could to prepare,” said Jessica. “These ladies know the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in all aspects of life.”
Don’t make excuses. Don’t place blame. Love each other.
Photo courtesy Olivia Washburn for Westside Journalism
“Love always wins. Love conquers fear. Love is what makes a team. I can whole-hearted say I love my team like sisters. We are truly better together.” – Elizabeth Robinson, Westside Warriors Basketball Player
“I’ve had the opportunity to share my message about the importance of never losing hope. While I hope I’ve had an impact on the kids in attendance, I leave a better person because of each of them.” – Miss Lincoln, Jessica Shultis.
For more information about the Miss Lincoln/Miss Star City Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook. You can also email Director Christy Merritt at Christy.Merritt@TheWaterFord.net.
The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.
The fact that nothing immediately comes to my mind as a forerunner tells me I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life. I think of breakups, hiccups throughout my career(s), how do I raise happy, healthy children, and simply time management. This is all just life, right?
How about this for a challenge.. battling a chronic disease, surviving a car accident, facing your parents’ divorce, all while double majoring in college and launching your own organization.
“Although I’ve experienced plenty of life obstacles, I’ve used every experience as motivation to propel me to my goals,” Lianna told me recently. “I use my sassy and positive attitude to accomplish my dreams.”
Lianna doesn’t dwell on what’s happened to her. Instead, she focuses on what she’s doing NOW. For more than five years, she’s worked nonstop to make the world a better place and to make her aspirations become reality. For example… her mission to become Miss Nebraska.
“There is nothing I want more,” said Lianna. “When I was eight, I promised myself that once I was qualified to compete, I would give it everything I had to become the role model that I looked up to back then. This organization continues to give me a stage to perform on, a voice to share my message, an opportunity to give back to Children’s Miracle Network and a scholarship opportunity to help me graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln debt free.”
Lianna was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, the first step in that journey to achieve her dream. It was a chance for her to sing and perform for thousands of people across the state and at the national Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition that year.
“I. Love. Talent.” said Lianna. “Standing on stage under bright lights and not seeing anyone in the audience allows me to truly perform for an audience of One. I believe everyone has a gift and belting out a song on the Miss Nebraska stage is how I give mine back to Him.”
But that exciting year wasn’t without challenges; around the same time Lianna finally found an answer to the crippling pain that had haunted her for years.
“I unknowingly suffered from Celiac Disease for a decade,” said Lianna, who explains more about what that is HERE. “I needed to adhere to a strict gluten and dairy free lifestyle. It was then I realized the crucial link between diet and wellness.”
Lianna spread awareness of Celiac throughout high school, earning a D.J.’s Hero Award and a $10,000 scholarship for her efforts. She continued as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to advocate for others diagnosed or not yet diagnosed (approximately 1 in every 133 people).. but realized that her message applied to everyone, not just those facing this chronic disease.
“I wanted to make my message universal,” said Lianna. “‘Eat Well, Be Well’ focuses on healthy lifestyles full of whole foods designed for our bodies. Nutrition is a game changer and eating well makes you feel well and be well!”
Lianna, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took her message even further, forming the Gluten Free Community on her campus. She’s also a busy sorority member on campus, a staff member at the Daily Nebraskan, and a student with two majors in her work towards a career in broadcast journalism.
Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed; Lianna is now a finalist for the 2017 Miss Nebraska Community Service Awards, and earned the People’s Choice Award sponsored by Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe after earning more than 1,100 online votes from her friends, fellow students, and perhaps, strangers inspired by her story. A story and mission that once again, are all part of her lifelong dream.
“Hey, I’m not a Barbie! I lead a healthy lifestyle, and I strive to be well-rounded,” said Lianna. “The Miss America Organization is a training ground for interviews, jobs and life. It has given me the opportunity to hone communication skills that I will use in the future and in my career, not to mention, it funded my college career and allowed me to not only attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but double major and graduate this year. I have become the best version of myself because of the four points of the Miss America crown.”
Service. Scholarship. Style. SUCCESS.
How do you measure success? Only if you rise about those challenges and accomplish your goals? Or do you succeed through pushing yourself further than you ever thought possible in the attempt?
Lianna Prill looks at every challenge as more motivation.
Appearances speaking about Celiac Disease aren’t work; they are opportunities to help more and more people Eat Well and Be Well. Every time she takes the stage to sing, Lianna doesn’t think ‘what if I mess up?’ She embraces each moment and revels in it. The countless hours spent visiting schools and groups across Nebraska don’t take away from her time, they add to her resume as a future reporter and anchor.. and possibly, a future Miss Nebraska. THAT may be the biggest challenge Lianna Prill has ever faced, and she says BRING IT ON.
“I want to give back in any way I can; the Miss America Organization makes that possible,” said Lianna. “I have worked incredibly hard on my journey to Miss Nebraska this year, and I am looking forward to seeing God’s plan unravel.”
For more information about the Miss Alliance Pageant/Miss Harvest Moon Festival Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Director Riki Cornish Hunter at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 308-430-4355.
The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.
Westside Superintendent Dr. Blane McCann delivered a BRILLIANT speech at our District’s commencement ceremony last weekend. His theme: purpose. In front of thousands of graduates, parents, family members and educators, he said in part..
Purpose is the little flame that keeps you going. Your challenge after today is to find that flame: your purpose. It is something that your parents can’t find for you; you have to look for it. It’s not always easy to find. Every, single one of you has a unique purpose to fulfill.
Every single one of us is here for a reason.
Think about that.
My friend Lisa recently told me something that I have thought about off and on ever since. Her husband is Brian Duensing, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
Brian was one of the best pitchers the University of Nebraska – Lincoln has ever produced. He’s an Olympian, representing the United States on the 2008 US Baseball team in Beijing. He was a starter for the Minnesota Twins for years, and now plays for the World Champions in Chicago. He and Lisa could do anything, enjoying his success and living a life few only dream of. Instead, these happily married parents of three devote every, waking hour to their passions: family and doing everything in their power to ensure happiness for other families.
As Brian’s fame grew, he and Lisa started receiving T-shirts in the mail, asking him to share support for pediatric cancer patients across his popular social media accounts. The Duensings embraced the challenge; every day of every September, Brian sports a new shirt and shares information about that child and their cause. He and Lisa started the Brian Duensing Foundation, a non-profit organization taking these fundraising efforts to an even higher level. Every game, as players wives sit in the stands, Lisa sits in the family lounge and works for hours on Foundation plans and ideas, like their now annual fundraiser bringing baseball’s biggest names to Omaha to raise money for pediatric cancer-related causes.
The Brian Duensing Foundation Event in 2015 at Ralston Arena. I was honored to emcee the fundraiser and VIP Q&A session with World Series Champion Alex Gordon, Duensing, future Hall of Famer Joe Mauer and the MLB’s first ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte.
The Duensings have raised HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for Nebraska based causes that help families battling cancer. That text I mentioned that Lisa sent me?
“These are the reasons God made Brian a baseball player. I know it.”
This year, Brian and Lisa Duensing will focus their purpose on a little boy named Sammy.
At four years old, Sammy Nahorny was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that begins on immature nerve cells, and is very difficult to treat. Many cases of Neuroblastoma begin in the abdomen, and commonly affect the adrenal glands. Within days of his diagnosis, Sammy had surgery; doctors told his parents his cancer was Stage 4 and high risk. His mom, Erin and dad, Chris, immediately started researching options.. and found few. Their quest for hope was far-reaching and relentless, not just for Sammy, but for every other child facing this terrible disease. Their community in Columbus rallied, drawing the support of not only the Duensings, but of Miss Nebraska USA 2014 Amanda Soltero, Olympic Gold Medalist Curt Tomasevicz, music superstar Jason Derulo and more. They all united to become Sammy’s Superheroes… and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and counting for research, assistance and more. Just as importantly, they have become a voice, loud and clear, for all children and families regarding legislation, funding and awareness.
This superhero squad has grown yet again in recent months.
“This is a great organization that started in my hometown!” Alayna told me recently. “Sammy’s Superheroes raises awareness to pediatric cancer and has helped many families who are affected by this. I’ve had many family members fight this hard battle and I’m happy that I am able to help this cause.”
Alayna Wilson is a recent graduate of Scotus Central Catholic, a cheerleader for both her school and her entire hometown of Columbus, Nebraska. A girl with a constant smile and self-described ‘bubbly and happy’ personality, she was looking for a way to make a bigger difference advocating for causes like Sammy’s Superheroes.
She found it when crowned Miss Gering 2017 in February.
“I love the stage and helping others,” Alayna said. “I wanted to spread my platform and this was the best way possible. I perfected my paperwork, platform and talent and drove to North Platte for one of the best weekends of my life.”
And a BUSY one at that, much like every other weekend in Alayna’s jam-packed senior year. She’s a competitive dancer, and a member of the All-American team by the National Cheer Association. The same day she met her fellow titleholders at Miss Nebraska Orientation, she immediately left to head back to Columbus for a major competition.
Still, to Alayna, this new title meant responsibility; to serve others. She’s volunteered for fundraisers in Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha, even using her Senior Skip Day to travel to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to deliver care packages for the Miss Nebraska Serves project.
“My favorite part of this organization is the volunteer work!” said Alayna. “I love how each contestant has multiple hours of volunteer work under their belt. It’s so humbling to be among the amazing Miss Nebraska Class of 2017! There’s nothing that makes me happier than helping others.”
And meeting others is part of what has made this journey so memorable for Alayna.
“It is an honor to be part of this organization. I love every minute of it,” said Alayna. “I have 15 new sisters, a sister queen and a little sister. This is a family. We are a family that supports and encourages each other. This gives me motivation when I need that extra push.”
I’m guessing the Nahorny’s would say the same thing about their network of superheroes. The strangers and neighbors, the celebrities and friends, the Duensings and Alayna Wilson… they are all part of a supportive and encouraging squad of strength who love Sammy like family.
Sammy IS a superhero. This fall, just months after passing the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis, he’ll join us own personal Justice League to fight the evil that threatens so many innocent children just like him. We will find a way to beat cancer, allowing Sammy to find his purpose, just like his Superheroes Brian and Lisa Duensing have.
Alayna Wilson hopes to follow in their footsteps.
“Each day is a new day for laughter and spreading happiness,” said Alayna. “I obviously hope to be Miss Nebraska whether that time is this year, or the next, or the next. I know that that is somewhere along my path. Overall, I hope to do my best and meet and influence people along the journey. My mission is to spread the name of Sammy’s Superheroes and spread love, happiness and encouragement as well.”
525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year? In daylights. In sunsets. In midnights. In cups of coffee. In inches. In miles. In laughter and strife.
How do you measure a year in the life… when you’re Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen?
Less than 11 months ago, Hannah Miller was named Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2016. Tomorrow, after trips to Orlando and Atlantic City, performances all over Nebraska, appearances at dozens of events, and connections with countless children, Hannah will pass on her crown.
“I’m not sad that I’m passing on the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. I had my year, and I made the most of it,” Hannah told me recently. “Now it’s time for another lucky young lady to have the same opportunities I had.”
Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph
Hannah rose to the top of an epic Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen class jam-packed with talent, intelligence, civic leadership and grace. She was articulate, magnetic and energetic from start to finish. Immediately after she won the crown, Hannah devoted herself in preparation to compete for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.
“I had the shortest amount of time to get ready for nationals than any other Outstanding Teen in Nebraska’s history. So that consumed the majority of the first part of my reign,” said Hannah. “I went into nationals wanting to give it my all and not have any regrets on my performance or my experience and I can honestly say that I did exactly that. I gave everything I had in every part of the national competition and I walked away knowing that I represented Nebraska to the best of my ability. I had the experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
For the third year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen was among the top award winners at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. Hannah won a preliminary Evening Gown/On Stage Question award, and won a Top 5 Interview Award, her proudest moment in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Hannah came home and accepted the job that was only just beginning at the conclusion of competing at nationals. Her new mission: find time for commitments as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding teen and for the activities and wishes of an American teenager. Hannah is also a student at Elkhorn High School and a competitive swimmer.
“Since I’m extremely active with swim and my other school activities, it was hard to find the perfect balance between being Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and being a student athlete,” said Hannah. “The first few months were rough. But with the help of my manager (aka my mom) I was able to find the perfect balance between my two vastly different worlds.”
Whereas Miss Nebraska attends most events and appearances across the state on her own throughout her year of service, Hannah was often accompanied by her incredibly supportive parents, Jim and Barb Miller. During one of our program’s biggest weekends, Crowns and Gowns, Jim Miller drove Hannah to North Platte for a photo shoot, back to Omaha for a major swim meet, back to North Platte for a fashion show and autograph signing, and back to Omaha for school (and work!) on Monday.
I’m exhausted just typing that.
Hannah has often focused her speeches and messages on her personal platform, Safe Splashes, promoting water safety. (Click here to learn more!)
“Looking back, I will never forget going to the Olympic Trials, and having the opportunity to talk to children about the importance of water safety,” said Hannah. “I plan on continuing my work with ‘Josh the Otter’ and spreading water safety awareness. As Dory puts it, I’ll ‘Just keep swimming!'”
Hannah’s focus now is con continuing her education, using the thousands in scholarship money she collected through the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.
“Right now I’m in the process of college planning,” said Hannah. “I plan on swimming in college and studying Elementary Education. To answer the burning question of if I’ll compete for Miss Nebraska someday, right now I’m not sure. I’m focused on college so I won’t be competing anytime soon!”
And this weekend, Hannah is focused not on herself and what she’s accomplished, but the 18 young women who hope to follow in her footsteps.
“I want this year contestants to know that they have already made a huge impact on their communities and they are doing a terrific job promoting the Outstanding Teen program,” said Hannah. “Only one lucky girl will walk away as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen but you all have the opportunity to continue the great work you are already doing! You don’t need to wear a crown to make an impact!”
For our family, this was arguably a PERFECT day.. and it was nonstop! My husband and I both spent our afternoons working on projects at home. He cleaned our garage top to bottom, and I tackled all of the landscaping in our backyard. Every, single muscle in my body hurt by the end of the day, but it didn’t feel like work. I loved feeling the sun on my shoulders, hearing my sons singing along to the Sing soundtrack while they played in the yard, and the gratification of yanking out weeds threatening our hostas. (I may or may not have muttered ‘resistance is futile!’ to the stubborn ones.. #StarWarsForever)
My Dad used to tell me, ‘find what you love to do. Then, every day, it doesn’t seem like you’re going to work.’ A western Nebraska teenager has been ‘working’ nonstop since the start of October, and appears to be loving every step of her journey.
Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little
Brianna Little is 16 years old, a junior at Scottsbluff High School. She is a BUSY young woman, a competitive cheerleader who travels several hours twice a week for training in Colorado. This is also her second year as a titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program, a responsibility she does not take lightly.
February 23, Brianna posted on Facebook: ‘A huge thank you to Lincoln Heights Elementary for letting me come and share my platform yesterday!’
Scrolling through Brianna’s Facebook page, it’s difficult to find a stretch longer than a few days where she’s not serving her community as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen. Often, her message focuses on her personal platform ‘Be Kind Be The Change’.
“It’s all about spreading kindness at schools and within daily life to make it go viral,” Brianna posted on Facebook. “With all the conflicting politics and stereotypes, or even the way bullying still exists within schools, kindness has started to rapidly fade from our society and been replaced with negativity. We need to stop this trend and start making kindness our first instinct again.”
Brianna is taking that message to schools all over western Nebraska, distributing bracelets and T-shirts reminding everyone of the power of kindness. She’s also leading by example, volunteering at local events and leading her own efforts to help others.
December 10, Brianna posted on Facebook: ‘Busy day today!! Started off with a coat drop off at The Truck Full of Love. With the help of our community, I was able to donate approximately 50 new and used coats!! Next stop was Volunteering for The Salvation Army ringing bells. Ended the afternoon at Mi Sinaloa Restaurant in the Monument Mall. They are taking donations to help a special family in need this Christmas!! I love this season of giving!’
It’s clear from her posts that children, especially those facing medical challenges, hold a special place in Brianna’s heart and in her mission of kindness. She’s visited both the Colorado Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.
Brianna also advocates for and takes part in family fundraisers, even hosting a ‘Last Chemo’ party last weekend. She posted on Facebook, “Come help us celebrate Ashlynn’s last chemo treatment! 7 bounce houses for the kids to enjoy. Cupcakes, cookies and refreshments will be provided. The bounce houses will be sanitized prior to the event. With that being said, please refrain from bringing anyone with an illness due to Ashlynn’s compromised immune system. We hope to see you there!”
Not yet a senior in high school, Brianna is ready to take her mission to the next level, partnering with The Kindness Revolution in Gering.
“We came up with tons of ideas to spread kindness through the community and schools,” Brianna posted. “Be looking out, big change is coming😄”
Change that could start in less than a week.. Brianna competes for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen on Saturday. It’s hard to imagine adding a statewide agenda, or national agenda, to the already busy schedule of a competitive athlete and dedicated student. Call her Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen or the Energizer Bunny… Brianna Little is ready for the job.
“It doesn’t have to be a difficult thing,” Brianna posted on Facebook. “You can start by smiling while holding a door open for a stranger, sitting with the kid at lunch who is all alone, or providing someone with a meal. Small things will lead to big change if we all remember how to work together. #BeKindBeTheChange.”
For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen Program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Director Amanda Vogel by emailing email@example.com or calling 308-665-5595.
The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.