Tag Archive | creighton

Calling The Shots

It’s a historic moment in sports history.. Babe Ruth steps up to the plate, points at the outfield fence, then delivers.. home run.  I do this at softball then strike out; the only guy who can actually do it is KETV meteorologist Kyle Gravlin (also the reigning Media Homerun Derby champ–watch the proof here).

In sports today, what would happen if an athlete called his shot?  Just imagine, switching sports, what would happen if a D-1 college football player addressed reporters and said ‘we’re going to win a national championship!’

Ladies and gentlemen, #42 Jerry Murtaugh.

Nebraska football player Jerry Murtaugh. Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

Heading into his senior year, Murtaugh was already a 2-year starting linebacker, had broken school records for total tackles and was a unanimous All-Big 8 pick in 1969.  Nebraska had never won a national football championship, but Murtaugh knew something big was on the horizon.

“I remember before the season I predicted we were going to win it all, in front of reporters,” Murtaugh told me recently.  “Devaney found out about three minutes later, sends Jeff Kinney over, Jeff grabs me, takes me back, says ‘Murtaugh, you can’t keep your mouth shut!’  But at the end of the year, we ended up with this.”

Murtaugh held up his hand, curled into a fist, a giant ring reflecting off his finger.

“A national championship.  So the prediction did come true.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #42 JERRY MURTAUGH!

MURTAUGH AND DEVANEY

Dan Schneiss, Coach Bob Devaney and Jerry Murtaugh, taken in 1970.  Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

That conversation symbolizes so many things about Murtaugh and his time at Nebraska.  He’s an outspoken guy to this day who recently published the book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk’.  Murtaugh bluntly writes about everything from his volatile relationship with Bob Devaney, to his ‘near-jail’ experience in Mexico his junior year, to his time at Colorado’s Playboy Mansion for a college football photo shoot.

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Adventures aside, Murtaugh is proud to say he was a Nebraska football player, part of a long history of talent and tradition.

“Being a Blackshirt, the older I get, which I’m old now!, I can’t describe the word.  It’s an honor.  It’s an honor to have earned a black shirt,” said Murtaugh.  “I thank all of the players before me because I think the world of the Frank Solich’s, the Barry Alvarez’s, the Mike Kennedy’s.  I could go on and on, great football players before us.”

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Photo courtesy FanBase.com

Murtaugh is also proud to be an Omaha native, a triple-sport athlete for Omaha North High School in the 1960’s.

“Expectations were high from fellow Omaha kids at Nebraska.  Bobby Churchich, Denny Morrison, Dicky Davis,” said Murtaugh.  “They said, Hey, we have a standard here.  You better keep it high.  So we tried.”

So does Murtaugh still hold that bar high for today’s players?  After all, it’s been 18 years since Nebraska players have earned national championship rings like Murtaugh’s.

“People have to remember, 1968 & 1968 we were 6-4 and I was part of that,” said Murtaugh.  “They wanted to run Devaney out on a pole.  I had threatening calls, things like that.  It was nasty.  These young men now, they do the best they can.  It’s a game! We forget about that.”

Murtaugh DOES expect all of the Huskers to give 110%.  Today, he reaches out to athletes who have done just that, given their all despite their challenges.  Murtaugh is the President of the Nebraska Greats Foundation, offering financial assistance to letter-winning athletes from colleges and universities across the state facing medical expenses.  Recipients include Nebraska football player Dave Humm, wheelchair-bound due to multiple sclerosis; Creighton basketball star Josh Jones, who faced multiple surgeries due to a career-ending heart condition (see more here); and Jim Unger, the first gymnast in UNL history to receive All-American honors.

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Jim Unger, Nebraska gymnast 1972-1975.  Photo courtesy the Nebraska Greats Foundation.

“About three years ago riding his bike, [Unger] hit a pothole, hit a tree, paralyzed neck down,” said Murtaugh.  “Things like that, we come in and help with their medical expenses, what the insurance doesn’t pay or if they don’t have insurance.”

MURTAUGH ON RADIO

 Longtime Nebraska Coach Ron Brown and Murtaugh.  Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

So what’s Jerry Murtaugh’s prediction this time around, as a new Coach takes the reigns and Nebraska starts a season 2-2?  Murtaugh, who talks Husker Football on his weekly Legends Radio Show in Omaha, says he DOESN’T predict.

“I’m going to sit there and watch and hope for the best for these young men,” said Murtaugh.  “They’re still inexperienced.  It’s going to take them awhile.  All I ask is give 110-percent.”

Murtaugh supports Coach Riley, Shawn Eichorst and all of the players.  Most of all, just as he did in another time and another place when he called his shot before his historic senior season began, he loves Nebraska fans.

“The excitement. The loyalty. The niceness.  The–EVERYTHING,” said Murtaugh.  “Greatest fans in the country.”

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For more on #42 Jerry Murtaugh, click here to read his complete bio from Nebraska Athletics.

Click here for more information about the Nebraska Greats Foundation via their website; click here to visit the organization’s Facebook page!

Click here for more information about Murtaugh’s book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ by Murtaugh, Jimmy Sheil, Brian Rosenthal, George Achola and Brian Brashaw.

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WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1991 CURTIS COTTON!

ROAR

Well, HELLO!!!!! Long time no post! As always, THANK YOU for reading the blog!

I have been ‘off the grid’ for most of the month of June.  Vacation, time with family, heaven at home.

IT HAS BEEN FABULOUS!

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, step back, close your eyes and BE.  I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and reminded of who I am.  GO OFF THE GRID! IT’S GREAT!  Even if just for a few days.

Before my amazing time at home with the three men in my life (four, if you count our dog, Mack), my hiatus began with a long awaited trip to North Platte, Nebraska.

MISS NEBRASKA 2015.

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Photo courtesy of Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph; click here to read the NPT’s wonderful article on Alyssa by reporter Kamie Stephen!

After seven days of rehearsals and events, four days of nerve-wracking competition, a lot of laughs and some tears, too.. Miss Douglas County Alyssa Howell was crowned Miss Nebraska 2015.  What an INCREDIBLE moment to cap off a wonderful week for this caring, young woman.  Alyssa has dedicated so much of her time to others.  She is sweet, kind, hard working and focused.  For five years, she also watched her big sister compete at both the Miss Iowa and Miss Nebraska pageant, finishing as a finalist multiple times.

THIS MOMENT WAS ALL ALYSSA.  SHE WILL NOW FOREVER BE MISS NEBRASKA.

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So many cool moments; the kids who just LOVED Alyssa, including her Little Sisters who took part in all of the Miss Nebraska events at her side, and the little boy who not only wanted one kiss, he circled around for a second.  Alyssa’s real boyfriend, Grady, and his excitement and sheer pride every moment leading up to his girl’s crowning moment.  Shrieks of joy between Alyssa and the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien; the two have been Miss Douglas County sisters for months, now they are going to Miss America together.  And the heartwarming friendship and bond between Alyssa and her sister queen Miss Omaha Megan Gould, supporting each other from Omaha to North Platte and still to this day.

But.. I’m going to throw this out there.. was Alyssa ‘the best’?

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How do you choose which flower is ‘the best’ in the garden?  Which city is ‘the best’ in our state?  Which art, whether it be singing or dancing or playing piano, is ‘the best’?  Alyssa will be a FANTASTIC Miss Nebraska and I cannot WAIT to see how far she’ll go at Miss America.  This is Alyssa’s time; this is the result of her hard work; this recognizes an exceptional young woman, helping her to inspire so many more; and five smart, talented, and critical judges determined Alyssa Howell was the best candidate for this job as Miss Nebraska 2015.

The best of the best, you might say.. because HOLY CRAP, did this event showcase some absolutely incredible women in our state.

4th Runner Up, Miss Northwest LaRissa McKean

JOYFUL.  LaRissa McKean radiated happiness, and made everyone in the Miss Nebraska audience feel it.  She also shared that positivity with her fellow contestants, voted Miss Congeniality by the majority of the other titleholders.  LaRissa CAPTIVATED the audience Thursday night, winning the Preliminary Talent Award with an energetic and dazzling dance (another Kitty Lee Dance graduate!)  As I told one of my friends during finals night, she JUST MAKES ME SMILE.  What a better role model than that?

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3rd Runner Up, Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux

BREATHTAKING.  I love watching dance, but don’t know much about it (and hurt myself trying.) I know even less about ballet, but I LOVE the costumes, the makeup, the SHOW.  And boy, oh boy, did Steffani Jiroux deliver.

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Just stop and look at this picture for a second.. (and thanks to Kamie Stephen and the North Platte Telegraph for sharing it!)

It was like watching a scene from a movie. Steffani also seemed to enjoy herself every moment; smiling nonstop, walking across that stage like she OWNED it, twirling around her Little Sisters like they were just dancing in the living room and not competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.  What’s next for Steffani? Continuing LAW SCHOOL at Creighton University.

2nd Runner Up, Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann

SENSATIONAL.  Miss Nebraska and Miss America challenge a woman to become the best version of herself in all areas, and Brooke Ludemann pushed herself to the max in every. single. test.  Her gown made me gasp (in a good way!); her answers showed evidence of a woman with a business plan as Miss Nebraska; her physical self was a demonstration of what our bodies can become with hard work and discipline, and her talent.. I have no words.  On the final night of competition, with everything on the line, Brooke’s performance singing ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables game me CHILLS.  Brooke won 2nd place for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award, and she will be Nebraska’s representative at the National Sweetheart Pageant this summer.

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1st Runner Up, Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen

JAW DROPPING.  Every time Allison Tietjen walked on stage, my eyes were just DRAWN to her.  (In a completely uncreepy way, regardless of how that sounds…) She is the model of poise, grace, and beauty.  Allison could’ve walked right off the Miss Nebraska stage onto Hollywood’s red carpet and fit right in. BUT, what I love is that Allison knows, and SHOWS, this program’s power and purpose extends long beyond Miss Nebraska week.  Allison’s work promoting awareness of our veterans earned her the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award and the Miss America Community Service Award; she also earned the Miracle Maker Award for raising more than $1300 for the Children’s Miracle Network, helping hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Oh yea, and Allison JUST TURNED 19 in April.  Truly exceptional.

I would argue not one of these women is ‘better’ than the other; each is SENSATIONAL.  They each prepared, volunteered, practiced.. hoping THIS was their year, and their time.  It was only destiny for one–and Alyssa is FABULOUS.  But this is why you see so many girls try again for the crown.. and thank the Lord for that, because they are all deserving, INCREDIBLE women, and bringing them together to recognize them and their accomplishments is uplifting and inspiring to everyone who can be part of it.  WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR!!!!

***

Now to the moment I know you all have been waiting for…

The 2nd Annual Brandi Petersen Unofficial Superfan Awards!

( ahem… I’ll wait for your laughter to die down before I proceed..)

The ‘My Life Goal Is To Look Like Carrie Underwood’ Awards…

Again.. the work and service that take place the other 364 days of the year are arguably the most important part of the Miss America Organization.. but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the gowns!!  C’mon.. from dreaming of your wedding gown, to picking out prom dresses, to playing dress up as a little girl, who DOESN’T love beautiful dresses?!? 2015 was simply a RAINBOW of color on the Miss Nebraska stage, and THAT alone made it awesome.  So much diversity; different colors, styles, fits.. and so much elegance!

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Remember how I said Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann’s gown made me gasp?  GASP!!!  OHHH.. this dress.. this moment.. absolutely INCREDIBLE. (Details: Tarik Ediz gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln)

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen.. ANOTHER gown that stole my breath.  Just STUNNING.  (Details: custom Sherri Hill gown from the Winning Crown Boutique in Omaha)

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And boy, those Kearney Crane Festival Directors KNOW THEIR STYLE.. because Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen was possibly MY FAVORITE gown of the weekend!  There was just something so very special about Merrilee Prill when she walked on stage in this dress.  The color, the style, HOW she wore it.  I LOVED IT. ( Details: Jovani Fashions gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln–thanks to owner Joe Bohac for the photo!)

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Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen Cherokee Purviance.. what a GORGEOUS choice for her gown!  On stage, this color and the sparkle were just RADIANT.  (Details: a Mac Duggal gown from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe in North Platte–thanks to them for the photo!)

The ‘Holy Crap, Petersen, Put Down That Blizzard’ Awards..

I’d like to show you my reaction to this year’s Miss contestants competing in swimsuit.

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My thanks to Taylor Swift for the assist.

ABSOLUTELY SENSATIONAL.  This year EXEMPLIFIED that Lifestyle and Fitness is just that–this competition is intended to encourage women to treat their bodies like temples and reach their full physical potential.  AND THESE WOMEN DID.  Abs, biceps, quads for days. This wasn’t about starving, or being the skinniest.  You could SEE their work; the time they spent in the gym and the time they DIDN’T spend at their local fast food spot.

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Miss Omaha Megan Gould was my winner for swimsuit.  I know this girl puts in countless hours of dance and practice as a Nebraska Cornhusker cheerleader, and WOW-did that hard work show!!  Plus Megan was just SOO confident, not conceited in the least, just wonderfully comfortable in her own skin.  You go, Megan!

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Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux.  This is her profile picture now on Facebook (taken by Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph), and to me, that’s using restraint.  If I looked like this, I’d make a cardboard cutout of myself to greet people at my front door.  THIS is what happens with 20 years of ballet training and several more as a member of the Creighton University dance team!

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen was the Overall Swimsuit Winner at Miss Nebraska this year, and here’s why!  Another absolutely radiant moment in red for the UNL sophomore, and in case you’re wondering, she’s a piano player.. so what you see is the result of sheer hours in the gym and dedication to nutrition!

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And Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann.  Just.. WOW.  MUSCLE ON MUSCLE WITH MUSCLE.  When I messaged Brooke about using this photo, she responded ‘I’m darn proud of those photos!’  AS SHE SHOULD BE!! AH-MAZ-ING!!

STRENGTH, POWER, HEALTH. Are you listening, America? I just read this morning there are more clinically obese people in our country than simply overweight Americans.  Heart disease remains a leading killer.  These women exercised and ate healthy with consistency and self discipline for months, and likely formed a foundation to continue to do so to some extent.  Long after that 10 second walk across stage in a swimsuit, their health is improved, their confidence is boosted, and they’ve empowered and inspired many others. (I’M AT THE TOP OF THAT LIST!) Ladies, you should be so very proud of yourselves.

The Nebraska’s Got Talent Awards..

MY WINNERS FOR TALENT: THIS YEAR’S MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS.

BLOWN AWAY.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to the other young woman who wrapped up this weekend in North Platte with a state title..

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Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Steffany Lien is now Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015!  (A 3-peat for Omaha titleholders!)  While Steffany shined all night at the competition, SHE OWNED talent.  America, watch out; when this girl competes for the national title in Orlando this July, she will STUN YOU!

CLICK HERE to see a preview, showing Steffany competing at the World Championships in Italy in April, winning her SIXTH world title.

Steffany does things with a baton that challenge the Laws of Gravity and Physics.  Not only have I never seen her drop a baton in competition, I’ve never seen the girl even ‘almost’ drop one in rehearsal.  She is SENSATIONAL!

Nebraska’s 10th Outstanding Teen was one of several incredibly talented young teenagers who competed in North Platte this year.  Piano players, singers, dancers.. these girls are so young they can’t vote, but they knocked the socks off everyone in the audience Friday night.

Among my favorites (along with Steffany, of course!)..

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..singer Emma Kate Brown, Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen.  There’s a reason why little girls love her.. because someday she will be the voice of a princess in a Disney movie.  That’s how I described her voice to my husband.  Emma Kate sang ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story and her innate vocal talent is just BEAUTIFUL.  I’m calling it now.. the next animated blockbuster you take your kids to, you will likely hear Emma Kate in the soundtrack! (And a huge CONGRATULATIONS to this beauty as well!  Less than two weeks after being named 2nd Runner Up at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, the Elkhorn South student was also named Nebraska’s Best High School Actress, winning an all-expenses paid trip to New York to compete for the National Award!!)

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Grace Heggem, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen, was dazzling from start to finish.  She played Tarantella on the piano, her fingers dancing across the keys at the speed of light, and she NAILED it.  Much like ballet, I know nothing about piano, but I can hear a bad note… and I didn’t hear one off-key when Grace performed.  Incredible!

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Emma Keifer, Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen, was just a joy to watch.  I felt like I was watching an act from So You Think You Can Dance (and you all know what a freak I am about that show!!) Emma tapped.. up and down STAIRS.  Her energy was just OFF THE CHARTS.  Emma, you would’ve made Nigel proud!

And finally, though she wasn’t competing for a title, this performance was MY FAVORITE TALENT PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK..

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THE WATER CUPS DANCE.  Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen, performing the same dance her mother Jodi did as Miss Nebraska 1988 at the Miss America pageant that year.  Balancing three cups of water on her hands and forehead, Morgan bent backward, forward, down into splits, up from splits… all without spilling a drop.  You could’ve heard a PIN drop in the auditorium, as hundreds of us collectively held our breath through this performance.  ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE..  just like Morgan.  Many of us shed tears as she took her final walk as our state titleholder.. mine started to fall as her proud daddy, Brad, handed her a bouquet of flowers at the bottom of the Miss Nebraska stage.  The sky is the limit for this young woman–you WILL see her again.

The Brittany Jeffers Awards for Super Awesomeness

We all have someone we just ADMIRE.. their style, their confidence, just because THEY ARE AWESOME.  Some of mine: one of my best friends Jenni Rohacik who always looks so good she could host E!, my neighbor Brittni Madden who can take a picture off Pinterest and make a project look like it cost thousands of dollars.. and my fellow anchor/reporter/forever Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers-Hannema, who I swear is fabulous, in every way possible, 24/7.  (And now that I’ve declared my obsession with these ladies.. they may all be working on protection orders..) THESE GIRLS ARE JUST AWESOME!  Brittany gets the award named after her because she had to work rather than attend the Miss Nebraska pageant this year.. she may have been on air in Oklahoma, but her heart was in North Platte!

Two young ladies made a huge impression on me this year.. two teens who I didn’t know prior to this year’s pageant.

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Shelby Blundell, Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, was the youngest and tiniest of ALL of this year’s contestants, Miss and Teen.  She was also Contestant #1 in the competition, a tough draw; you set the bar for the judges, you are the first contestant both that panel and the audience will see.  Shelby rose to the challenge, nailing her song in talent, and impressing the hell out of me during her on stage question.  Shelby was asked a very tough question, whether LGBTQ issues should be discussed at school in the classroom or in group/activity settings, or if those topics are best left for family and group discussion outside of school.  Without hesitation, tiny Shelby answered confidently and quickly, sharing her opinions without pause.  That’s a tough issue for politicians and public leaders to address, and often we see adults avoiding giving a clear answer.  This young woman tackled the issue head on, and agree with her or not, it was refreshing to see such a young person stand tall and share her opinion.

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I was also SO very impressed with Allison Baird, Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  For the second year in a row, Allison was named 1st Runner Up in the teen competition.  I’ve touched on this before.. as exhilarating as it is to hear your name called as a new titleholder.. it is incredibly disappointing when all of that work does not result in that win.  Allison’s now been through that twice.. coming ever so close both times.  BUT.. the moment that curtain closed after Steffany was crowned, when the spotlights were off and no one was watching her (except me, the nosy emcee/reporter backstage), Allison was the first one to smile and hug Steffany.  She was also the first to hug Morgan last year–and not just the cordial ‘arm around her, pat pat pat’ hug.. but a genuine embrace, wishing a friend well.  It’s the moments you think no one is looking when your true character is revealed.  Allison Baird is an exceptional young lady.  A gorgeous voice.  Mature and smart.  Beautiful.  And in those moments, when I can only imagine how her heart was breaking, she showed class and selflessness, to celebrate Steffany’s moment.  That’s something you don’t often see in adults, let alone a young woman just entering her senior year of high school.  Again, these competitions are not about choosing ‘who is the best’, but who is right for the position at that exact moment in time.  YOU ARE A WINNER, ALLISON.. your future is so very bright.

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So did you pick up on that ’emcee/reporter’ note?  I had the GREAT honor of co-emceeing this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant with this beauty, my final Awesomeness Award Winner, Jessica States!  A) She can sing REALLY well  B) She’s a born leader, holding a respected position with Junior Achievement of Lincoln  C) She was THE FIRST Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in 2005!

AND, she was SUCH A GREAT co-host!!!  We had such a terrific time, and I hope the audience did, too!  (And thank you to Joe Bohac and the Black Swan Dress Boutique for providing our gorgeous gowns for the evening!)

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#MNOT2015.  Trending.

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What a terrific, empowering week of incredible women and the people who support them.

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I enjoyed every single moment, and CAN’T WAIT until next year to do it all over again!  AND, I NEED to mention what these girls took away from Miss Nebraska (in addition to their own memories..)

MORE THAN $42,800 IN CASH AWARDS

AND MORE THAN $400,455 IN OFFERED COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS.

But hey, it’s just a silly scholarship pageant, right?

***

One final message to wrap up this post, and this year’s 2015 Miss Nebraska series..

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I was SO very honored and humbled to receive this year’s Miss Nebraska Volunteer of the Year Award.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all of you who have read these blogs and offered your congratulations.  I’m still mystified and elated that so many people check in to read my work, and to receive such an incredible honor for it is just a thrill.  THANK YOU.

To all 24 of the young ladies who competed in North Platte, YOU EMPOWER ME. You are the future of our state, and our country, and that makes me so very proud.  CONGRATULATIONS Alyssa, Steffany, and every young woman taking a chance to set an example, be a role model, and to just SPARKLE.

No matter what you do next, crown or not, go out into the world and continue to ROAR.

***

 Click here to learn more about the Miss Nebraska Organization, and the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.  You can also visit Miss Nebraska on Facebook, follow the pageant on Twitter, and follow the pageant on Instagram.

To read more about the Miss Nebraska, and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Home Of The Brave

Our national anthem is arguably, one of the toughest songs for an artist to perform.  So much range, pressure to make it your own without offending traditionalists, and most of the time, acapella.  Easy to veer off the rails, tough to swerve back on.

Lately, Miss America veterans have been REPRESENTING the stars and stripes.

Both Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson and Miss South Dakota 2008 Alex Hoffman (now KETV’s morning anchor) were selected as finalists to audition to sing at the College World Series.

CLICK HERE to listen to Megan, who will perform before the 7pm game on June 15.

CLICK HERE to listen to Alex, chosen as an alternate (the same night she’ll be performing the anthem at the Miss South Dakota pageant!)

And if you’re bored (GULP!) CLICK HERE to hear MY rendition before the Nebraska & Creighton baseball game back in April… if there’s an alternate game Saturday June 20th at the CWS, I get to sing, too!

The list continues.. Miss Nebraska 2011 Kayla Batt-Jacox sang in front of thousands at Werner Park this spring before the Nebraska & UNO baseball game.  Miss Omaha 2014 Payton Merritt will sing at TD Ameritrade Park this weekend during the Big East baseball tournament.  Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev sang before the Washington Nationals & Miami Marlins game on May 7th.  We’re everywhere!

And this last weekend, a huge honor for one of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, chosen to sing the anthem in front of thousands at her own college graduation from Creighton University.

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MISS NEBRASKA STATE FAIR 2015 MARIE ALLISON

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“Blessed to have been fortunate enough to graduate from Creighton with degrees in Philosophy and Music, summa cum laude, and to have sung the national anthem for the graduating classes of 2015,” Marie posted on Facebook.  “It is humbling to realize the massive investment of time, the support of my wonderful family and friends, and the connections with faculty and fellow scholars that I have made throughout my Creighton experience. I may not be certain of what I desire to be in my future, but I know I am well primed to realize that truth as a process that will happen. Thank you to the people who always believe in me.”

These thoughts, showing appreciation and reflection, mirror the messages Marie sent me recently regarding the Miss America program.

“I never, EVER thought I would be a girl who competed in pageants,” Marie told me recently.  “This decision changed the trajectory of my life dramatically because I learned how pageants challenge you to grow.”

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Marie’s first pageant exposure came through her love of horses; she was a rodeo queen.  She is also a passionate equestrienne, behind the training of two national caliber show horses, and a volunteer at the Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy.  Those roles, however, didn’t always put Marie in the spotlight.

“As I am an introvert, appearances were very challenging to me,” said Marie.  “I was pushed outside my comfort zone to become equal to the take of being a good representative of my program.”

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Marie herself had what she calls personal stigmas about pageantry, something she confronted directly when she competed for Miss Colorado last summer.

“I became involved in the Miss America program when I realized I could be impacting real change in my community and earning scholarships to fund my education,” said Marie.  “This program has made me consider what I value deeply, and the issues I feel need to be adequately addressed by our society as a whole.  I have come to profoundly respect my fellow contestants as outstanding individuals and community servants.  They are authentic leaders with humble confidence that lights up the world around them, providing examples that empower all youth and particularly young women.”

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Marie is a true example of that.  She spends time doing crafts with patients at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, she’s active with Omaha’s Urban Abbey Methodist Church and Coffee Shop, and she’s a volunteer with the Stephens Center for the homeless.  Marie does all of this not because she has to, but driven by her own background.

“I chose my platform (‘Communication: Proactive Prevention’) because I would not have attended college, nor would I be the person I am today if I did not have a strong social network and people believing in me,” said Marie.  “Given my personal experience with socioeconomic stress and homelessness, and how difficult these experiences were, I now that I would not have survived or thrived without the help of the communities I was involved in.  It is my goal to help build meaningful relationships and communities to help others the same way people have helped me to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances.”

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Homeless.  To college.  To singing at her own graduation from Creighton University.

The words of the Star Spangled Banner are etched into every American’s heart and soul.

What so proudly we hailed..

Through the perilous fight..

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Courage when things are tough.  Standing tall and persevering.  Being a beacon for those who may come after you.

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May 18, 2015, standing in front of her fellow Creighton University graduates, singing those words.  What a special moment for a young woman who has lived her own version of the Star Spangled Banner.  And the journey for Marie Allison isn’t over yet; next stop, Miss Nebraska.

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Follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Marie Allison and contact her for appearances and events on Facebook.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Director Chelsey Jungck at 308-382-1710 or by email at cjungck@statefair.org.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2015 Tosha Skinner

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Miracle Worker

You advocate for something because you believe in it.  You put your face and name behind a cause to share a compelling argument for why you are so passionate about that effort.  It takes courage to speak out (especially from a personal place); it takes time and dedication; it takes a leader who can command attention and compel others to make a difference.

This is one of the reasons I advocate for the Miss America Organization.. because no matter what you think of beauty pageants, or women competing for crowns, when that ONE DAY of competition is over, they are out in their communities and states 364 OTHER days of the year trying to do all of the things I just mentioned, in most cases, serving others.

This young woman will continue to promote her platform after her pageant days are over; she wants her cause to become her career.

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MISS DOUGLAS COUNTY 2015 ALYSSA HOWELL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I will be a junior at Creighton University, studying Elementary Education, with the career ambition of becoming a child life specialist in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital,” Alyssa told me recently.  “Truly, Children’s Miracle Network is my passion, and my platform, ‘Making Miracles Happen’, stands to improve the lives of children in hospitals all over Nebraska.”

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Several of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, including Alyssa and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson, delivered gift bags to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Rainbow House pediatric patients and their families for Miss America Serves day.

Children’s Miracle Network is also Miss America’s community partner, the organization which titleholders all over the country must raise money for in order to compete at the local and state level.  Money raised benefits hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Many of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants have spent time volunteering at Children’s; Alyssa visits on a consistent basis, inspired by her cousin and former CMN patient, Shayna.

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“Eight years ago my family (after a streak of 12 boy cousins) was finally blessed with a girl!  However, Shayna was sick with a frightening virus that left her sick and in the hospital for days after her birth,” said Alyssa.  “18 months later, she tested positive for profound hearing loss.  My family was devastated, however, with the help of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (a CMN facility), Shayna was able to receive cochlear implants that allow her to hear as a normal child.”

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Alyssa witnessed part of that journey in person, staying with Shayna and her family for two months while Shayna attended the Central Institute for the Deaf.  Alyssa had already been involved with CMN fundraisers as a young girl, at her sister Devin Howell’s side during her time as Miss River City 2008, Miss Douglas County 2009 and Miss Omaha 2010.

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When Alyssa was crowned Miss Eastern Nebraska 2014, (click here to see read my interview with her last Spring!) she wanted to take her passion for CMN hospitals and the children they serve to another level.  Alyssa designed and implemented something she calls the Miracle Bags Program.

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“I go to sororities [including her own, Pi Beta Phi], business groups, girl scouts and schools and collect donation items.  Each bag [I create] contains a blanket, coloring book, crayons, Play-Doh, and a handwritten card,” said Alyssa.  “I then deliver these bags to the patients at Omaha Children’s, and let me tell you, nothing makes a sick child light up like a princess with a bag of goodies!”

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To Alyssa, the Miss America Organization presented opportunities for both volunteering and for her own personal growth.  It’s a stage for this pianist (and piano teacher) to play for a crowd; it’s a path to scholarships for this college student; it’s a platform for her to share Shayna’s story and encourage others to help pediatric hospital patients.

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“I truly believe that EVERY woman can gain so many incredible things from this organization, and Miss Nebraska stands to represent every woman in the state regardless of career, beliefs, appearance or education,” said Alyssa.  “As the All-American daughter of a former Marine and the 1981 Miss Iowa Dairy Princess, my upbringing led me to big dreams, big accomplishments and making big differences in the lives of everyone I meet.”

Alyssa Howell isn’t just an advocate for Miss America or for Children’s Miracle Network, she shows what strong, smart, talented women can accomplish when inspired by something as powerful as a little girl’s smile.  Just a guess, but I’m betting the feeling is mutual, and that Shayna’s grin will light up the entire North Platte High Auditorium in just three weeks.. as her princess, Miss Douglas County, competes to become the next Miss Nebraska.

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(Photo courtesy Studio FBJ)

To find out more about Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Miracle Bags Program, and to contact her for appearances and events, email alyssahowellva@gmail.com or click here to visit her Facebook page.

For more information on the Miss Omaha/Douglas County Pageant, click here to visit their website, here to visit them on Facebook, and here to follow on Twitter.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at 402-330-8033 or by email at missomahapageant@yahoo.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

NEXT.. Miss State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

The Kid Whisperer

The Kid Whisperer… wow, that sounds like an AWESOME reality show.

‘You’ve seen the Dog Whisperer.. You loved SuperNanny… now meet, THE KID WHISPERER!  SHHHHHH!!!!’

I’d DVR that.

Here’s the show’s premise: a beautiful young lady who makes miracles happen through her love of working with and being around children.  Her name?

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Miss Eastern Nebraska, Alyssa Howell

(Thanks to Deyo’s Photography for use of Alyssa’s photo!)

Children are Alyssa’s focus during her year as Miss Eastern Nebraska and they are her future; the Creighton University student plans to become a Child Life Specialist for the Children’s Miracle Network, working in facilities helping patients and families navigate the challenges of childhood illnesses and hospitalization.

“When I made my first onsite visit to a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital at age 15, I knew that was where I could make the largest and most meaningful impact,” said Alyssa in a recent interview.  “Ever since, I have been working towards raising awareness, fundraising, but most importantly, interacting with patients to make their days a little brighter.”

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“My family and friends call me the Kid Whisperer!” said Alyssa.

CHARISMATIC, PASSIONATE, FUN!

Children’s Miracle Network is Miss America’s community partner, so it made perfect sense to Alyssa to tie in her passion with competing for Miss Nebraska.

“The Miss America Organization is one of the most outstanding programs for young women in the world,” said Alyssa.  “It is the place where I feel I can do the most for my community through the emphasis of service, learn and grow as a person, and most of all, have fun while meeting new people and enhancing my interview and performance skills!  Young women are valued and rewarded in this organization for excelling as leaders in education, service, the arts and living healthy lives – that’s important to me.”

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Alyssa also respects the tradition involved with the Miss America Organization, even the more controversial aspects, like Lifestyle and Fitness.  Alyssa notes the entire system started as a swimsuit competition in Atlantic City in 1921.

“The swimsuit competition is such a rich part of Miss America’s history and should be embraced,” said Alyssa.  “Aside from that, swimsuit is a great way to encourage proper nutrition, fitness and self-confidence.  Truly, the judges are looking for a healthy girl, one that has good muscle tone and body shape, not just a skinny girl.”

Alyssa goes as far to say most contestants have fun strutting their stuff!  Still, she says, Interview is her favorite aspect of the competition.

“It allows you to interact with the judges in a one-on-one environment,” said Alyssa.  “I love being able to tell my story, express why I am there and most of all, meet some pretty amazing people!”

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No doubt some of her tiniest friends may come up in Alyssa’s interview.  She’ll be advocating for them right up until her trip to North Platte, even hosting an online fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network on Friday, May 9th.  From 5-8 pm, Alyssa hopes to raise $1000.  Find out more by heading to her event website.

Alyssa’s reality TV debut may have to wait.  After all, she’s already earned the title of Kid Whisperer.

Now she’s aiming for Miss Nebraska.

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Connect with Miss Eastern Nebraska, Alyssa Howell

on her Facebook page devoted to her personal platform, ‘Making Miracles Happen’

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The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska.  For more information, visit the Miss Nebraska website.

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PREVIOUS POST..  Miss Metro, Kimberly Brennan

NEXT POST.. Miss Alliance, Staci Craighead!

Omaha! Omaha!

DISCLAIMER: Omaha’s my town.  Ok, Papillion is actually my hometown, but Omaha is my ADOPTIVE town. (I have dual citizenship.)

I’ve been a volunteer with the Miss Omaha organization for a few years now, so I know Miss Omaha and her fellow titleholders Miss Douglas County and Miss River City a little better than I know some of the others.  I’ve been following one of these young women ever since she competed as a teenager back in 2011.  The first night I saw her compete, I remember this tiny little girl walking on stage, opening her mouth to sing.. and my jaw DROPPING in awe of her voice.

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Miss Omaha, Payton Merritt

This young woman is not only on a mission to win the title of Miss Nebraska in June, but to shatter every stereotype about pageants along the way.

“My job isn’t about outer beauty, but compassion and intellect,” said Payton, who recently received nearly a full-ride scholarship to Creighton University.  “I want others to see that and understand that not everyone is simply seeking a place in the spotlight, but that we truly want to make a difference.”

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As Miss Omaha, Payton is waging war against eating disorders, something she says she has personal experience with.

“It is not always the easiest thing to talk about, and the fact that it isn’t so is the exact reason I am doing it,” said Payton.  “It was difficult for me to choose this as my platform because of the shame I had felt for so long, but ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I needed to set a precedent for others suffering.  It is my hope to let people know it is okay to talk about and reach out for help, but also to make friends and family members aware of the severity and warning signs.”

I asked Payton, as I did all of the contestants, if Lifestyle and Fitness, aka the swimsuit competition, should remain part of the Miss Nebraska pageant?

“Many illnesses can be prevented from establishing healthy eating habits and exercise routines,” said Payton.  “To me, fitness in swimsuit is about working to become the best you can be inside and out and truly loving and embracing yourself and your body as God created it to be.”

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Payton with Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Holen at Omaha’s St. Patrick’s Day parade

Payton graduated a semester early from Lincoln East High School in December, and travels to Omaha frequently to take part in events.  Most recently, she sang the national anthem for the University of Nebraska-Omaha baseball game versus Kansas State. (Click here to watch.. and listen!)

“I am young and have a lot to learn, and that openness to learning allows me to relate to a broad spectrum of people, tirelessly devote myself to a multitude of causes, and to fully embody the job and mission this title brings,” said Payton.

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BELIEVER

“My faith tells me that I am exactly where I need to be,” said Payton.  “I believe in the power of one person, but more importantly, I believe in the power of one person and an organization as prestigious and respected as the Miss America Organization.”

The Super Bowl may be over.. but the Super Bowl of pageants is about to begin.  THIS Payton is ready for Miss Nebraska.

Connect with Miss Omaha, Payton Merritt

on Facebook, on Twitter, and via the Miss Omaha website

Click here for more information on the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County/Miss River City Pageant on Facebook

Click here to follow the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County/Miss River City Pageant on Twitter.

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The Miss Nebraska pageant takes place June 5-7 in North Platte, Nebraska.  For more information, visit the Miss Nebraska website.

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PREVIOUS POST..  Miss Heartland Allison Tietjen

NEXT POST..  Miss Kool-Aid Days Jessica Littlejohn