Tag Archive | Gering High School

Just a Number

‘Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.’ – Luis Bunuel

I kind of think that’s hilarious… and darn true. How much does age truly impact what we are capable of? As a journalist, I shared stories about octogenarians running marathons and toddlers belting our national anthem… on the flipside, I often saw/see people aged years and more because of smoking, pessimism, or sometimes, life’s hard knocks. How much of us is because of the number of rings around our trunks.. and how much is because of our gifts, hard work, and attitude about what we WANT to accomplish?

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Photo courtesy GlamCheck.com

At 17 years old, Teresa Scanlan was the youngest Miss Nebraska we have on record. 6 months later, she became the youngest Miss America in 80+ years. She had just graduated high school months earlier, had only gotten her driver’s license less than 2 years prior, and now she was set to travel the world representing our program and country. How did a 17-year old become Miss America??

Answer: CLICK HERE. Watch Teresa’s post-Miss America crowning-press conference. She is articulate. Intelligent. Confident. Charming. And the fact that she was 17 doesn’t take away from any of those impressive qualities, it catapults each of them ten-fold; these skills were natural, instinctual, and this teen/woman was something incredibly special.

Less than one year ago, Teresa congratulated another 17-year old, hoping to follow in her footsteps.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

Her name is Makinzie Gregory, crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest before she even started her senior year of high school.

“The Scotts Bluff County Pageant, where I won my title, was actually the very first pageant I had ever entered, so to actually win seemed like a dream!” said Makinzie. “I told one of the girls backstage that I would LOVE to get a picture with Teresa, my female role model. Sometimes I wonder about God’s sense of humor because I did indeed get a picture with Teresa – presenting me the award in her name!”

 

 

Makinzie says she admires Teresa because she is articulate, kind and genuine, the epitome of strength and empathy. For the last year (likely longer), Makinzie has also worked to show those same characteristics as a Miss Nebraska local titleholder.

“Being a spiritual person, I believe in what the Bible has to say about service,” said Makinzie. “We should all serve one another, no matter the circumstances.”

Makinzie is channeling that mission through her personal platform: Different-Abled, Educating, Empowering, and Equipping the Special Needs.

“My presentations to the three elementary schools in my school district are definitely some of the highlights for this year!” said Makinzie. “I hosted a change drive in conjunction with my presentations, and we raised $2400 that has been donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals! I adore the kiddos wanting to take pictures, asking tons of questions, being shy, and acting goofy. Furthermore, it inspires me to know that I have the unique opportunity to impact these kids and act as a positive role model for them.”

Makinzie’s message is personal; the Gering High School valedictorian plans to pursue degrees in Elementary Education, specializing in serving children with special needs. She’s partnered with the United Way and volunteers with Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy. In both roles, Makinzie is working to learn the office work, marketing, event planning and presentation skills, to best advocate for this cause as it relates to families, government, and the business world.

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“I would like to either obtain my Master’s degree in either education, special education, or school administration to further influence the direction of younger generations,” said Makinzie.

She’s got a great start, scoring a perfect 36 on part of her ACT exam, and potentially earning Miss Nebraska college scholarships at her chosen schools: Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State.

Makinzie Gregory - Miss Old West Balloon Fest

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“Most of the people I talk to are shocked by just how many opportunities for growth, scholarship and networking connections Miss Nebraska titleholders are exposed to,” said Makinzie. “One of my favorites is the growth I have witnessed in myself in only these past few months. I cannot even put into words how much I have learned and gained through my involvement in this organization.”

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Unknown

The lesson we can all learn from women like Makinzie and Teresa, is to not let age define us. YOU define you. Maybe it’s a pageant. Maybe it’s a marathon. Maybe it’s a new love, a new job, a new adventure. Be vibrant. Be hungry. Take no prisoners, and see what happens, no matter what stage of your life. Makinzie Gregory may be one of the youngest women this year competing for Miss Nebraska… and she’s proud of it.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I realized that if I didn’t compete, I would be constantly asking myself, ‘why?’,” said Makinzie. “My goal is to be able to see God’s work in everything. This is worth so much more than just an ‘experience’, as I have learned and gained so much for my short time as a titleholder. For that, I am extremely grateful.”

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To follow Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha Allie Swanson

COMING SOON.. Miss Alliance Kodi Baumann

Yellow

Yellow is the perceived color of sunshine. It is associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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?

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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.”

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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.”

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“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.”

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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.

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For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

To learn more about all of the 2018 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestants, click here.

She Thinks She Can

This year, 16 incredible women will compete to become Miss Nebraska 2017.  18 hope to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Every one of them is already making an impact on people and the world around them and for decades, visiting schools has been a constant thread linking generations of contestants.

Classrooms are hotbeds for knowledge and learning; about the 3 R’s, about social skills, about the arts and more.  It’s no different when Miss Nebraska titleholders visit schools and share their messages.. but how do you talk to a first grader about the serious issues these women are trying to impact?  How do you write a lesson plan about sexual assault, cancer, or in one teen’s case, a chronic health diagnosis?

It’s a challenge Sheridan Blanco has eagerly accepted.

Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sheridan Blanco

“One challenge I face everyday is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis,” Sheridan told me recently.  “I have not let this affect or limit what I accomplish.”

Sheridan served as Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen last year and competed for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Almost immediately, she jumped back in to try again, winning the title of Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen over the summer.

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(Side note: Old West Balloon Fest is a huge, annual event in Mitchell, Nebraska.  16+ hot air balloons go up simultaneously to coincide with the historic Old West weekend!)

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After the annual ride into the clouds, Sheridan got back to work sharing her story.  She focuses on the bigger picture, calling her platform ‘Conquering Challenges.’

“Many challenges people face can be unknown to others,” said Sheridan.  “Since we do not know what people are going through, we need to show empathy and be kind to everyone around us to help them through their challenges.  I have taken this opportunity to overcome my own challenge and turn it into an opportunity to strive to be a positive role model and an inspiration to others.”

Sheridan National Night Out

Sheridan, a Gering High student and Gering native, volunteers throughout her community at events.  Often times, she joins forces with her sister queens in Western Nebraska to make an even bigger impact.

“Pageants bring out the strengths of the young women involved,” said Sheridan.  “We may not know each other when we first arrive, but by the end of the competition many of us become very close.  Some of my best friendships came from doing pageants.  [They] give young ladies an opportunity to present a platform and to represent the values, integrity and scholarship that is an integral part of the pageant process.”

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And terrific attributes for a maturing young woman learning more about the world around her.  Sheridan has been selected for All-State Band, Doane Honor Band and Chadron Honor Band. She’s a state speech qualifier, and a national DECA qualifier.  She has been selected for the All-State Academic Team for Tennis two years running, and is a dancer on the Gering High POMS team.  She’s an Honor Roll student, a member of the National Honor Society, and a Best Actress Award recipient.

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“This organization helps young women gain confidence, poise, and public speaking,” said Sheridan.  “These are important skills to have for the future no matter what occupational path is taken.  The benefits are for a lifetime and provide a remarkable experience.”

One that’s taking Sheridan to Omaha next weekend to once again compete for the state title.  No doubt she’ll stop at a few classrooms along the way… which brings us back to that challenge about the message.  How do you help children understand the deeper meaning behind the sparkly crown?

“When I go to schools I read ‘The Little Engine That Could’,” said Sheridan.  “This way the younger kids can see the challenge that the train faces and how friends around him help him to conquer his challenge of getting up the hill.  I usually tell kids that the best way to get through the day is to wake up and be positive!”

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She thinks she can, she thinks she can, she thinks she can… and Sheridan Blanco plans to show everyone at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“The main goal is to do the best you can, have fun, and hopefully win,” said Sheridan.  “My mission is to be the best representative for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization.  It would be a terrific honor to promote this organization and its high standards to other teens across the state.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHERIDAN?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Let’s Dance

For more information about the Miss Old West Balloon Fest Outstanding Teen Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook!  You can also contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by email at cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com or by phone at 308-783-2940.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Katy Greene

NEXT.. Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

All-Around Champion

I opened up my paper Saturday morning to an awesome surprise…

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High School Speech.  FRONT PAGE of the Omaha World Herald.

This is absolutely fantastic!!! So often the first thing we see on the front page, or leading the news, is the negative or controversial.  I get it; I understand the process that goes into those decisions and often these subjects are extremely important and affect a large amount of people.  Our media members are also serving our communities; what is the state talking about? The Huskers often steal the spotlight during football season, and once in awhile, fantastic moments of celebration and joy.  Seeing speech kids, on the front page?  THAT. IS. AWESOME.

A few years ago (ok.. long ago in a galaxy far, far away..) I was one of those kids.  I am a proud 2-time Nebraska State Champion in Original Oratory.  Just last week, a new generation of students joined our exclusive club.

Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

She’s just a junior, but Carsyn Long is also now a 2-time state speech champion.

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She was named Champion in Serious Prose just one day after she turned 17.  And this moment atop the podium at UNK was just one highlight for a teen so extraordinary, she’s competing to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization empowers young girls of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, etc. to achieve their dreams and do things that are so much greater than themselves,” Carsyn told me recently.  “From my time being an Outstanding Teen, I have gained so much confidence and have grown so much as a young woman.  My dreams and goals have become more of a reality to me and the work I have done throughout the state has made my heart strong and completely full.”

You name it, Carsyn’s involved in it at Gering High School.  She’s involved in theater, cast in a leading role for Gering’s competitive One Acts earlier this year.  She’s  a State DECA qualifier.  She’s a consistent member of Honor Roll and an Honor Society inductee.  She’s an active advocate for her faith, even appearing on NBC Nebraska Scottsbluff in October to promote one of the biggest events in her diocese (CLICK HERE to watch!) And this year, she was selected for the prestigious Doane Honor Choir.  Still, Carsyn told me last year (click here to read more!) she has long dreamed of pursuing another goal since meeting Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan as a little girl.

“Looking back on it now, Teresa has represented everything I have ever wanted to be as a young woman,” said Carsyn.  “I had seen all of the amazing things she was accomplishing and all of the service she was doing during her time as Miss America.  I wanted to be that girl, too.  I wanted to be the girl who changed the world.  I wanted to be that girl who served her community, state, nation and world.  And I wanted to be that girl who would possibly touch an 11-year old girl on the shoulder and she would have the same feeling and attitude towards me as I did with Teresa.”

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Last fall, Carsyn was crowned Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen, punching her ticket to the state competition.  Almost immediately, in addition to her studies and activities in high school, she lined up a slew of appearances and volunteer events.

[Miss America 2015] Kira Kazantsev said something that really struck me at Crowns and Gowns,” said Carsyn.  “[She said]: ‘You want to get something done? A pageant contestant is the best person to go to.’  We are always working on things greater than ourselves.  We are self starters.  It isn’t beauty or just a time for a girl to walk around on stage aimlessly.  [Pageants] are a time to show all the hard work and effort these girls have put in to better themselves and their state.”

Proof: Carsyn has been implementing her personal platform of service in every facet of her life, from home to school to Facebook.  She calls it ‘Real Queens Fix Each Other’s Crowns’.

“A few months ago there was a girl in Kearney who chose to end her life because of other girls’ hurtful actions,” said Carsyn.  “She had become a target for mean comments, cyberbullying, etc.  After reading about her story, I had realized that I am her.  I am the girl that had become the brunt of other girls’ snide and just plain mean , rumors, dirty looks, etc.  I felt so hurt and so alone and wondered what I did to make these girls dislike me so much.  I had a decision to make each morning: I could either let these girls have power over me and make me feel small, or I could remind myself that this won’t matter in 5 years.  I chose [the latter].  I can’t stop thinking about that girl in Kearney and ‘what if I had been her friend?  What if I had been that one girl who was actually kind to her?'”

So Carsyn spreads that kindness everywhere she can, for example, posting surprise well wishes for strangers when she competed for that state speech title.  She posted on Facebook: “Not only was it a perfect day to bring my A game, but it was a perfect day to spread some love! I know all too well the importance of saying kind and uplifting words to others. With left over sticky notes I had in my bag, I gathered some of my sister Queens to team up with me to spread empowerment and brighten someone’s day. Speech days can be really tough for some kids and so we thought we’d offer up some encouragement for some beautiful girls competing yesterday. #realqueensfixeachotherscrowns #mneoteen #misskearneysot 👑”

“I am here to let girls know that they are not alone in their hurting – even someone competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen goes through this,” said Carsyn.  “It is my job to show girls how to stop looking at each other as competition and as threats, but rather as a sister or a friend.  We all bring something so unique and special to the table, so why can’t we just encourage each other to use these gifts rather than tear each other down?  Strong and confident women choose to fix each other’s crowns instead of breaking them.”

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A phenomenal message for women everywhere, especially for little girls who may look at Carsyn just as she looks at her Miss America idols.

Last Fall, as Nebraska speech season kicked off for high school teams across the state, the NSAA used a state champion to serve as the face of their #MyReasonWhy campaign… Carsyn Long.  They posted her photo on Facebook, with the caption: “Whether it’s preparing for the big debate or practicing for the big solo, setting goals for tomorrow helps you set goals for life.”

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From one speech kid to another, I wish this outstanding teen good luck no matter what the stage.

“If I don’t win the state pageant, I’ll be busy preparing for senior year and pursuing my dreams of performing,” said Carsyn.  “I love to say that ‘I may be small, but I have giant plans’.  And I know that whatever God has in store for me will exhibit that.”

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Click here to follow Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long on Facebook.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CARSYN?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Little Big Shots

For more information about the Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Megan Goeke at jenna@hellobeautifulbridal.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

NEXT.. Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Meet The Fosters

When I was a green, giggly young reporter at KETV, I was blessed with an incredible opportunity to fill in anchor for our weekday morning show.  I was so nervous.. anchoring for 2 hours straight everyday?  Would people like me?  Would I screw up the energy and chemistry that was already in place?  Little did I know, I would get to work 3am – Noon everyday with some phenomenal people.

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I guess when you work completely whackadoodle hours your form a deeper bond than most.  And those concerns I had?  They all evaporated on an early morning reading a story about the Beatles, when I accidentally said ‘Sir Rob McCartney’ instead of Paul.. and my co-anchor John Oakey stepped INTO camera view to say ‘um, excuse me.. he makes you call him SIR Rob McCartney?!?! I usually just call him Rob..’

John is one of the most phenomenal people I’ve ever met.  He’s HILARIOUS, talented, and incredibly devoted to his family, church and community.  I will always remember seeing the interaction between John and his wife, Kristi, and how in love they still are after 25+ years of marriage.  That love expanded 4-fold a few years ago.

Oakey

John and Kristi were the proud parents of two teenagers, but had been told many years ago they were unable to have anymore children.  For years, they considered adoption but from where? How? They began the long process of background checks and referrals from family and friends, and one day, received a phone call: a 9-month old baby girl needed a home.  They welcomed Trinity with open arms.  A few months later.. another call.. Trinity’s biological mom was pregnant again.  Hoping to keep the sisters together, the Oakeys welcomed Alivia, and began caring for two children 16 months or younger.  This happened twice more.. and each time the Oakeys welcomed another child, first Kaleb and then Kinley.  Here’s what John wrote about getting that call (again!) that Baby Kinley needed a home, too.

“Here’s the thing. How do you say No? There were countless reasons not to take her. Life was already crazy and hectic. Adding a fourth? Wow. But I was struck with the image of this girl, 18 years later, finding me and asking why I took her three siblings and not her. I did not have an answer. Except the overwhelming confirmation that we have been blessed. We are able to provide for our family. The Lord has looked after us. Now it was our time to look after this baby girl.”

This process was agonizing for the Oakey family; the fight to formally adopt was long and hard, and at one point, they were forced to return their children to their biological mother’s custody.  All four are now officially OAKEYS, enrolled in school and THRIVING thanks to the incredible parents who opened their hearts and homes to them.  (I encourage you to read more of the Oakey’s story on John’s fantastic blog Young Dad, Old Dad. CLICK HERE!)

Right now in Nebraska, several hundred children are waiting to be adopted.  Countless more are in need of foster homes.  A young woman from Gering, Nebraska is already planning her future foster family.. and encouraging others in her community to learn more.

Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble

“I have grown up around little kids; I LOVE kids,” Haylee told me recently.  “My aunts and uncles used to have foster kids in their homes.  I remember most of them very vividly.  They are part of the family.”

Hayley attended Community Christian School and enrolled at Gering High School last fall. As she mentally prepared for both high school and the public school setting, she wanted to find a way to become active in her community and meet the friends she would go to class with everyday.  She found those opportunities in a local pageant that also qualified her to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“I love getting out in my community,” said Haylee.  “I had never really volunteered in my community much until I got my title, and I am quite sad I didn’t start earlier, yet very glad I am realizing now what an influence I can have.  The girls and strong women involved in the pageant, whether they are competing, mentoring or organizing are and will always be a blessing.  Getting to know them has been amazing!”

“I’ve never been shy, but I’ve never really thought that I could do very much in our community at a young age,” said Haylee.  “The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant has shown me otherwise.  I have the power of making an impact on kids, which are the future of our community.  Being a good influence goes farther than I ever could have imagined.”

From schools to events to superhero fundraisers, Haylee has been all over Scotts Bluff County making the most of her title, hoping to show everyone she meets they are represented by a thoughtful, charismatic and fun-loving young woman who wants to build others up and help them succeed.

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“I love people,” said Haylee.  “I always strive to see the best in them and then bring it out so others can see it, too.  Pageants are a way for girl to build confidence in who they are and what they are capable of.  The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant is very focused on giving out as many scholarships as they can, which helps us girls have a better opportunity at a great college education and therefore a great future in which we can contribute to the world.”

Haylee is also channelling that impact into the family atmosphere that helped shape the young woman she is today.

“My platform is Fostering The Future,” said Haylee.  “It focuses on the need to support our local foster care families, foster care children, and the great people who work with these families and children at our Department of Health and Human Services.  I want kids in foster care to be part of a family, too.  I want my community to support our foster care families so the families can focus on loving the foster children in their homes.”

Families like the Oakeys, who are now raising three, little princesses who I hope grow up watching Miss America and maybe someday, walk across the Miss Nebraska stage with their proud parents in the crowd.

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John, if your little girls need a royal role model, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Haylee Umble is your gal.

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“My main goal at the pageant is not necessarily to win, but to do my very best,” said Haylee.  “I want to build lasting friendships with all the girls as well.  In the future, I wish to impact children as a teacher.  I want to make the lasting statement on them that they matter, are special and are loved.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Haylee Umble on Facebook!

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Pageant or how you can become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to follow on Facebook!  You can also email Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by emailing cengelhaupt@fnbnp.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2017 Jenni Wahonick

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Best Friends Forever

How many people, when they hear the word ‘pageant’, think of this?

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Tears through the confetti.  A cat fight over the tiara.

It’s kind of like when people ask me if news is really like this:

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Yes, Rob has many leatherbound books.  NO, we did not brawl with the other stations on the streets of Omaha.  And despite all of the pageants I have watched over the years, I have yet to see a cage match over a crown and sash.  Repeatedly, though, I DO see this:

Competitors who become best friends. Fellow contestants who end up being bridesmaids in each others’ weddings.  Women who lift each other up as they prepare to represent their state.. and continue to reach out long after their pageant days are done.

“The purpose of this competition is to become the best version of yourself. That means preparing in a healthy way. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. That includes lifting each other up and supporting one another.”

That was the message Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters shared with the Class of 2017 Saturday night, with Miss South Dakota 2016 Julia Olson sitting at her side.  It’s also one of the reasons a contender for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen title signed up to compete in the first place.

Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway

“Last year, my friend and fellow student was crowned at our local pageant,” Sydny told me.  “After seeing someone I actually know compete and win, I got the idea that I wanted to do a pageant.  I mentioned this to another one of my friends and we started competing last year.”

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Sydny’s venture into something new also became a test of persistence; she competed five times before winning the title of Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen in October.

“It was the best feeling ever,” said Sydny.  “I think that people need to know that doing pageants actually has the ability to bring teens and young adults out of their shells.  It improves a girl’s body image and many other things.  It’s a great learning opportunity.”

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This, from a young woman who has taken advantage of opportunities presented to her throughout her life.  A junior at Gering High School, she’s active on the Poms (dance) team and has danced for Tabor Dance Academy since the age of 3.  A German student traveling to Europe in June, who is also working to become a certified Emergency Medical Responder in her community. Sydny is also a member of the Class B State Champion Journalism staff and has written for the Gering Courier.  Simply put, Sydny describes herself as ‘committed’.

“I am in a lot of things, and now that I was crowned, my life is even more busy,” said Sydny.  “I have been able to find a balance so that I don’t have to stop doing something that I love.”

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In addition, Sydny competes for the speech team, sharing a persuasive oratory on seatbelt laws in Nebraska.  Driving safety is a message she’s extremely passionate about, and her personal platform as Miss Alliance’s OT.

“Last year, my cousin was in a horrible car accident, which caused him to have an acute brain injury and he almost did not survive,” said Sydny.  “If he were to have been wearing a seatbelt, it was likely he wouldn’t have had to suffer the severe brain injury.  I want to put the facts out there that anybody can get in a car accident, but there are also precautions you can take in order to save yourself.  Even if you aren’t driving, you should be practicing the right safety.”

Sydny is sharing that message across her community, as well as advocating for Children’s Miracle Network, the community partner to the Miss America Organization and Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

In the short few months since her crowning, Sydny has taken part in numerous events throughout her community.  She’s volunteered to paint faces, collect Christmas gifts, host Halloween celebrations, and collect donations that go directly to patients at local hospitals, like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  She is a constant advocate for service, and hopes to share more about that journey when she competes for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this April.

“My favorite part of the actual competition itself is the interview portion,” said Sydny.  “Going into a room with five strangers and just telling them about my life is kind of exciting.  I used to be really shy before trying out pageants, and now I am able to talk to anybody.  I believe I owe that to all the interview and onstage questions in pageants.”

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And Sydny Ridgeway is ready to show the judges she is a cheerful, independent, outstanding young woman with or without a title.

“Even if I am in a bad mood or anything where I shouldn’t be laughing, I am.  I am always smiling or laughing; it makes me really happy,” said Sydny.  “My goal for the state pageant is to just perform the best I can and be myself.  Even if I don’t even place in the top, I want to make more friends and just have a great time.”

MORE friendships… in addition to this:

Teenagers from across Nebraska who will meet on stage, side by side with their classmates, contestants, SISTERS, who represent the best, the brightest, the kindest in our state.  Young women just like Sydny Ridgeway.

“I’ve made so many great friends that I probably wouldn’t have if I wouldn’t have done pageants,” said Sydny.  “That has really made my life better.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway!

CLICK HERE for more information about the Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, or email Director Melinda Cullan at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Special Feature: Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

NEXT.. Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Let’s Dance

First off, a HUGE congratulations to Omaha teen Tharein Potuhera, the 14-year old who is one of only 45 students in America to make it to the finals of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.  This guy is AWESOME, not only representing our city and his school, St. Wenceslaus, but drawing smiles and thumbs-up nationwide with his signature ‘dab’ on stage.

Learn more about Tharein and his awesome moves here!

When we saw this last night.. my co-anchor Rob knew what Tharein was doing.  So did sports superstar Andy Kendeigh.  Our chief meteorologist Bill Randby even had the moves down.

Really.. Rob and Andy are crazy awesome–just watch!

Thanks to KETV viewer Paloma Power for tweeting that… and reminding me I HAVE NO MOVES.  NONE.  Really.. what happened that in my formative years that led to my body just crumbling in on itself whenever I try to move with grace and style?

I digress.. GREAT JOB, Tharein!!! We are SO very impressed by your intelligence AND personality.. and I personally am once again in awe of anyone with ‘the moves’, teens like Gering’s Sheridan Blanco, who will be showcasing her talent in front of hundreds of people in just a few short weeks.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Sheridan is a sophomore dance team member at Gering High School, and she’s also Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2016.

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From the Miss Alliance/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Oustanding Teen Pageant Facebook Page on November 29,2015: We are so proud to introduce our new titleholder-Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen, Sheridan Blanco!’

Within days, Sheridan was taking part in community events, braving the elements for the Alliance Christmas Parade with her fellow titleholder, Cherokee Purviance, Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen.

Just weeks later, Sheridan and Cherokee were volunteering again, judging a cupcake contest for an Alliance Girl Scouts group.

Winning a local title almost meant Sheridan was eligible to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, which includes fitness, interview, evening gown and talent.

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From the Miss Alliance/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Oustanding Teen Pageant Facebook Page on April 2, 2016: ‘Great day prepping for #MNOTeen!’

 The talent portion is no problem for Sheridan.. in addition to her dance background, she’s also a member of the POMS team, choir and band at Gering High.

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The Bulldogs dance squad not only performs; they also volunteer in the community, an effort going hand-in-hand with Sheridan’s new role as Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s OT.  No doubt they’ll be cheering her on as she heads to North Platte to compete in June, along with her THREE beautiful sisters!

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One nicknamed her ‘Baby Sista’ in a Facebook post.. her friends call her ‘Sher-Bear’.  Sheridan Blanco hopes you get to know her as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.. and whenever her name is called, she’s got some GREAT moves to celebrate the moment!

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For more information about the Miss Alliance’s OT/Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s OT/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Melinda Cullan by phone at 308-710-5593, or by email at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Brianna Little!

NEXT.. SPECIAL FEATURE: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!