Tag Archive | Jessica Shultis

Hoops For Hope

Be Great.

That was the Westside Warriors motto from day one of winter sports practice. Their coach asked them, what is your goal this season? The girls varsity team answered collectively: they wanted to be great. ‘What does that mean?’ Coach Clark responded.

I reached out to Coach Clark in November to see if some of his girls would be willing to visit Westside elementary schools for assemblies or guest opportunities; they had already been doing it for several weeks. They even volunteered at the District Kindness Retreat, mentoring students one on one. Their message: don’t make excuses, and don’t place blame. Love each other.

It was around this time these student athletes were also forced to practice what they preached; they’d suffered a tough loss to a top team in Class A, and lost their #2 and #3 players to season-ending injuries. They told each other and classroom after classroom, we won’t be defined by our challenges. We don’t make excuses. We don’t place blame. We love each other.

Every game day, the Warriors gathered together as a team for breakfast to reconnect and focus. After select home games, they ate pizza with a younger team, invited as their special guests. Their message when things got hard and when things started going right: no matter what happens, we won’t make excuses. We won’t place blame. We love each other.

District Champs

January – Westside won the Metro Holiday Tournament for the first time in 15 years.

February – Westside won the District Championship and a ticket to State.

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March – Westside won the NSAA Class A State Championship for just the 3rd time since Girls Basketball became a sanctioned sport in Nebraska. Their 28 wins in the 2017-2018 season set a new school record.

Monday night, less than 48 hours after their victory.. these players attended the 8th grade league championship, to support the younger girls they had invited to one of their games weeks earlier.

8th grade

Michael Jordan once said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

The Westside Warriors seemed to understand early on that to Be Great was so much more than taking the top prize at the end of the season; it was about meeting every challenge, and sharing what they learned with others along the way.

Jessica Shultis gets it, too… both the game, and the message.


She was a multi-sport high school athlete who went on to play collegiate basketball for Doane University. She had barely begun.. when everything in her world changed.

“During my sophomore year of college, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer,” Jessica told me. “I [now] speak to students about what it takes to overcome obstacles, whether it is bullying, academic struggles or terminal illness.”



At 23 years old, Jessica found a way to open more doors to share her story ,when she was crowned Miss Kearney and qualified to compete for the title of Miss Nebraska 2017. She finished as 2nd runner-up. Just months ago, Jessica was crowned Miss Lincoln.

“People are far more receptive to having Miss Lincoln come speak as opposed to simply Jessica Shultis. The title gives me an excellent platform to talk about issues that are important to me as well as make a difference in my community,” said Jessica. “Thanks to my connections in the basketball community, I am able to host fundamental camps free of any expense to myself, called Hoops for Hope. Due to the generous donations of others, all proceeds raised directly benefit Children’s Hospital in Omaha.”

But once again, Jessica faced challenges in her journey. At the ‘ripe old age’ of 24, Jessica was past the ‘age cutoff’ for women who hope to compete for Miss America and their state title, and didn’t think she’d be able to get a second chance to represent the state where she’s been her entire life.


“I fell in love with the job of Miss Kearney and was devastated that I only had one opportunity to compete at Miss Nebraska,” said Jessica. “Even though I didn’t walk away with the crown last year, I walked away with thousands of dollars in scholarships that I was able to apply to my educational endeavors. As someone who has completed her Bachelor’s degree and is about to complete a Master’s degree, I cannot emphasize the importance of scholarships enough.”

Then in January, the Miss America Organization announced a historic decision allowing women up to 25 years old to compete. It was the chance Jessica had been watching and waiting for.

“The week before the Miss Lincoln Pageant was a roller coaster waiting for confirmation,” said Jessica. “Friday night before the Saturday pageant, at 11pm, I received a text from Miss Nebraska Executive Director Rachel Daly that I was cleared to compete. I could hardly sleep that night, so I competed on pure adrenaline that stemmed from my excitement to step onstage again.”

Jessica Shultis is a woman who has set goals for herself her entire life. This summer, she will transition into the role of Human Resources Manager with that new Master’s Degree. She plans to earn her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She wants to continue advocating for equality across all social classes, races, and sexes, inspired by women like Oprah Winfrey and the other titleholders she’s gotten to know through the Miss Nebraska program.

Jessica 4

Just like her basketball sisters 50 miles east, Jessica wants to be great. Her state championship trophy is the Miss Nebraska crown.

“I want to walk away knowing that I did everything I could to prepare,” said Jessica. “These ladies know the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in all aspects of life.”

Don’t make excuses. Don’t place blame. Love each other.

Be Great.

Olivia 1

Photo courtesy Olivia Washburn for Westside Journalism

“Love always wins. Love conquers fear. Love is what makes a team. I can whole-hearted say I love my team like sisters. We are truly better together.” – Elizabeth Robinson, Westside Warriors Basketball Player

“I’ve had the opportunity to share my message about the importance of never losing hope. While I hope I’ve had an impact on the kids in attendance, I leave a better person because of each of them.” – Miss Lincoln, Jessica Shultis.

Jessica final

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography


To follow Miss Lincoln Jessica Shultis on Facebook, click here.


CLICK HERE * 2017 * The Chameleon Queen

For more information about the Miss Lincoln/Miss Star City Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also email Director Christy Merritt at Christy.Merritt@TheWaterFord.net.


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

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter


PREVIOUS.. Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen Chloe Blumanthal

Nebraska Nice


We are the Heartland, the Midwest, the centermost point of the United States.  We are urban and rural.  We are Fortune 500 and the Future Farmers of America.  We are closing in on 2-million strong.. emphasis on the STRONG.  And hardworking.  And kind.

I joke that my Nebraska coat has many colors.  I’m a proud Papillion native.  Omaha is where I’ve found success.  Gretna is now home.  I count down the days every year until my annual trip to North Platte, I spent several years cheering on my Huskers in Lincoln, the list goes on and on.

Every young woman competing this year to become Miss Nebraska or Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen has their own state story.. one, a Tiger proudly representing her community of 1700.

Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Hope McCoy

14-year old Hope McCoy calls Mitchell, Nebraska home.  The small town about 20 miles northwest of Gering is what spurred Hope to put on a crown and sash and step into the spotlight.

“I decided to compete in local pageants because I love being a party of my community,” Hope told me recently.  “I have been in pageants since I was six years old and I loved it.  Being a part of it felt like being more involved; I love meeting new people and making new friends.”


Hope describes herself as petite, unique and caring.

“Unique because I don’t like to blend with the ‘crowd’,” said Hope.  “I love being different from other girls.  I love being who I am!  I have always cared for people no matter what.  Whenever we get a new student in school, I always make sure that I go and talk to them and make them feel welcome.”

Hope with Haylee

“There are so many amazing girls that compete [in Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen], and I have made so many new friends with all of them,” said Hope.  “The other part of the experience is gaining new knowledge.  I want [people] to know this is not just about the gowns, makeup and the crowns.  Pageants can help you get into good colleges just like any sport.  You gain knowledge doing pageants, not just walking in a nice dress.”

All of this, insight and opportunity she is using as part of her role as a leader throughout Mitchell and beyond.

 In addition to her studies at Mitchell Junior/Senior High, Hope volunteers and takes part in appearances to benefit Children’s Miracle Network and as part of her personal platform of service, Read Across America.

“Ever since I was very little I have always loved reading,” said Hope.  “So when I decided to compete in pageants I wanted my platform to be about reading.  I want to go to libraries across the state and read to children.  I want to go and help out the elderly in my community with anything they need me to do.  I want to sing in all of the care centers for elderly people, and I enjoy hearing their stories.  Any volunteer positions in my community, I want to be part of.”

Hope 4

Our state motto is Nebraska Nice.. and I’d argue you’d find proof of that mentality in communities from Omaha to Mitchell.  It’s a common thread that unites us no matter what our background, demographic, profession or community.  And it’s a message Hope Isabella McCoy hopes she’ll get to deliver in person as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“My goal in general is to go to Children’s Miracle Network, talk to all of the children and get their stories,” said Hope.  “I would love to sit there and make them laugh and smile.  Also, just to help out with anything that I can around the state.”


Click here to follow Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Hope McCoy on Facebook!

For more information about the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Kyla Ansley at kyla_ansley@hotmail.com.


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.


PREVIOUS.. Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis

NEXT.. Miss Northwests’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Makenzie Davies

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!

The Chameleon Queen

I present to you the most amazing picture in the history of photography.


Let’s just say Camilla was a tad excited to see Miss Nebraska Aleah Peters and to try on her crown.  This was one of my favorite moments from the weekend, when nine of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants joined Aleah for an Omaha Princess Party as part of our #MissAmericaServes campaign.


So. Much. Sass.  I LOVE IT.

This event raised an estimated $250, money that will be used to create care packages for open heart surgery patients through Abriendo Corazones, a mission founded by a medical team at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  (CLICK HERE to learn more!)  An incredible cause very close to my heart, made even better by seeing the looks in these little girls’ eyes as they got to meet ‘real life princesses’!

Who was your role model growing up?  My husband adored sports icons like Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan.  I was obsessed with celebrities, from the stars of Beverly Hills 90210 to New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men.  Children are sponges and find inspiration everywhere, often zoning in on the people and things they are interested in.

A young woman from small-town Nebraska is a chameleon of sorts when it comes to what ‘type’ of woman she is… athlete, graduate student, survivor AND ‘princess’.

Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis

“I wholeheartedly believe that if you are going to do something it is essential to give 110%,” Jessica told me recently.  “I have been involved in athletics my entire life.  I believe that greatness is truly constructed when no one is looking.  It is the work that you put in behind the scenes that pays off in the long run.”

This is Jessica’s first and only year competing in the Miss Nebraska Pageant.  At 24, she’s already filled her resume with accolades from Centura High School, college at both Doane and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and now graduate school in Doane’s Masters program.  Jessica is a multi-sport athlete, qualifying for state competition as a high school student and competing as a collegiate basketball player while completing her undergrad degree.

“Basketball has always been a large part of my life,” said Jessica.  “I recall getting a Little Tikes basketball hoop for my fourth birthday and stomping around the house in my dad’s basketball shoes.  As a little girl I dreamt of being a professional basketball player.  I had the opportunity to play basketball at the youth, junior high, high school, elite and collegiate level.  I have been had the opportunity to coach high school basketball.  Through basketball, I learned the value of perseverance, positivity and teamwork.  As a little girl shooting hoops in my parents’ driveway, I never thought that one day the lessons I learned from basketball would help me overcome one of my greatest obstacles: cancer.”

Jessica describes a frustrating sophomore year of college, a time filled with countless doctors visits and tests.  Her diagnosis: her body is predisposed to form tumors, a condition Jessica says she will face for the rest of her life.

“Without basketball, I’m not sure I would have possessed the mental strength to persevere through the following year,” said Jessica.


So when crowned Miss Kearney last fall, Jessica decided to combine the two systems that helped her face her diagnosis: basketball and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  She calls her platform ‘Hoops For Hope: Supporting Children’s Miracle Network.’

Jessica flyer

“I am able to coach fundamental camps for today’s youth while raising funds to support an amazing cause,” said Jessica.  “All of the proceeds from the camps directly benefit the children and families at CMNH.”


When she’s not hosting clinics in cities across Nebraska, Jessica is working on her Master’s degree, preparing to explore PhD programs in psychology. She also has two jobs;  as a mental health technician at Mental Health Crisis Center in Lincoln and as Cinderella, visiting classrooms and children throughout her community.

“I love to smile and laugh,” said Jessica.  “I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine. Moreover, I love to make other people smile because life is too short to be anything but happy and if I can be the reason someone smiles then I have done my job as a fellow human being.  My goal is to become Miss Nebraska and hopefully Miss America, to transform my statewide fundraiser into a nationwide fundraiser.  Both of these titles allow the women to reach countless people and make a significant difference in their lives, which is what I aspire to do.  The appearance opportunities also allow young women to gain confidence while promoting a cause that is important to them.  This helps young women grow and give back!”

Jessica smiling

“The Miss America Organization is so much more than a beauty pageant,” said Jessica.  “It is a scholarship program that encourages young women to achieve greatness both personally and academically.  I want to encourage young girls to step outside their comfort zone and compete.  I will be forever thankful for this experience.”

Maybe your little girl wants to be a princess, too.  Maybe she wants to be an Olympian.  Maybe she wants to cure cancer.

The thing is.. she doesn’t have to choose.  Little girls can grow up to be women who do it all.

Miss Kearney Jessica Shultis is proof of that.

Jessica final

“As I have grown up I have discovered who I am and what I want out of life,” said Jessica.  “My experiences have shaped the woman that I am today and I am extremely comfortable with myself.  In a society where media outlets constantly tell women ‘they aren’t good enough’, I believe it is essential to love yourself for who you are.”


Click here to follow Miss Kearney 2017 Jessica Shultis on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Kearney Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Directors Megan Goeke and Jenna Lukasiewitz at jenna@hellobeautifulbridal.com or call 308-7-8-0678.


The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.


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

NEXT.. Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Hope McCoy

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…


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.

Carsyn 1

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.”

Carsyn 11

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.”

Carsyn 12

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.”


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.”


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


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.


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.


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!