Let It Snow

A SNOW DAY.

KETV First News meteorologist Matt Serwe put it PERFECTLY when he tweeted:

“Post about any snow during the week, and every high schooler be like…”

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Remember what it was like as a student, watching TV and listening to the radio nonstop just wishing you’d hear your school’s name as CLOSED for that one blissful day in the snow?  Now, TENS OF THOUSANDS of high school and college students across Nebraska and Iowa can also check Twitter and Facebook for closings.  This year, they are going above and beyond to not just watch, but PLEA for those days off.  And MAN are they creative doing it.

To be clear, neither Matt, nor I, nor ANYONE here at KETV have any power in determining a day off from school.  We wait for area superintendents just like everyone else.  We are merely the messengers.  But boy, we have been THOROUGHLY entertained by the requests coming into the newsroom.

THERE ARE THOSE WHO FLATTER AND BRIBE..

Emma Hasenjager :  thanks for being my heroes…hopefully! @brandipetersen @BillRandby @jsutfin

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Taylor Elizabeth: We need our heroes  https://vine.co/v/OFDBMKFrpxi

Andrew ‏@senor_andy: @brandipetersen you’re basically every metro area students best friend when it snows

Jessi ‏@jesssidwell: Hey @brandipetersen!!! My buddy @i_got_dilEMMAS and I are pros in the snow and will GLADLY shovel your driveway in return for a snowday

SOME MAKE AN EMOTIONAL APPEAL..

@sydney__nelson: @brandipetersen seems pretty dangerous outside… #snowday?? 

 B8-PyEGIYAAVjQZ  B8-PyEGIcAADVkc  B8-PyEJIAAEPjJo

@ptalm: @brandipetersen can school be called off tomorrow my wife left me

paradise ‏@jacobtroia: I’m blaming Brandi Petersen when I step out of my car; freeze, then break in half tomorrow morning

rachel winkler:   would be a shame if I got frostbite tomorrow walking into school….. come on @brandipetersen

Emily-Rose ‏@emilyvlach: @brandipetersen “give me a snow day” please?

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OTHERS TRY THE ‘NO SCHOOL OR ELSE’ TECHNIQUE..

Natalia: @brandipetersen if we have school tomorrow..

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Andy Page:   @brandipetersen @MattSerweKETV @BillRandbyKETV you are splitting apart friendships by not telling us

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Colton John$on: If Blair doesn’t cancel school its @brandipetersen ‘s fault

Jack Shoemaker: @ThorTripp is once again my favorite Omaha area newscaster. You know what you didn’t do @brandipetersen.

A FEW TRY.. OK, I’M NOT SURE WHAT THIS IS..

Langston ‏@ptalm: I heard about this ritual where if we all make moaning noises towards Brandi Petersen she will summon the ice devil and cancel school

THERE ARE THOSE WHO TURN TO RELIGION..

Evan English: Prayin for a cold day like…

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Will.i.am. ‏@willsynowiecki: We’re really gonna need you to pull through for us tonight @brandipetersen

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estelle mckinney: Do u think Jesus would have the 12 Apostles go to school in the Plz remember wwjd @brandipetersen 

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AND MY FAVORITES.. WHO TRY TO ‘USE THE FORCE’..

Travis Schwartz: @brandipetersen when outside is like Hoth you should cancel

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Nolan Harrington: How @brandipetersen wants me to go to school tomorrow

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Hannah ‏@uhlhannah: Help me @brandipetersen you’re my only hope.

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AND WHEN THAT MOMENT COMES.. AND WE TELL EVERYONE THEIR SCHOOL IS CLOSED..

ktown ‏@krgrinvalds: “@brandipetersen: WESTSIDE CLOSED MONDAY FEB 2”

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Bipolar Mike Riley‏@BipolarM_Riley: @brandipetersen will you marry me?

Brooke Gustafson: THERES NO SCHOOL. BRANDI CAME IN CLUTCH ONCE AGAIN

kates ‏@katie_fichter:  thanks brandi love u

Stavros Piperis: No school tomorrow and High School Musical is on. Love you @brandipetersen

grant ‏@wish__GRANTed: @brandipetersen you are the real MVP

***

So much love–AND LAUGHS :)  Keep it coming, folks!  Best wishes for students everywhere hoping for a cold, snowy winter.

And by the way, Bill has snow in this weekend’s forecast.

***

You can follow Brandi on twitter at @BrandiPetersen

2014: Year In Review

I mean, really, what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t hand out imaginary awards that are voted on by only YOU?

I’m a big believer in recognizing the POSITIVE things going on in our world.  In news, we certainly see the bad.  A lot of it.  Day in and day out.  But I think KETV does a great job of also highlighting the GOOD.  The students who vote for a special needs friend for Homecoming King.  The community rallying around a family in their darkest hour.  A business finding incredible success through simple hard work and dedication to their craft.

As we close out on 2014, here are my Year In Review Local News awards.

(Thank you for continuing to read though you are probably doing so while laughing.. not with me, just AT me..)

2014 KETV REPORTER OF THE YEAR

KRISTYNA

KRISTYNA ENGDAHL 

This lady is just FANTASTIC.  I don’t have enough adjectives for her.  Beautiful.  HILARIOUS.  Sharp.  Well spoken.  Fearless.  Respected.  Kristyna’s stories are well written and solid; if she tells you something, you know it to be true and researched.  Kristyna’s live presence is just AWESOME.  She’s articulate, she gets to the point at a scene, she shares what viewers want and need to know.  When Kristyna’s in our newsroom, our coverage is GREAT.  We have so many incredible journalists on our team here at KETV, but for me, Kristyna is our 2014 reporter of the year.  Now, as a person.. SHE. IS. AWESOME.  My day is truly brighter when I come in to work and see that beautiful smile, then hear her joking at her desk.  (Then I usually snort coffee up my nose laughing, because she is HANDS DOWN the funniest person in our newsroom!)  Like I said, I don’t have enough adjectives for Kristyna.  I do have a message to her: THANK YOU for being you!

Kristyna’s work in 2014:

First interview with Nebraska Governor-Elect Pete Ricketts

$100 Reward offered for return of Baby Jesus

Survivor recalls Sunday morning crash

Follow Kristyna on Facebook and on Twitter!

***

2014 KETV PHOTOJOURNALIST OF THE YEAR

DAVE

DAVE HYNEK (photo courtesy Jodi Hoatson, CHI Health)

Again, we have so many, SO MANY, incredibly talented photojournalists here at KETV.  Still, for me, Dave Hynek is THE BEST OF THE BEST.  Not just at KETV, but arguably, one of the best in the country.  Dave FEELS what he shoots–he captures moments with his eyes, his ears, and all of his senses.  I’ve been honored to share some INCREDIBLE stories this year and in 3/4 of those stories or more, Dave was the man behind the camera and in the edit bay, trying to piece together a vision I had written down on paper.  A brave, young woman speaking for the first time about the night her ex-boyfriend shot her in the face; Dave put the story together.  Our chronicle about Baby Lawrence, multiple stories spanning several months; Dave put the stories together.  Cassidy Collier, a teenager facing lifelong challenges after a terrible car crash; Dave put her story together.  The paralyzed bride who walked down the aisle, the Plattsmouth teenager who died from a mysterious illness, our one-on-one interview with former Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini–DAVE HYNEK was the man behind the scenes in each and everyone of these stories.  When we aren’t fighting over Dave in news, he’s also part of our sports team, often traveling with Andy to Nebraska football road games to shoot on the sidelines; AND he has his own production business, shooting weddings and special events.  Dave helped me put together my audition tape for the College World Series this year (singing, not playing baseball), asking nothing in return.  Dave may be one hell of a photographer, but he’s an even better FRIEND. Dave listens, works hard, he is KIND.  Hands down, he is THE BEST. (And a SUPERSTAR shortstop on the Team Paparazzi softball team!)

Dave’s work in 2014:

Cassi’s message

Saving Baby Lawrence

New mother battling terminal cancer

***

2014 PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, ANDREW BEIN

No picture of Andrew, our Executive Producer in charge of our 10pm newscasts.. and that’s the way he likes it.  Andrew is always behind the scenes, plugging away at his computer or up in our master control booth, and the DUDE IS A MACHINE.  Andrew could hands down be working in any big market or network outlet in the country; his writing in concise, accurate, and entertaining.  The numbers show it–with Andrew in control, KETV has not only the #1 10pm newscast in Omaha.. but one of the most popular newscasts in the country.  Rob and I TRUST him.  We know his scripts don’t have typos that could trip us up.  We know he’ll guide us through breaking news, weather coverage and an ever-changing environment where situations turn in a heartbeat.  Producers don’t often get the credit they deserve in our business–they don’t get their faces and names on our stories and coverage when things go great.  Andrew deserves it–he’s one of the best, and we are VERY lucky to have him on the KETV team!

***

2014 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

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ALEXANDRA STONE

By ‘Rookie’, I mean new to us here at KETV, but certainly not new to this thing we call journalism.  This young woman is POISED, professional and quickly building a reputation in Omaha and beyond as a trusted journalist you can turn to for the story.  I recently put together a story with an interview Alexandra had conducted; she spoke with the mother of a young man who had been shot and killed.  These interviews are SO incredibly difficult.  What can you ask? What can you say? Alexandra was compassionate, caring, she asked the questions that we and our viewers wanted to know, but with tact and professionalism.  It was a lesson in how to conduct yourself in such a tough situation, to remember you are a fellow human being.  It was also Alexandra who, after 13 years in TV news, led me to CRY on air for the first time I can remember after seeing one of her stories.  Alexandra and photojournalist Matthew Lathan showed a young man with cerebral palsy, surprised on the field when his coach put him into the game for the first time all season.  It was just BEAUTIFUL story telling, and perhaps, a small glimpse of what incredible things this girl is capable of.

Alexandra’s work in 2014:

Bellevue football player receives sidelines surprise

Omaha native makes dream job reality

Women’s center helps immigrants escape domestic violence

Follow Alexandra on Facebook and on Twitter

***

I wish I had an ‘in’ with a trophy maker so I could hand out a few more awards.  To photojournalist Tyler White for editing not one, not two, but nearly ALL of my Throwback Thursday Huskers stories (some of which required deep digging into the KETV archives, converting countless forms of video, and piecing it all together with my less-than-stellar knowledge of football).  To KETV’s official EVERYTHING Josh Gear, who produces, shoots, edits.. OK, the guy just does anything and EVERYTHING asked of him, literally, working every shift we have at KETV, with no complaint.  To legendary directors Tom Rock and Ruth Behrens, who are not only PHENOMENAL at what they do, but are always putting on a pot of coffee or bringing in made-from-scratch chili, because they are just KIND, WONDERFUL people.  We’ve just got a really, REALLY great team here at KETV.

***

2014 STORY OF THE YEAR

For this one, I am completely, entirely, TOTALLY biased.  Because this one is very personal for me.  The story I will remember most from 2014..

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THE PARALYZED BRIDE WHO WALKED DOWN THE AISLE

Gina Giaffoliogne-Springhower stunned her wedding guests and 1.65 MILLION viewers by doing what so many brides take for granted, walking down the aisle on her father’s arm.  The KETV team (myself, photojournalists Dave Hynek, Ashley Nodgaard and Tyler White, and Assistant News Director Vonn Jones), along with the Giaffoliogne family and CHI Health’s Jodi Hoatson, spent weeks planning and working to share Gina’s story.  Gina spent YEARS preparing for this one moment, an instant that brought me to tears and inspired millions of people around the globe.  Gina’s story was shared by E! Online, People Magazine, Dr. Oz, CNN, ABC World News and World News Now, Good Housekeeping, Huffington Post, Courier Daily, and the NY Daily News, among others.  Gina–THANK YOU for sharing your story.  Your message, smile and spirit have no doubt changed lives, showing anyone facing a challenge that ANYTHING is possible.  You have given people hope.  To have any role in sharing your story is a blessing I can never say thank you enough for.  The world is at your fingertips, Gina–you are simple incredible.

My blog post previewing Gina’s piece: A Cinderella Story

KETV, Paralyzed bride walks down the aisle

KETV, Millions share paralyzed bride’s story

KETV, Paralyzed bride invited to Dr. Oz

Gina hopes to continue to speak across the Midwest and the country sharing her story and her inspiring message.  CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!

***

I have many goals for 2015.  I want to finish (and in some cases, START!) my boys’ Shutterfly books for each year of their lives.  I want to pick up again on one of my favorite hobbies, scrapbooking.  I want to FINALLY get back to XXX and lose all of my baby weight.  I want to be a GREAT wife, mother and friend.

Here at KETV, I just want to tell good stories.  Stories that inspire.  Stories that matter.  Stories that make us think.

It’s been a great ride, 2014.  Happy New Year.

You Think You Have Time

Buddha

I first heard this phrase a few months ago and thought, wow… this is so true. It seems we are always looking ahead and waiting for things to happen; we’ve got vacation circled on the calendar, or are willing the clock to speed up until the weekend begins.  Then, once in a while, we are reminded how quickly time truly flies.

You think you have time.

Here’s an unforgettable reminder of that to all of us from a woman who doesn’t take anything for granted.

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Kayla Hebenstreit and her husband, Joe, should be enjoying this first Christmas with their daughter, Kendall.  Kayla should be in stores, buying every pink tutu and sparkly pair of shoes she can find for that sweet baby girl.  This family should be smiling in every photo they take, just like this one.

Instead, Kayla Hebenstreit spends six days, every two weeks, getting around the clock chemo at the Nebraska Medical Center.  She’s battling cancer FOR THE FOURTH TIME.  One month after her ‘miracle baby’ Kendall was born, doctors told Kayla the cancer was back and she had less than a year to live.

I don’t even know how I would respond to that.  THREE SEPARATE TIMES, Kayla heard the word ‘cancer’, said NO, and beat this terrible disease.  Why, when she and her husband FINALLY got pregnant and had a baby, did this horrible thing, cancer, return?

Click here to watch Kayla’s story with KETV

 The Hebenstreits’ story is one of love and incredible strength.  Every kiss, every laugh means something because they truly know how precious time is.  At a time of year when it’s so easy to get wrapped up in ‘my Christmas cards aren’t done’… ‘how am I going to pay off these holiday bills’… ‘I can’t STAND so-and-so at the Christmas party!’.. this little family will remind you of how lucky so many of us are.

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Thanks to J Sallenbach Photography for the photo

I believe God has a plan for everything.  I believe God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  But why, WHY do things like this happen to people like Kayla Hebenstreit?  A beautiful woman, who dug deep to fight back so many times.  All she wants is TIME, time to live life with her husband and love her sweet baby girl, not yet three months old.

I don’t know.

I DO know Kayla and her fight have inspired thousands of people, evidence you can plainly see by checking out her website, Kayla’s Crew, and her Facebook page.  1,700 people packed a recent fundraiser to show this family support and to help them cover their costs.  I hope people who see Kayla’s story will have more appreciation for everything they have, as I did leaving our interview.  Most of all, I pray Kayla and Joe Hebenstreit are given a miracle, the only thing they want for Christmas.  TIME.

The (Shocking) Season Finale

All season during this Husker Throwback series, I’ve tried to post these blogs the day or two before the story has aired on KETV.  There have been a few exceptions.. Monte Anthony had an ‘encore’ post thanks to Pearl Jam in Lincoln, and in our final week, legendary coach Milt Tenopir took a backseat to a terrible head cold.  (No one puts Coach in the corner!)  I fully intended to sit down at my desk Sunday and give Coach Tenopir the write-up his storied career at Nebraska deserved.

Then we all got the email that changed everything.

‘University of Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst has dismissed Head Football Coach Bo Pelini effective immediately.’

I’ve been sitting here,  contemplating what to type next.  The truth is, as I’ve written before, I don’t KNOW sports.  There are journalists, commentators and analysts who make a living sharing the whys, the what ifs and the could bes.  They research and study programs and team histories; they KNOW the game.  One of the things Pelini told me himself in our interview last April was that there were sure a lot of people outside of his program who THOUGHT they knew everything.

me and bo

Yes, that’s part of the job, and Pelini was the first to say that in our interview.  Yes, he got paid a good salary, a GREAT salary, for that job.  Still, quite an unenviable position to have tens of thousands of people criticize your EVERY. MOVE.

I KNOW I don’t know.  Does ANYONE have all the answers for the success of Husker football?

COACH TENOPIR

From 1974 to 2003, Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir sure knew a lot.

“Here’s an example, the offensive line had zero, ZERO penalties,” said Tenopir of his 1995 team.

ZERO PENALTIES. ALL SEASON.

Milt Tenopir was the man behind that original Pipeline of sheer, impenetrable muscle.  The coach who was often off camera, calling plays upstairs, looking down at the field inside Memorial Stadium.  The role model who turned out hundreds of young men he says became beloved friends.

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The 1994 Pipeline, an unbreakable Husker offensive line.  4 of the 5 starters that year went on to play pro ball.  (Photo Courtesy Brenden Stai Golf Classic)

“I never demanded respect.  I felt you had to earn respect whether you were a coach or whomever,” Tenopir told me last week.  “If the kids believe in you and you believe in them, you’re going to develop a friendship.  And we had a friendship, you know.  There’s not many that would come through that door today that we wouldn’t hug, maybe shed a tear, because there was just a bond set up there.”

Tenopir was a players’ coach (“I beat ‘em up if they didn’t say that,” he joked), but it wasn’t because he went easy on them.  Tenopir says today’s players run 50-70 snaps, MAX, at practice.  His players ran 110.  ALL of his players, starting or not.  THAT, he says, is how his Huskers dominated their opponents on the field.

“The reason for that success was we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot.  We didn’t have a bunch of jumps offsides, we didn’t have a bunch of chop blocks.  We didn’t have a lot of holding stuff,” said Tenopir.  “We beat everybody we should’ve beaten and a lot of times we beat people maybe we shouldn’t have beaten.  We never lost a game that we were supposed to win.”

There were losses, of course, but not many.  Tenopir credits his longtime head coach, Tom Osborne, who suffered two of those losses back to back at the start of his head coaching career.

“Coach Osborne was in our locker room before you could even get your clothes off to shower, he was not a happy camper,” remembers Tenopir.  “He wanted change, and he got change.  We ended up winning nine that year.  The following game we played Colorado and we thumped ‘em pretty good.”

That is one of the things Tenopir says bothers him about so many programs today; the inability to make adjustments, especially during a game.  He says in 95% of Coach Osborne’s games, he brought a team back after halftime that performed better than in the first two quarters.

“When you look back at coaching 25 years, 255 wins, that’s an average of ten games a year.  That says something,” said Tenopir.  “Being in Coach’s presence made you all better people.  He was just that type of a guy.”

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There are other things Tenopir would like to see done differently at Nebraska.  He’d like to see the Big Red get back to a run-first mentality.  He says his coaching strategies, practice and consistency were not perfect but were proven.

“If they have repetition and the ability to make it second nature to them, then they’re going to be better.  I see that as an area of change that needs to be done,” said Tenopir.  “You’ve got a red N on your hat and that means something.  It means you don’t ever give up.  It means you try to be a perfectionist in everything you do.”

That red N might as well be tattooed onto Tenopir’s heart; though the 74-year old’s coaching days are over, he is still living by that Husker motto to keep fighting.  Tenopir battled cancer and won, twice. (He is currently in remission, hoping he’ll be able to continue therapy at home in January.)  This latest bout with leukemia, diagnosed in May, and the treatments that followed, drained Tenopir of his strength.  When the 1994 National Championship team was honored during this season’s Nebraska vs Miami game, his fellow coaches pushed Tenopir onto the field in a wheelchair.  On his lap, he held the ’94 trophy.

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Photo Courtesy Huskers Illustrated

“It was heavy,” said Tenopir, smiling.  “It was a thrill to me to be with those kids and the fact so many of them showed up.  Rob Zatechka, Brenden Stai, Aaron Graham, Joel Wilks, Zach Wiegert, those were some pretty special kids.”

As for Tenopir’s favorite?

“Can’t tell you that, I coached so doggone many,” said Tenopir.  “There’s not a kid I coached that I didn’t fall in love with.”

And from all accounts, the feeling is mutual.  Even during our interview, Coach Tenopir stopped to wave back at people passing by, even hugging a woman working in the athletic department.  11 years out from his retirement from coaching and he’s still beloved in Husker Nation.

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Something has been verified for me time and time again putting together these Throwback Thursday stories.  To be a Husker is something very, very special, both to the players and to the fans.  It’s not just a game in Nebraska.  It’s tradition, it’s prominence, it’s a dynasty.  It’s hard work, it’s adrenaline, it’s victory.  It’s something we collectively look forward to and join together for.  It’s more than the games, yet it IS the games, the players, the coaches that make all of this happen.

Will we ever have another coach like Milt Tenopir, like Tom Osborne, like Bob Devaney?  Will Nebraska ever win another national title?  Will ANY program see another team become a legacy like the 70-71 Huskers, or the 90’s powerhouse Nebraska teams?

Less than a week before Coach Bo Pelini would be dismissed, Coach Tenopir told me every head coach will take the blame for what goes wrong with his team.  He added, you can’t put it all on one guy.  In my interview with Coach Pelini, he was honest, down-to-earth, and seemed grounded by the things that are truly important; his family, and helping young men develop as players and people.  KETV Sports Director Andy Kendeigh said it best tonight during our 10pm newscast: “He’s truly a good man.”  Coach, I wish you the best.

For all of you who have followed this new Throwback Thursday Husker series, THANK YOU–I’ve really enjoyed following up with these players and coaches and sharing their stories.  Ironically, as I close the door on this blog post and on the 2014 season, we are pursuing another developing story.  Tomorrow, Husker Nation will welcome in new Head Football coach Mike Riley.

A new era of Nebraska Football is about to begin.

Paging Dr. Husker

A few years ago, photojournalist Dave Hynek and I chronicled an AMAZING story about a father, donating a kidney to his young son.  We followed their journey from start to finish, including in the moments leading up to the transplant.  We interviewed a very brave Dad as his anesthesiologist inserted his IVs to prepare him for sedation.

You’d think I would’ve learned…

I don’t handle needles well.  Like, I pass out when I see one.  (Really.  It’s not embarrassing AT ALL.)

So here I am, in the surgery preparation area of the Nebraska Medical Center, getting more and more lightheaded, trying to conduct an interview.

Right at the moment I feared I was going to lose my breakfast or crash head first into the floor, I STOOD UP AND LEFT THE ROOM MID-INTERVIEW. Dave finished it for me.  Apparently, it was pretty obvious I was having ‘problems’.  Dave came out of the area laughing, and noted that the anesthesiologist had noticed, too.

‘You know who that was, right?’ Dave asked me.

DR. ROB ZATECHKA.  As in Husker legend turned doctor Rob Zatechka.

REALLY.  Not embarrassing AT ALL.

Clearly, I was not destined for a career in medicine, but a lot of Huskers have been.  ‘Dr. Rob’, Judd Davies, Sean Fisher… and now..

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Dr. Mike Stuntz, Nebraska Free Safety (photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics!)

#16 permanently sealed his place in Nebraska Football history as a freshman, taking part in one of the most memorable plays in recent years.  Nebraska versus Oklahoma in 2001, a key game in Nebraska’s journey to the national title game and Eric Crouch’s to the Heisman trophy.  Out of nowhere in the 4th quarter, Crouch tosses the ball to Thunder Collins, who tosses the ball to Stuntz.  Stuntz, just 18, delivers a rocket to Crouch downfield, who runs for a 63-yard touchdown.  Nebraska beats the #2 team in the country, 20-10.

“I can’t think of one [play] that meant more to our team that I contributed to. I can’t think of one that people talk about with me more often than that one,” Stuntz told me in a recent interview.  “We started practicing it early in the week.  I knew about it, even starting that Monday, I think.  We ran it throughout the week and it never really worked that well in practice.  During the game, they told me even in the first half they were think about running it.  Whey they finally called it, I was a little surprised, it was so late in the game and the game was so close.”

During what many might consider a nerve-rattling moment, Stuntz just ‘played the way he’d always played’.

“It’s almost one of those ‘ignorance is bliss’ things,” said Stuntz.  “I didn’t really realize just how much people cared about Nebraska football, college football in general, how big of a game it was.  You’re just kind of oblivious to all that when you’re 18 years old.”

You want to talk nerves, imagine this: HOLDING YOUR NEWBORN DAUGHTER FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Dads, do you remember that moment?  Mike Stuntz does; it just happened a month ago when he and wife Natalie welcomed their first child, Blakely Autumn.

“I knew what I was doing on that play, I played football all the time. I’d never been a dad before,” said Stuntz.  “So that was, definitely, without a question, more nerve wracking, the first time I saw Blakely.”

“He did use the football hold, though!” added Natalie with a smile.

Stuntz doesn’t just know football, he was pretty darn good at it.  An incredibly versatile player, Stuntz saw time at free safety, split end, and reserve quarterback at Nebraska.  Off the field, Stuntz also excelled in the classroom, a 9-time Academic Honor Roll member in the Big 12 and a 2005 First-Team Academic All-Big 12 student.  His college major also attracted attention; Stuntz earned his degree in professional golf management.

golfing

This photo shows Stuntz golfing Lilongwe Golf Club in Malawi in 2011, his former career colliding with new.  See, Stuntz told me he loved golf, but didn’t know if he had passion to pursue it for 40+ years.  He discovered a new passion: medicine.

working in africa 2

Natalie Stuntz is also a doctor, a pediatrician with CHI Health.  Mike is in his first year of residency at the Nebraska Medical Center, specializing in ophthalmology.  The two didn’t meet in medical circles, but certainly have A LOT in common professionally now, including the summer they spent together in Africa working at a Pediatric AIDS hospital.

mike in clinic

They even found a Husker fan, thousands of miles away!

working in Africa

THAT is pretty normal for Dr. Mike Stuntz, still recognized nine years after hanging up his cleats, 13 years after that legendary play.

“I’ll be in the hospital or in the clinic or something like that, and it’ll be a patient and they’ll just say ‘aren’t you that guy?'” said Stuntz.  “It happens much more often than I thought it would.  I always enjoy talking about it.”

ESPECIALLY with his biggest fan.  Miss Blakey is also his smallest.

Mike and baby

“I come downstairs, and whether she’s awake or not she comes with me.  We sit on the couch right here, we turn on the TV and we don’t move for the next 12 hours or so,” said Stuntz.  “I’m pretty sure she’s very engrossed in the games, and then afterwards we have a nice group discussion about it.  Her input is limited, but it’s growing.”

Stuntz’s message for today’s players is about the bigger world outside of football.  Even when he bumps into his former teammates Dr. Judd Davies or Dr. Kyle Ringenberg, they talk about research and their goals in the hospital now, not what they used to be on the field.

And when Dr. Stuntz, Dr. Stuntz, and Lil Stuntz are at home, the focus is on family.

“I want to be Mom and Dad,” said Natalie.  “When we’re at home, we leave work.  We’re Mom and Dad, Mike and Natalie, and I want that for her.”

And when that little beauty opens up her gorgeous blue eyes to gaze up at her mom and dad, it’s easy to see why.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON MIKE STUNTZ!

For more on #16 Mike Stuntz check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Brett Lindstrom!

Next week, A SPECIAL FINALE of the 2014 Throwback Thursday Series, Coach Milt Tenopir!

Saving Baby Lawrence

There are few things more innocent, more perfect, more beautiful, than watching a baby turn because they recognize the sound of their parent’s voice.  Thinking back on those moments with my own boys brings me to tears.  I remember seeing their first smiles, and knowing they were smiling at me, their momma.

The first time I met Baby Lawrence, that’s what I remember most.  He only had eyes for his mom.

Shalina and Lawrence

We get Facebook messages, tweets, and emails everyday from viewers asking us to do stories.  THANK YOU for that!  YOU are the eyes and ears of our community, YOU are who help us tell stories.  I wish we could tell them all.

I don’t know how many messages I got that day last March, but there was SOMETHING about Shalina Bolden’s message to me that pulled at my heart.  A mother, writing to me from her son’s room at Children’s, where he had been for MONTHS.  Her son was very sick with a very rare disease; she needed help.

#CantStopWontStop

She had that phrase EVERYWHERE across her Facebook page.

#CantStopWontStop

Shalina Bolden would not quit fighting until her son was living a healthy, happy life.

#CantStopWontStop

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Lawrence and my son, Evan, are less than two months apart in age.  As any mom does, I couldn’t help but compare the two.  First, BABY LAWRENCE IS A BIG BOY!!  I think during that first visit, Shalina told me she was buying 2T t-shirts for Lawrence’s 1st birthday outfit.  He was also popping four teeth at the time and was a drooling machine!  But while my little Evan was scooting around and playing with toys (mostly his brother’s), Baby Lawrence was stuck in his hospital bed.  The same hospital bed he had been in for FIVE MONTHS.  Lawrence was born with complete Di’George Syndrome, possibly the first child in Nebraska to have it.  Lawrence had lung issues, a heart defect and NO IMMUNE SYSTEM.  To even see him, my photographer Dave Hynek and I, as well as Children’s Media Relations Director Cherie Lytle, had to scrub our hands and gown up top to bottom, (including our faces, hair and shoes), before entering Lawrence’s room.  A simple cold that our bodies could fight off, could’ve killed Lawrence.

FIVE MONTHS.  He’d been in that bed FOR FIVE MONTHS.  That’s all I kept thinking about.  He hadn’t been to a park.  He hadn’t been in a stroller.  He couldn’t just crawl around his living room floor playing with blocks and Hot Wheels.  He’d been in a hospital room for five months.

That got to me, and what almost brought me to tears was thinking about the time he spent in that room alone.  Shalina worked full time at a nursing home.  She often went straight to Lawrence’s bedside after her shift, and her young daughters knew Children’s like a second home.  Still, I kept thinking of those hours she couldn’t be there, and of Lawrence, alone in his hospital bed.

“I just want Lawrence to have a chance at life,” Shalina told me that day, through tears.  “To understand what it’s like to not be in a hospital bed.”

Shalina got word of a procedure that offered hope; a thymus transplant only being performed by one doctor at Duke University, and it was not federally approved.  At the time Shalina contacted me, the state of Nebraska had denied the family’s request, twice, to cover a thymus transplant.  Doctors told Shalina Bolden that Lawrence might live to see his second birthday.

#CantStopWontStop

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Our first story aired March 30, 2014.

 Baby Lawrence, wearing a onesie reading ‘Bananas for Mommy’, stole viewers’ hearts around the country (ABC News also picked up his story.)  Changes were already in the works; after our interview with Shalina we learned the state set aside earlier coverage denials.  Advocates with the state of Nebraska, Duke University Medical Center including Dr. Louise Markert, and Lawrence’s team at Children’s, all joined forces to figure out a solution.

#CantStopWontStop

***

April 14, 2014, I was sitting at my desk in the Newsplex and took a phone call.

It was Shalina Bolden, in tears.  Nebraska Medicaid approved Lawrence’s transplant.  Photographer John Matya and I were there as Shalina told her family, friends and the nurses who had cared for her baby for so many months, that Baby Lawrence was finally getting his surgery.  He had just turned 1 year old a few days earlier.

baby lawrence birthday

“It took a couple of minutes for it to digest and then tears just fell down my face,” Shalina told me.

At that point, Lawrence was third on the transplant list.  He had to be healthy enough to fly to Duke; he had to be healthy enough for surgery.

Shalina had to leave her job.. and her two daughters.  She had to find someone to take care of her little girls, while she took care of her little boy in a strange place far from home.

Bolden family

What Shalina thought would be eight weeks turned into nearly four months, waiting for that bittersweet moment when she’d leave her children to give her baby boy a chance at life.

baby lawrence july

#CantStopWontStop

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August 19, 2014, Baby Lawrence, at just 16-months old, took his first jet ride.

lawrence on plane

“We landed and Lawrence slept through the whole flight and everything,” Shalina messaged me.

More waiting. Lawrence stood for the first time on September 18th..

September 18, Lawrence standing for first time

He started to learn how to crawl in his new hospital room..

lawrence crawling

His mom rarely left his side..

shalina and lawrence sept

..heartbreaking for this mother of not one, but three children.  While Shalina and Lawrence waited in North Carolina through August and then September, her sister cared for her daughters, Ja’Era and Ja’Lesia, 20 hours away in Omaha.

October 11, girls at school txt from teacher

“I miss my girls like crazy.  It is very hard to be away,” Shalina told me.  “My oldest daughter just had a birthday, that was super hard, but I’ve explained it to them so they understand why I’m away.”

#CantStopWontStop

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September 26, 2014.
“A pray has been answered today!” Shalina posted on Facebook.  “I got confirmation that Lawrence will be getting his transplant October 9th!!! If everyone can keep him in your prayers.”

On the morning of October 9, 2014, ‘Baby Lawrence’ Bolden finally received the transplant his mom fought so hard for.

 October 9 post op 2
Later that same day, Shalina sent me a message.

“Everything went good, it only took an hour,” she said.  “He is already back to being busy Lawrence.”

See for yourself; click here to watch KETV’s follow up featuring Baby Lawrence’s story and transplant

I cannot get ENOUGH of this little man.  So many surgeries, so many needle pokes and painful procedures and long waits.  And yet, he is SO SWEET!  Always smiling, always big, open eyes checking out his world, and still, always looking at his momma.

shalina shirt

Author Elizabeth Stone once wrote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”

As a mother, you would do anything for your child.  You would take on their pain so they wouldn’t feel it.  You stay awake all night holding them if it gives them comfort.  You would die in an instant for them.

Shalina Bolden NEVER took no for an answer to save her little boy.

#CantStopWontStop

God willing, she’ll have her little boy home and healthy, with his sisters, for the first time in a year.. just in time for Christmas.

Representing Nebraska

 We are now in Week 12 of Husker football season, and Week 12 of our Huskers Throwback Thursday series on KETV.  This has been one of my favorite assignments in recent memory, strolling down memory lane with different players representing different eras of Nebraska Football.  With each player, I tailor my questions to who they are and what they’re doing now, but I also have a handful of questions I ask in every interview.

What was your favorite moment as a Husker?

Do you have any advice for today’s players?

Who is your favorite Husker on this year’s team?

The vote has been nearly unanimous; Husker alumni LOVE Ameer Abdullah.  Their reasons are also similar; not only is he a tremendous player (many hope a Heisman contender!), he’s a great role model and representative for the University and the Nebraska football program.

This week’s Throwback Thursday Husker echoes those sentiments, and also hopes to be thought of as a terrific representative..  in a different way.

Brett Husker 2

Class of 2003, Quarterback Brett Lindstrom

Lindstrom had an unenviable job at Nebraska, playing backup to first Eric Crouch and then to Jammal Lord.  You may not have seen him much on the field, but he was always ready when his Huskers needed him, including helping the team get to the title game in 2001.

“Just the experience of going to the national championship game, the Rose Bowl in 2001, was probably one of the greatest experiences I had down there,” Lindstrom told me last week in a brief interview.  There’s a reason why it was relatively quick; Lindstrom’s got a jam-packed schedule as Senator-Elect, just voted into the Nebraska Legislature November 4th to represent Northwest Omaha.

Brett-Lindstrom-Legislature

Lindstrom still laughs when called ‘Senator’.

“I’m not used to that quite yet,” said Lindstrom.  “Got jokes from some of my friends, laying it on pretty thick.  I still just like to be called Brett.”

2014-10-24 09.35.02

It probably feels good to laugh after several tough years of campaigning.  Prior to his run for the District 18 seat, Lindstrom ran for the Republican nomination for Congress in District 2, going up against incumbent Lee Terry in 2012.  He lost in the primary.  Less than a year later (his son, just 2-weeks old at the time!) Lindstrom announced his bid for the Legislature.  In 2012, Lindstrom told me it was his daughter that compelled him to run for public office.  He was concerned for her future.

campaigning with baby

Lindstrom feeding 7-month old Barron while making campaign calls (pic from the Vote Lindstrom Facebook page)

Campaigning also brought Lindstrom back to his Husker roots.

“What’s interesting about the campaign trail, going door to door, I’ve actually run into some old players,” said Lindstrom.  “I don’t know who I’ll meet when I go to the door.  Lornell McPherson, I played with, he came to the door.  Damon Benning, he came to a door.  Probably half the doors I went to had a Husker rock, a Husker flag.  Obviously it doesn’t hurt when you can go up there and say, ‘I played for the Cornhuskers.’ It at least gives you a shot, people give you an extra second to listen.”

It appears voters heard Lindstrom’s message about his goals for Nebraska. (Listen for yourself in Alex Hoffman’s profile of the District 18 race, or by checking out the KETV ‘In Their Own Words’ section featuring Lindstrom.)  He won the election and a ticket to Lincoln in January, one of 17 incoming freshman senators.  Lindstrom will represent an estimated 37,000 people from his district.

“There’s a huge responsibility that we have moving forward,” said Lindstrom.  “It’s an exciting time.  It’s a new start for a lot of us and a new start for the state.”

Lindstrom follows a handful of other Huskers who have entered the political arena. Coach Tom Osborne became a Congressman, Pat Ricketts (Lindstrom’s teammate) just won re-election to the Millard School Board, and Jim Pillen became a University of Nebraska Regent.  Lindstrom says he’s surprised more Huskers haven’t become elected representatives.

“I think there’s a lot of correlation between athletics and politics,” said Lindstrom.  “The competitiveness of it, the perseverance it takes to go through it, getting knocked down, getting back up.”

Lindstrom’s advice for todays players: staying committed to the team will pay dividends later in life.  He hopes that still holds true as a Husker alumni planning to be in Lincoln a lot more for the next four years.

“I thought maybe I could give the University a call and see if I could go use the weight room if I have a little down time at the Capitol, to go workout,” said Lindstrom.  “I don’t know if the Capitol has a workout area, I doubt they do! See if I can drop my 40 and get my vertical back up!”

Maybe Lindstrom will be running sprints alongside his favorite Husker representatives, Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell.  Maybe they’ll call him ‘Senator Lindstrom’ in the weight room.  As this Nebraska representative prepares for a busy four years as a husband, dad, financial advisor and now Senator-Elect, he puts this victory in sports terms.

“It was just nice to come home with a W.”

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CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON BRETT LINDSTROM!

For more information about #15 Brett Lindstrom, check out his bio via Nebraska Athletics, his professional profile with UBS Financial Services or his campaign website.

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Click here to Throwback to the Class of 1987, John McCormick!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday Husker.. the Class of 2005, Mike Stuntz!