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Journalism 101.  Start every story with your best sound and your best video.  Don’t bury the lead.  With that… this month is my last at KETV, after 15 years as a journalist at the only station I’ve ever known.

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When I was a little girl, I used to sit on the stairs in our split level house in Papillion, with my legs dangling through the steps and a notebook in front of me.  I would just write.  I would write about my day.  I would play the game Life by myself, and use each space as a prompt to write a fictional story.  I’ve kept a journal since I had huge glasses and buck teeth.  In college, long-form essays and papers weren’t hassles, I relished them; I love letting the words just HAPPEN, and the surge of accomplishment when those words come full circle and everything just FITS.

I’ve always been a natural ‘performer’.  I was the ham hogging the attention for our 1st generation camcorder, jumping in front of my Dad with a goofy voice or song whenever he had the thing rolling.  I tried out for show choir every year I could, and joined the speech team my very first year of high school.  Speaking just came easily for me; and I was GOOD at it.  Forensics, theater and choir were my LIFE in high school.

I was never in journalism.  I didn’t carry around a Barbara Walters lunchbox.  I floated around my first year of college not knowing where I belonged or what my future looked like.  My sophomore year at UNL, I took Introduction to Broadcasting with Tom Spann, and was fascinated by a world of history, SHARING history, writing, and reporting.  Somehow the idea of an internship surfaced, and KETV was the station I grew up watching.  My mom bumped into longtime weekend anchor/reporter Pamela Jones at a city meeting, got contact information for the intern program, and I emailed Managing Editor Joe Kasmir the next day.  I showed up for my interview a good half an hour early.. and I will never forget walking through the Newsplex doors, overwhelmed to see the same set and newsroom I had watched on TV for so long.  Julie Cornell and Rob McCartney were just finishing the 6pm broadcast, and Julie looked up and smiled at me.

***

How do you sum up 15 years?

My first breaking news live shot at NP Dodge Park… that was God awful.

Covering my first night of tornadoes as an intern, Scott Buer at the wheel of the car, and me in the passenger seat wearing a green skirt suit and heels, trekking around in mud and rain COMPLETELY unprepared, but willing to stay out as long as Scott did.

Talking to a suspect in jail dubbed the ‘Bare Butt Bandit’, and hearing later from my best friend’s now-husband: ‘I said, Please God, let Brandi be doing that story..’

An Iowa shooting late at night with photojournalist Mike Richard, and then lying in the backseat on the way home  with my eyes squeezed shut, battling a nauseous migraine.

Live shots on the field at Memorial Stadium with Rob on one side and Jon on the other.. when a stray football was punted right into the side of my face.  Hearing my Assistant News Director Vonn Jones yelling in my ear ’30 seconds!!’ as I tried to regain my composure.. as did Jon and Rob (from dying laughing…)

Driving 8 hours throughout the night with Justin Riviera to cover an arrest in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder in Boulder, Colorado.  I was overwhelmed by literally HUNDREDS of rabid reporters; he shoved me and said ‘get in there, Petersen!’

Covering an afternoon and evening of tornado threats across western Iowa with photojournalist Dave Hynek.  Laughs because of a nerve-wracking live shot.. laughing that turned to chaos and sheer sadness when we learned less than an hour later about the tragedy at the Little Sioux Boy Scout Camp.  We worked through the night side by side, waiting for the details that would shake our community and the country.

Countless tears when things went wrong.  Crying to my roommate, wondering what I should have done better.  Coming home and sobbing to myself, questioning my decisions as not only a reporter, but a human being.

Westroads.  Derek Ruth.  The Butternut fire. The paralyzed bride.  Clayton Hildreth.  Evan Sharp.  Pediatric brain cancer.  Amber Harris.  Baby Lawrence.  La Paz, Mexico.

JP Carter.  John Matya.  Trisha Meuret.  Tom Elser.  Joe Kasmir.  Cathy Beeler.  Jay Roberts.  Vonn Jones.  Jon Schuetz. Sean McMahon. Justin Riviera.  Renee Ludvik.  Kristyna Engdahl.  Jeremy Maskel.  Adrian Whitsett.  Andy Ozaki.  Natalie Glucklich. Melissa Fry.  ROB, ANDY, DAVE. My coworkers that have become my family.

Through KETV, I met my husband.  I was on air throughout my pregnancies with both of my boys.  We moved; twice.  This is where we grew up; this is home.

At KETV we lost Joe, my mentor who hired me, fueled my passion for journalism, and always, ALWAYS pushed me to be better, while making me feel like I was really something special.  I often wish he had been alive to see me anchor ‘the big show’.

We lost Jeff Frolio, the photographer who told me about jazz, and how special music was for him and his wife.  It was the music at his final service that broke me down.

***

Just like my stories… in so many ways, THIS story has come full circle for me.  My sweet ‘baby’ boy Easton will start Kindergarten in a few short weeks.  Guys, I need to be here with my children.  I need to hear about their days, I need to be there for school concerts and carnivals and dinner on our deck.  I need to hear THEIR stories, and I need to be PART of their stories when they look back and share them throughout their lives.  News is a business like no other; it never stops.  Tornadoes don’t drop from the sky from 9-5, Monday through Friday.  Tragedies don’t happen just while we’re on the clock.  There will be another journalist, waiting and ready, to slide into that spot next to Rob to anchor our evening newscast every night, but I am my boys’ ONLY MOTHER.  I am the ONLY MOMMA they will ever have.

God works in mysterious ways; he always has a plan, though we may not understand it as it’s unfolding.  Next month, I will join the Communications team with Westside Community Schools.  I still get to tell stories; GREAT stories about incredible students, teachers making a difference, programs that impact generations of kids.  I get to showcase the GOOD in our world; I get to WRITE.  But every day, I also get to go home to my family.  We can eat dinner together.  We can play at the park, and watch the sunset, wake up the next morning and do it all over again.  I know I’ll be home every Christmas morning, I’ll get to watch fireworks with my kids every 4th of July, I get to stay at the pool with them Sunday mornings instead of putting on my makeup, straightening my hair and heading to the station.  I need to say this: I have SO MUCH RESPECT for working parents, regardless of their shifts.  People all over America work crazy hours, love what they do, and love their lives at home.  I work with many of them here at 7!

For me.. it’s just time.  Still, as I write this, I still feel the tears welling up behind my eyes.  I am so excited for this new opportunity and new chapter in my life, but it truly is so hard to say goodbye.  My fear is that I didn’t matter.  That time will go on and it will be like I was never there. That sounds really narcissistic and egotistical; truly, I’ve tried to make a point in my career to NOT make everything about me, to make our stories about THE PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ISSUES we are sharing.  But to everyone throughout these 15 years who’s made me feel ‘like a big deal’.. to everyone who has watched us, followed us, trusted us.. THANK YOU.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I don’t have words beyond that.. but I hope you understand the deep gratitude from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

WATCH KETV.  You will NEVER find a better journalist than Rob McCartney.  This dude is one of the best human beings I have ever known; he cares, he listens, he is always asking questions and trying to dig a little deeper to share the most complete story possible, and I’d argue NO ONE is trusted as a journalist in our state more than Rob.  He is noble, smart, a leader, compassionate.  He is a good friend.  Bill Randby is HANDS DOWN THE BEST meteorologist you could ever turn to; NO ONE cares more about providing people accurate information than this guy, and truly one of the most genuinely KIND people I have ever met.  Kristyna Engdahl is BRILLIANT.  Her writing is phenomenal, she’s fair, she has a GIFT for public speaking and thinking on her feet, and I WISH everyone at home could meet her and feel her energy in person.. because she makes EVERY DAY better when you’re around her.  Andy Kendeigh is the big brother I never had–always supportive, always caring, just an AMAZING GUY and such a wonderful friend.  And holy crap, is this guy GOOD.  Athletes and coaches LOVE him for a reason–he’s hilarious, hard working, devoted to what he shares every night and throughout every season.  In addition… our future is so very bright.  Alexandra Stone, Chinh Doan, Laurann Robinson, Sean Everson, Matt Serwe, Cem Brinklow, Ashley Nodgaard, Josh Gear, Davonte McKenith, David Earl, Katie Bane, Tanner Kahler, Matt Lothrop, Camila Orti… all of the people you see and many you don’t… they are HUNGRY for good journalism.  They want to tell good stories.  They are willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, personal LIVES, to make KETV the best it can be.  This team IS TRULY THE BEST.  You will not find local news in our state that is better–YOU JUST WON’T.

***

I knew this day was coming.  I didn’t think it would be this WEIRD.  That’s the only word that makes sense.  I don’t have enough words, and at the same time, I feel like I’ve said too much.

We’ve got a few weeks left, Omaha–let’s make it awesome.  Westside, I hope to make you proud.  KETV, I hope I’ve made a mark, some kind of difference.

And to my boys.. I love you.  Let’s go hunt some pokemon and have a great morning together.

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Photo courtesy Photography By CB

Twirling To The Top

Last night, I had one of those moments where I just stopped, breathed deeply, and thought ‘this is the life!’  My boys, my man and I were all at the pool.. I was listening to them splash and laugh together, while I laid in the glorious sun for a few blissful minutes.

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Then I immediately felt GUILT… why was I just lying there?!? I should have been in the pool WITH them, right?!?  I *hope my guilt was unfounded.. that after a long two months of blog-writing, documentary-producing, news-anchoring, event-emceeing, etc… it was OK for me to sit and relax.

However, there are those among us who never stop.  They use every moment of every day to their full advantage.They rarely take a break for downtime… and in return, every day they are one step closer to the top of whatever peak they are climbing.  They define ‘outstanding’ in their attitudes, goals, and the way they touch people along that journey.

Steffany Lien has spent the last year twirling to the top.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“It has been a busy year, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!’ said Steffany, who  next week, will pass on her title as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  Anyone who was there to watch Steffany last year (click here to read more!) will tell you how outstanding this young woman truly is.

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Steffany started her year as Miss Nebraska’s Oustanding Teen with media coverage across Nebraska.  CLICK HERE to read her story in the Lincoln Journal Star!

Let’s start with her talent… which is WORLD CLASS.

“I compete with baton twirling,” said Steffany.

OK, STOP.  Steffany doesn’t just COMPETE with baton twirling

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Photo courtesy Blinq Studio

Steffany is a 6-TIME World Champion baton twirler.  Her talent WOWED the crowd at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen (more on that later..) and leaves audiences EVERYWHERE in awe.  Steffany and her incredible gift have been featured by Omaha’s Metro Magazine, by television news outlets, by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, by the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, even as part of the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby.  This spring, she was also selected by the University of Louisville to be the school’s featured twirler, a highly coveted position including a full-ride scholarship.Folks, that’s $25,000+ A YEAR.

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Steffany has fine-tuned and perfected this incredible gift with years of training and performing, and showcasing her art has been a highlight of her year as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

“I was invited to perform for the Big Red Tailgate to benefit the Completely Kids Program in Omaha,” said Steffany.  “Not only was I proud to be the headliner at the event that raised $175,000 to combat childhood hunger and provide after school programs, but Tommie Frazier sang ‘Dear Old Nebraska U’ a capella while I twirled!”

“Performing at the Kentucky Derby and the Pegasus Parade was clearly a highlight of my year,” said Steffany.  “When I signed autographs and took pictures with people at a festival the same weekend in Kentucky, the people there couldn’t have been nicer to Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen!”

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s performance at Churchill Downs, thanks to the Lincoln Journal Star!

As I’ve written about previously, the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is the ‘little sister’ organziation to Miss Nebraska, all part of the Miss America Organization.  One of the biggest differences between the Teen and Miss program.. these teens are also STUDENTS.  While their Miss counterparts often defer their college entrance or postpone classes during their year of service, Teen titleholders take part in events and service all year IN ADDITION to their time in the classroom.  Steffany is no exception; in fact, she’s set a new standard for what is possible, even expected, out of these exceptional young women.

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“I dance and compete with Madonna ProActive Dance Team, I teach baton twirling at Madonna ProActive, I’m in National Honor Society, and I’ve maintained a weighted 4.28 GPA,” said Steffany, who just graduated this May from Lincoln Southwest High School.  “Most importantly, I had decided early on to leave a legacy of active participation at charitable events, so this year I performed at, appeared for, and worked at an average of two events a week for the year.  This means that I have participated in over 110 events as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  My white sash is now grey, my crown is spotted from raindrops and races, my tennis shoes have logged miles for health runs, and I need new heels!  It has been a very busy schedule, but I have loved every moment because I will remember these experiences for the rest of my life.”

The montage above barely scratches the SURFACE of the photos posted on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page, showcasing Steffany’s service this year.  She also returned to Peru on a mission trip with orphans, work she has dedicated countless hours to over the years. (Click here to read more!)

ORPHANAGE

“When I became Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, I expected to be out and about in the community, attending charity events and promoting a variety of organizations,” said Steffany, who has volunteered for the Child Advocacy Center of Lincoln, Kids Against Hunger, March of Dimes of Omaha, Food Bank of Lincoln, People’s City Mission, the Autism Family Network, the Alzheimer’s Association, Pinwheels for Prevention, the LSW Parent’s Advisory Council… the list goes ON AND ON AND ON.  “While this was my main focus throughout the year, the part I had not anticipated was how much these experiences would change me and how I view life.”

THIS is the caliber of young woman we want to represent our state, do we not?  And Steffany did, oh so well, at the 2016 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Florida.

For the second year in a row, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen finished in the Top 10 in this national competition, in front of the 2016 Miss America Class and tens of thousands, if not more, online.  Steffany had a clear impact on the audience and the organization, later featured by MAOT on their Facebook page, and drawing wide support from fans across social media.

CLICK HERE to read more about Steffany’s success at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, in an article featured by KETV!

“Miss America’s Outstanding Teen was amazing, and so different from any other experience I’ve ever had,” said Steffany.  “I loved meeting other young women from across the US, and gaining friendships that will last a lifetime.  I was surprised to hear my name in the Top 10, because every girl competing at MAOTeen was well-spoke, talented, and we had all been working hard leading up to the national pageant.  For me, it was just an honor to be standing among them, but it was also satisfying to maek the Top 10 and be able to represent Nebraska at the competition.”

TONY BOWLS

Steffany came home from Orlando with $3100 in scholarship money, adding to the $1500 she won at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  She also caught the attention of designers Tony Bowls and Ashley Lauren, nationally renowed photographer Jenn Cady, as well as Lincoln boutique The Black Swan, leading to several modelling opportunities throughout her year.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

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“The big events, the fashion shots with Ashley Lauren and Tony Bowls, and all of those wonderful purple bags from the Black Swan Dress Boutique bring me more pleasure than I’d like to admit,” said Steffany.  “However, I had one recent experience that made me understand the real meaning of being an outstanding teen.  Last week, a mom unpacked her daughter’s backpack at the end of the school year.  In it, she found a paper her daughter had written in school after given an assignment to write about someone that is important to her.  I was surprised this quiet, thoughtful child wrote about me.  I had no idea the impact on her values and her perspective about my attitude and ‘kindness’.  And although I giggled that she wrote I am the ‘world’s most amazing teen’, I am humbled and know that the title of Miss Nebraskas’ Outstanding Teen is one that I hold for life and that I better live up to this little girl’s expectations!”

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One year ago, Steffany Lien looked up and focused on her goals and dreams.  While many of us would get tired, and take a break, she kept climbing.. or in her case, twirling.

When Steffany represented Nebraska on the national stage this year, her program’s new directors, Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards, created her catch phrase: #TwirlingToTheTop.

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Steffany Lien has EARNED blissful moments poolside or otherwise.  She IS the top.. the essence of what it means to be outstanding, and a young woman our state will continue to be so very proud of.

JENN CADY

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Even now, as the clock winds down on her time as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, Steffany continues to put others ahead of herself.

“More than anything, I am thrilled for the next girl who will earn the crown, and can’t wait to see all the great qualities she will bring to this organization and how she will represent Nebraska.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT STEFFANY?

2015 * Vision For The Future

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.. SPECIAL FEATURE: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell!

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!

Chasing Destiny

When recently asked what his mommy does for her job, my son Easton said ‘my mommy tells the news at the train station.’

YES. Yes I do.

We are now marking our 8th month in our new home at 7 Burlington Station.  This place just RESONATES history.  The floor tiles are the original pieces that travelers walked on when the station opened in 1898.  We have our afternoon story meetings just yards from the same tracks where trains carried countless passengers arriving in Omaha.  Everything from the walls, to the ceiling, to the clock upstairs.. all original and restored.

CLICK HERE to watch Rob McCartney’s Murrow Award winning documentary: The Rebirth of Burlington Station

Certainly not the original architects, perhaps not even those who followed decades later, envisioned that this beautiful building would someday be home to one of the country’s state of the art television facilities.  However, the Burlington is still a hub.  This is still a place our city turns to to connect to the outside world.  Let’s call it FATE.  Some things were just meant to be.

Case in point.. Chadron’s Aubree Noble, perhaps fulfilling a destiny always meant for her.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photograpy

“I’ve pretty much been a part of [the Miss America system] my entire life,” Aubree told me recently.  “My mom was the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest Director along with Marleta Hastings.  Every year, I helped with the pageant, even if it was just small parts of it.  I loved watching the girls advance on to the state and national pageants.”

And Aubree, like so many other titleholders, watched in awe as Miss Nebraska became Miss America in 2010.

“My biggest role model was Teresa Scanlan,” said Aubree.  “It amazed me when she became Miss America.  Her impact she made on the world during her year of service inspired me to get involved in pageants.”

When Aubree was old enough, her mother stepped down from her position as a local pageant director to allow her daughter to compete to become one of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens.  Still, Aubree need one more person’s approval to seal the deal.

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Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Brooklyn Stack and I have been best friends since pre-school,” said Aubree, now Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen.  “We also said that we would do pageants together and be what people call ‘sister queens’.  Well, we may not have won the same pageant, but we have been doing events alongside each other all year!”

And with every event, from Chadron to North Platte and beyond, Aubree has made even more connections she describes as life-long friendships.

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“Some of my fellow titleholders and I talk daily.  We’ve bonded,” said Aubree.  “I love this system because even though we are competitors we are still friends and supportive of each other in every aspect of each other’s lives.”

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Aubree is using her year as Miss Dawes County to spread awareness of her personal platform, ‘Read to Succeed!’, based on her own development with reading and the impact it’s had on her life.

“Studies show that kids who read more often tend to do better on tests,” said Aubree.  “Also, they tend to score higher on their ACT.  I never scored as high as my classmates on the state reading tests, but when I made it my goal to improve my reading, things changed.  My scores improved and reading then became one of my best subjects in state testing.  Last summer alone, I read 19 books!  My favorite thing in the world is escaping to another world through a book.  My goal through my platform was to make kids excited about wanting to read.”

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Aubree is also a passionate dancer with 13 years of training.  She’s completing her second year on the Chadron High Dance Team, a squad that placed 7th at state in 2016.  The sophomore is also involved with math club, speech, student council, she’s a class officer, and she golfs, shooting a hole-in-one at a meet this year.  Outside of school, Aubree plays piano and volunteers at the Chadron chamber of Commerce.  She credits her family for their constant support in all of her activities, bonds strengthened in tragedy when Aubree’s father died a few years ago.

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“My family is most important to me in my life,” said Aubree.  “They are my biggest supporters and my favorite ‘fans’ in everything I do from school functions to pageants.  I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them.”

They’ll have a busy summer; Aubree, on the Leadership Team for Future Business Leaders of America, recently finished first at state in Website Design, beating out 43 other submissions.  She’ll compete at nationals this June.. AFTER she competes for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

‘I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.’ — Forrest Gump

Maybe this title is Aubree Noble’s fate, a breeze that’s swirled around her for most of her life.  But this young woman has worked hard to achieve her successes.  She has persevered despite hardship.  She’s using her ‘destiny’ to her full advantage, and appreciating every step of the journey.

“I have benefitted from this program because of the confidence it has given me,” said Aubree.  “It’s a great way to build self esteem!  Even after competing in one pageant, you’re a new person.  You learn something new about yourself each time you compete.”

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Maybe.. that the road you’re walking is the exact place you’re meant to be.

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble

on Facebook and on Instagram.  You can also email Aubree for appearances and events at noble.aubree@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’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird!

NEXT.. Miss Kearney 2016 Stacy Pospisil!

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!

Standing Tall

There are things about each of us we KNOW we are good at.  I’ve got really nice teeth (never had braces!), God gave me the gift of public speaking and thinking on my feet, and I’m not gonna lie.. my children are BEAUTIFUL and PERFECT 🙂

There are also things we each know are not our strengths.  Plants literally die in my presence.  I am a junk food junkie (currently fighting the urge to eat Gardettos instead of apples).  I CANNOT dance.  At all.  Not even a little bit.

There’s also this..

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.. my posture.  I HOPE that’s not the first thing you notice when you look at this wedding photo on my bestie Melissa’s special day–because SHE IS GLOWING! (And my other besties Jenni and Pammie are pretty dynamite, too!)  But to me.. I just focus on my crooked-as-all-get-out-shoulder… just a glimpse into the poor posture and resulting slouch I’d developed after 20+ years.

Last summer, fearful I was going to be a hunchback before I turned 40, I finally sought out advice and found Dr. Vanessa Green at Elite Chiropractic.

Photos courtesy Elite Family Chiropractic

This woman has changed my life.  At my first appointment,  x-rays showed that I had a pretty severe curvature of the spine.  What’s more, I discovered my chronic headaches, which I just chalked up to allergies, stress and LIFE, were NOT normal.  I’ve been seeing Dr. G once a week ever since, and I truly FEEL a difference in how I view health, how I function, and how I carry myself on a daily basis.

NOTE: This is not a paid promotion, endorsement or advertisement for Elite Chiropractic.  I’m simply a very happy client.. and this is all transitioning to a bigger story, I promise!

When I first read Allison Baird’s story, Dr. G was one of the first people I had to tell.  I had NO IDEA what this beautiful young girl was hiding underneath gorgeous gowns and a dazzling smile.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I was having severe back pain, went in for an xray, and they discovered that my curve had become 46-degrees and was congenital,” Allie told me recently.  “Meaning, it was a birth defect so I wasn’t really a candidate for surgery or treatment, since they had found it too late.  The doctors basically told me that I would have to live with the pain, and would probably not be able to do everything I wanted to.”

The Allie on the left is the girl I’ve known for about two years now.. the photo on the right shows what her spine looked and felt like within her body.  Allie had been diagnosed with scoliosis at 13 and underwent physical therapy, but she had no idea how dramatic her problem had become.  Still, that dire diagnosis from a doctor didn’t derail this incredible young woman from everything she intended to pursue.

“I smiled politely and said ‘watch me’,” said Allie. “Most people do not know I have it, strangers I meet on the street have no idea, and many close friends didn’t know for years.  We all know someone who is struggling.  We don’t always know their story, but to attempt to understand what that person is going through can mean the world.  Now, I am so much more aware of those things, and I try my very best to have empathy towards others, but also not beat myself up too badly when it feels like I am nowhere near as good at something.”

THAT IS the Allie I know.

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For several years now, Allison Baird has devoted herself to her community and others as a local titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Twice, she finished 1st Runner Up in the state pageant.  To give you an idea of the caliber of talent and character in those years.. both of those winners finished in the Top 10 at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  Each year when the other girl’s name was called, Allie conducted herself with grace and humility, being the FIRST to genuinely and warmly congratulate the winner (read more here!)

Without skipping a beat, Allie entered the first Miss pageant she was eligible for.. and in her first try, won the title of Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016.

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“My mom is my best friend and definitely my role model,” said Allie, hugging her mom in the photo above, moments after winning the Miss Scotts Bluff County title.  “She has been a serious source of my strength these past few months.  I think I would have pulled all of my hair out and not had any fingernails if it weren’t for her!  I truly wish everyone could have someone like her as their manager, friend, confidant and coach.”

And with that support system firmly in place, Allie began a nonstop year of appearances, college preparation, and activities as a senior at Gering High School.

Allie is a 4-time state speech medalist, she’s held lead roles in all of her school’s theater productions since her freshman year, she’s a nationally-qualifying DECA member, she’s captain of the Varsity show choir, and was a cheerleader at Gering for 3 years.  An aspiring actor, singer, journalist (or all of the above!), Allie is also a news anchor for her broadcasting team, the Editor In Chief for her high school paper, she’s had articles published by her hometown paper, and she’s shadowed yours truly here at KETV.

Somehow, Allie finds time to volunteer in her community as Miss Scotts Bluff County, whether it be making quilts, donating blood, or simply making a child smile.  She speaks to groups large and small about her personal platform, ‘Learning CURVE’, teaching courage, understanding, respect, value and empathy.  Her favorite part of the pageant experience is Interview, the chance to tell a panel of judges about everything she’s doing.

 “I truly believe this is where the magic happens at the competition,” said Allie.  “When the judges get to see that spark of passion, that light in your eyes when you talk about what is so near and dear to your heart, there is absolutely no better feeling.  Public speaking is a passion of mine, and I wish that Interview could be 20 minutes instead of 10!”

Public speaking is the ONE THING I promote to EVERY SINGLE CLASS, STUDENT AND INTERN who I come in contact with, and Allie Baird is a shining example of WHY that tool is so powerful.  It’s a trait she credits to her participation with the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The amount of self confidence I have gained from being involved in this organization, I will be forever grateful for,” said Allie.  “I am not scared to talk to a group of CEO’s or a classroom of kindergartners because of the communication skills I have received.  I have heard girls on the Miss America stage, and even the Miss Nebraska stage, articulate their opinions on hard hitting subjects with better grace and dignity than most of the [presidential] candidates.  These ladies are the future.  We want to make a difference.  All of us have the potential, drive and work ethic to do just that.  We breed leaders in the Miss America Organization, and I think that is pretty amazing.”

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A final confession.. I am pretty ASTOUNDED by this young woman, and consistently shocked that this kind of maturity, intelligence, and independance are already so strong in a girl who JUST turned 18 years old.  Complete disclosure, she may also be my little boys’ favorite, after staying with us during a trip to Omaha this fall and playing ‘Olympics’.  Allison Baird connects with people, and inspires them.  She works hard and stays humble.  She stands tall, despite the things we don’t see that might break others down.  That is the message she hopes to take across the state if crowned Miss Nebraska 2016.

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Photo courtesy Morgan Wallace

“I want to spread awareness that if you are going through a personal battle, have courage and keep going,” said Allie.  “Know that you are valuable and worthy and that a setback does NOT mean you can’t achieve something you want to achieve.  It just means you might have to take a different road to get there.”

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Click each link to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird

on Facebook and on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

2015 * Just Add Glitter

2014 * Special Feature, Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page and HERE on their website. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by phone at 308-783-2940 or at 308-635-8615.

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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 Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson!

NEXT.. Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble!

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!

Sister Act

To the world, you may be one person; but to one person, you may be the world.

SISTER.  To all of you who have one, I am envious; what a special bond, to have someone you can always talk to, always relate to, tease and then hug, laugh but still fight, a person that you will be bonded to for life for better or for worse.  That’s pretty darn awesome!

Big sisters have a huge responsibility.  Your little sister is your ‘big brother’, watching every move you make, wanting to emulate everything you do, and if you’re lucky, becoming a mirror of all of your best attributes.  Emma Wilkinson is EXTREMELY lucky; she has had several women in her life playing the role of ‘big sister’, and all have had an enormous impact on the young woman she is becoming.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The title of ‘little sister’ has been a formative factor in Emma’s life since she  was a young girl growing up in North Platte, the home of the Miss Nebraska pageant.

“I was involved in the Little Sisters Program and I’ve dreamt of being Miss Nebraska ever since,” Emma told me recently.  “My Big Sister was Miss Nebraska 2009 Brittany Jeffers!  I was so lucky to be her Little Sister the year she won!  As I watched my Big Sister dance her heart out on the Miss Nebraska stage, I realized I wanted to be a dancer!”

Emma started dance lessons at the Dance Factory in North Platte, under the direction of Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith-Wagner.

“Today, I’m at the highest level in my studio.  I take ballet, jazz and lyrical,” said Emma.  “My dance teacher, Becky Wagner, has had such an amazing influence on my life.  She has been such an amazing role model for not only for me, but for all of the girls who attend classes at The Dance Factory.”

Every class, and every life lesson Emma learned from these women helped fuel that initial dream to compete for one of our state’s longest standing honors.  This year, Emma couldn’t wait any longer.. and since she isn’t yet old enough to compete for Miss Nebraska, she signed up to compete for the organization’s ‘little sister’ program, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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In her first pageant, Emma was crowned Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016, giving her the same performance and leadership opportunities both Brittany and Becky pursued years ago.

“Although I love to dance, singing is my passion,” said Emma.  “Ever since I received the lead of Little Red Riding Hood in a musical here at North Platte Community Playhouse, I have been lost in musical theatre and the art of performing.  I went to Texas Arts Project in Austin to gain more passion for singing, dancing and acting.”

Emma, a junior at North Platte High School, is also Vice President of the Nebraska Association of Student Councils (NASC; Emma served as district president last year), a cheerleader, and involved with Key Club and Honor Society.  In addition, every summer she attends Launch, a statewide leadership program.  That organization and Emma’s involvement inspired her personal platform of service as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, ‘Breaking Down Barriers: Education To End Stereotyping.’

“I have watched stereotypes drive kids away from exploration of themselves and the communities they inhabit, and instead into molds that high school has predetermined for them,” said Emma.  “It is not impossible to defeat stereotyping.  Simply getting to know each other weakens the barriers.  Making real connections with a classmate is stronger than any stereotype.”

Emma has also been busy making those connections herself, with her Class of 2016 Outstanding Teen sisters.

Together, these girls have been making appearances across the state, trying to have a positive impact on their communities, in addition to the responsibilities and commitments they have made as high school students.

“I am passionate about catalyzing positive change in my school, in my community, and in Nebraska,” said Emma.

Emma credits that drive and desire to form relationship to the sister and bond that stand out from all the rest.

“My biggest role model is my sister, Lily,” said Emma.  “When she was in high school, she was NASC’s state president, and she currently attends Harvard College in Boston.  She truly can do anything she sets her mind to and continues to make me extremely proud.”

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A beautiful sentiment from a little sister.. who will now become the big sister she’s always admired.  The above photo was taken this spring, when Emma was cast as Belle in North Platte High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

“That experience was something I will never forget,” said Emma.  “After every show, I loved walking out to greet people who came to watch me.  I will never, ever forget the look on the little girls’ faces when they saw Belle standing right in front of them.  Little did they know, I felt just as honored as they did.”

Perhaps, a preview to this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, when it will be Emma on stage, looked at and fawned over by countless little girls, dreaming of someday wearing that same crown.

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson on Facebook!

For information on becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit the Miss Chadron/Northwest/Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook.  You can also contact Director Amanda Vogel by phone at 308-665-5595 or by email at maoteenchadron@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’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers 2016 Jenni Wahonick!

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird!

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!

Wonder Woman

I have a confession to make.. I am a JUNK FOOD JUNKIE.  Some days I run, stay focused, and feel like Superman.. and then my Kryptonite, peanut butter, takes me down. (mmm.. peanut butter..)

With the help of my friend and coworker, KETV First News Anchor John Oakey, I lost about 8 pounds this winter.  My husband and I spent a few GORGEOUS days in sunny Cancun, and I felt like a new woman!

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I came home.. and within a few weeks I not only fell off the wagon.. the wagon ran over me a few times.  Easter baskets, Girl Scout Cookies.. and NUTTY BUDDIES. (Be still my heart..) I kept saying ‘I’ll start again tomorrow.. I’ll start again Sunday..’ and before you knew it, I got on the scale and had gained several pounds back. Even THAT didn’t push me back on the wagon…

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..but Gal Gadot did!  Gal is the new Wonder Woman in the DC Comics movie franchise.. and SHE. IS. AWESOME.  I left Batman Vs. Superman (which isn’t terrible, by the way!)  DETERMINED to rediscover the self-discipline and drive to become the physically fit, healthy woman I know I can be.  Sometimes you just need a little motivation.. and sometimes change is forced upon you whether you want it or not.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Lianna Prill altered nearly every facet of her diet and lifestyle because of a debilitating medical condition.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I suffered for a decade without answers,” Lianna told me recently.  “After finding I had Celiac Disease my sophomore year of high school, a strict, gluten-free lifestyle was needed.  I was a new woman within days.”

Lianna does a GREAT job explaining what Celiac Disease is (CLICK HERE to read my interview with her in 2014).  The skinny of it is that certain foods cause Lianna INTENSE pain including migraines and abdominal issues.  She says once she eliminated those foods from her diet, namely gluten, her health was restored.  Still, Lianna was not content improving just her own life; she set out on a personal crusade to help others.

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Photo courtesy Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph

Lianna, who also loves to sing and perform, was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and later competed at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.  The following year, Lianna was chosen as a recipient of the prestigious DJ’s Hero Award for her work with Celiac Disease, including her time as an intern with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.  Despite double majoring in broadcast journalism and advertising/public relations, Lianna competed for and won the title of Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2014, giving her another venue to spread her message.  She’s a titleholder again this year, crowned last summer as the first Miss Queen City of the Plains.

“Competing in the [Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Nebraska Organizations] revealed the beauty of Celiac,” said Lianna.  “It’s a blessing, a motivation to always carry out a healthy lifestyle.”

That is because not only will Lianna compete once again for the title of Miss Nebraska, she is a very public representation of her cause, ‘#EatWellBeWell’.

“I understand that not everyone has Celiac, but I want people to realize the crucial link between diet and wellness.  In other words, what you put into your body directly affects how you feel,” said Lianna.  “Some do not know what it is like to truly feel well, because it’s their ‘normal’.  I challenge everyone to evaluate his or her lifestyle.  if you are constantly sick, ill after eating a certain food, tired after you eat (you should not be, because food is your fuel!) or don’t feel as healthy as you think you could be, find the root of the problem and do not cover your symptoms up with some kind of bandage!”

Lianna not only makes appearances across the state spreading her message, she also fills her Facebook page with information and tips on how to be healthier.  With childhood obesity forever on the rise, many of the groups Lianna talks to include kids.

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For anyone doubting the power of Lianna’s story, there’s this… instead of lying on her bathroom floor in pain, this future journalist is also the Engagement Editor at UNL’s newspaper The Daily Nebraskan, she hosts a radio show on campus every week, she volunteers with her sorority, Children’s Hospital and the Miss Amazing Organization, and she works here at KETV two days a week as one of our news interns.

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Now working with Lianna, I see her drive and ENERGY.  I see the water blueberries on her desk instead of Mountain Dew and chips from the vending machine.  I see Associated Press and Daily Nebraskan articles on her computer instead of TMZ or Candy Crush.  Lianna credits much of this to her years of participitation with the Miss America system.

“The Miss Nebraska Organization also gave me the drive, poise and work ethic to fulfill my dream of becoming a news anchor,” said Lianna.

This girl is on the right track.. and she’s pulling my new wagon onto that path with her.  Gal Gadot may be my screen saver, but Lianna Prill is the Wonder Woman hoping to promote health and wellness across all of America.. as the new Miss Nebraska.

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“I am so grateful to have an opportunity to share this message,” said Lianna.  “Listen to your body, because your health and life is so worth it.  #EatWellBeWell.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Queen City of the Plains 2016 Lianna Prill

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Fueling The Journey

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains Scholarship Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE or  FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Angie Trausch at (402) 984-2690 or angie.trausch@gmail.com, or contact Director Angela Keiser at (402) 578-8621 or angelakeiser@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 Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Adella Smolsky!

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

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!

Father Knows Best

It’s no small thing to be a collegiate athlete.  It takes hard work, focus, and to a certain extent, some degree of innate physical ability and talent.  One of my favorite quotes from my Superstar Co-Anchor Rob McCartney: ‘You can’t coach tall!’

(Side note.. Rob is a HUGE basketball fan and actually tried out for the Nebraska Cornhuskers as a walk-on ‘back in the day’.  Additional side note.. I missed the part of his story where he said he didn’t make the team and for awhile, just told people Rob played basketball for Nebraska.  Small mistake.)

A La Vista dad recognized early on in two of his children that his boys were gifted.  He knows what athleticism looks like.. because he saw it in his own reflection in the locker room at Memorial Stadium.

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Curtis Cotton, now a father and Papillion Police officer, is also a proud member of the Class of 1991 with the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.

“I get that a lot,” Cotton said, when I asked him recently about being recognized as a Husker.  “‘I remember you!’ That’s the first thing they say as soon as I tell them, ‘hi, I’m Officer Cotton.'”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY HUSKER FEATURE ON #9 CURTIS COTTON!

1991 huskers

It’s hard to see in this blurry image, but when Nebraska played Oklahoma in 1991, it was downright MISERABLE.  Fans throughout the stadium wore ponchos and rain gear, rain pooled all over the turf and every players’ breath was visible in the cold, fall air.  Still, THIS, was Cotton’s favorite game as a Husker.

“[It was] my senior year when we won a share of the Big Eight title,” said Cotton.  “It was at home against Oklahoma.  It was so cold and wet that day, but I don’t remember it after we sealed that win.  It was a great time.”

Check out this video of the game thanks to ArenaTeam on YouTube.  Players lifted Coach Tom Osborne onto their shoulders and carried him into the sea of fans rushing the field.  ABC broadcasters kept the final score graphic up over a shot of Husker fans climbing and shaking the goal posts, trying to bring it down.

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What a cool thing to watch, even via a grainy YouTube video.  Kick up the volume, and it’s enough to give any Husker fan chills.

While those days are no doubt special to Cotton, his adrenaline rushes these days stem from a different vantage point.

“I think I get more nervous when I’m about to watch my kids perform,” said Cotton.  “I get the butterflies in my stomach, my heart rate rises!”

Kenzo Cotton and KJ Cotton have both become something of high school legends in the Papillion-La Vista area.  Kenzo became an 8-time state track and field champion, claiming the 200M title all four years he competed.

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He chose the University of Arkansas, and just months ago, earned a national championship as part of the 4X100M relay team.  Kenzo’s ultimate goal is to make the US Olympic team.  (Click here to follow Kenzo Cotton’s athletic career on Twitter!)

Click here to watch Andy Kendeigh’s story with Kenzo and Curtis Cotton in May 2012!

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Photo courtesy JPC Photography

Kurtis ‘KJ’ Cotton is now a junior at Papillion-La Vista High School, also competing in track and field and playing on the varsity football team.  #9 (yes, wearing his dad’s number), has already made several highlight reels for the Monarchs this season with his speed and athleticism.  No word yet where he’s looking at for college, or if he intends to play college football like his dad.

Click here to watch KJ Cotton’s touchdown run during Papio-LV’s FIRST game of the season!

Kenzo told us back in 2012 he wanted to be just like his dad.  Curtis shared his parenting advice with us back then.

“I told him to try to stay humble,” he told KETV’s Andy Kendeigh.  “Big dreams, that is what being young is all about.  I remember those times when I dreamt the same way.  Hopefully they can come true for him.”

Three years later, Curtis Cotton is not only thinking of the sons following in his footsteps, but of today’s Huskers in the midst of a 2-3 season.

“Keep fighting,” Cotton said.  “[They] are going through a system change.  They’re all trying to perform for their new coaches, if they are new coaches.  They’re all trying to show they are worthy of being on the field.  It’s difficult to watch when you know that they’re struggling and they’re giving the best that they can give out there on the field, but at the same time, you want to see them keep fighting through it.  Man up, fight through it, get through it and don’t give up.”

Advice for anyone facing challenges, on or off the field.  I guess what they say is true; father does know best.

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WEEK FIVE.. CLASS OF 1970 JERRY MURTAUGH!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 2003 DR. JUDD DAVIES!