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On a "balmy" Saturday in early February, Omaha hosted two outdoor hockey games - one professional and one college game. Nebraska's largest city billed the back-to-back games as "Battles on Ice" at TD Ameritrade Park, one of America's best baseball venues showing its versatility as an outdoor hockey rink between the same first and third base lines that College World Series teams use.
Normally, Joe Ricketts, the founder, former CEO and former chairman of TD Ameritrade (one of the world's largest online discount brokerages) would expect Pat Ricketts, his 32-year-old nephew, to support such an important community-wide event. But Uncle Joe, whose family trust also owns the Chicago Cubs, understands why Pat, a former Nebraska Blackshirt and Second-Team CoSIDA Academic All-American, had to RSVP "No" to Omaha's unique double-header. Pat, after all, had agreed to compete for something fairly important himself.
Willing to Dance for a Worthwhile Cause
Instead sitting inside TD Ameritrade to watch a half day of hockey, Pat Ricketts became one of 18 "celebrities" competing for Omaha's version of Dancing with the Stars just down the street at the CenturyLink Center. Wearing a tuxedo and a confident smile, he performed an East Coast Swing from the movie Dirty Dancing with all proceeds benefiting the Sunshine Kids Foundation which supports Omaha youth fighting cancer.
"We had 800 people watch us dance, and that's about 799 more than I feel comfortable with," said Ricketts, a dedicated father of two young sons - 2½-year Henry and 16-month-old Graham. Like all male contestants, Ricketts' dance partner was Elizabeth Edwards, owner of the Omaha Ball Room, not Kirstin Ricketts, his college sweetheart and now his wife of nine years.
He Flourished as Blackshirt Under Pelini
Pat Ricketts fits the "give back" profile of the Ricketts family well. He has, in fact, been committing to worthwhile causes since walking on and going on to play in 49 games as a Husker. He was a starter in 23 games, made 138 career tackles, broke up 21 career passes and intercepted six. As a sophomore, he made a solo tackle in Nebraska's national championship loss to Miami in the Rose Bowl. As a junior, he became a part-time starter and then flourished as a full-time senior Blackshirt starter under first-year defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
"Playing for Coach Bo was a career highlight," Ricketts said. "When he came in here, he simplified everything. We were at a point in the program where we could have gone two ways, and he took us up. He was such a motivating coach. Coach Bo made the changes that needed to be made, increased the expectation level for everyone and helped us all get better every day."
He Proved to Be a Warrior on the Road
Ricketts sure did. His three biggest tackling games came on the road - 12 (including six solos) at Iowa State, 11 at Texas A&M and 10 at Penn State. He also intercepted a pass in the last three games he played under Pelini - against K-State, Colorado and Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.
While he was excelling on the field, Ricketts was earning a 3.517 career GPA and learning life lessons off the field. His teammates voted him a member of the Unity Council, which policed internal issues even tougher than their coaches did. Ricketts spoke at "School is Cool" events and once drove to Norfolk, Neb., to read to elementary school children who loved hearing a Blackshirt read some of their favorite stories.
Busy Men Find Time to Watch the Cubs
Commitment to community became a part of Ricketts' social DNA, and he now serves as vice president of the Millard School Board, a job that complements the hours he puts in as a partner in his own financial services company. He's sold on community active leadership, but doesn't always let a charity event trump a good time.
"Don't worry," Ricketts said. "We make sure the family gets to some Cubs' games every year just like we get to Husker games. I don't know how I got hooked into Dancing With the Stars. Maybe it was hearing that Mayor (Jim) Suttle and Tommie Frazier were judges. I think Jim Rose (the radio voice of Nebraska football when Ricketts played) helped talk me into it. Really, it's for a good cause, and that's all that really matters."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Nice column. Pat was GREAT in that show. He was really good ... one of the best. And he had a nice cheering section! I recall three judges giving him a 9 and one an 8. Tommie Frazier gave him a 10. Jim Rose, Omaha, Nebraska