Waverly, Neb. – Two Nebraska football stars received enthusiastic applause here Tuesday morning. So did an Olympic gold medal wrestler, two Husker volleyball players, a Hall-of-Fame softball coach, an NU track and field captain returning to her roots and two Nebraska basketball representatives – one a member of the current men’s team and the other a former Husker star serving as an assistant coach for the women’s team.
An estimated 1,700 middle school students packed the Waverly High School gym for the first-ever Sportsmanship 4 Life Pep Rally, co-presented by the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame (NHSSHOF) and the University of Nebraska Athletic Department. For nearly two hours, the gym was loud and proud, but never louder – or prouder – than it was when Tom Osborne delivered the program’s keynote speech.
The young students took it upon themselves to give Osborne a standing ovation before his speech and then another “standing O” after he finished. The Hall-of-Fame football coach, three-term Congressman and Nebraska Athletic Director Emeritus both crystalized and reinforced a strong sportsmanship theme. Somehow, he also managed to give sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students from across Southeast Nebraska a short but effective lecture on the importance of integrity.
Character is Only Thing that Endures
“Horace Greeley said something many years ago. He said fame is vapor and popularity is an accident,” Osborne said. “He said the only thing that really endures is character.” Later, Osborne pointed out that character is a choice, not a trait, and went on to use two sterling examples to explain why that’s true.
Jack Guggenmos, former president of the Nebraska Coaches Association and now an NHSSHOF executive board member, thought the entire program delivered an important message. He also thought the nine speakers preceding Osborne built a solid platform, enabling T.O. to become the ideal clean-up hitter to drive everyone else’s points home.
Nebraska Associate AD Keith Zimmer coordinated the program with Larry Munksgaard, the NHSSHOF’s executive director. Tuesday morning’s action never waned in front of a positively charged crowd that included the Waverly High School band, the Nebraska Spirit Squad, Husker mascot ‘Lil Red and the South Dakota-based Bruce Crevier family that spun basketballs and rode unicycles while the ringleader discussed goals, attitudes, morals and overall excellence.
High School Leader: Osborne Nailed It
“Coach Osborne hit the nail on the head when he spoke,” Guggenmos said. “He explained to everyone in the room how you can choose to be a champion in the game of life because of the choices you make when no one is looking.”
Husker receiver Kenny Bell kicked off the program, talking about how “positivity breeds happiness”. Nebraska volleyball players Meghan Haggerty and Sheridan Zarda explained how to appreciate privilege, why there is no such thing as entitlement and how teamwork enables dreamwork. Waverly native and Nebraska track and field captain Anne Martin emphasized the importance of first and last impressions, “being there from the start” and being consistent.
USA gold medal wrester Jordan Burroughs commanded the gym’s attention while discussing the importance of everyone in the room “protecting their brand” on social media. “Your name is everything!” he told the students.
Abdullah Focuses on Patience, Humility
Ameer Abdullah described his strategy for succeeding an injured Rex Burkhead at running back last season – by using patience and humility and surrounding himself with positive role models.
Nebraska softball coach Rhonda Revelle was her usual motivational self – from mentioning that a smile is a “universal language” to why everyone should do their best. Revelle said the three most important words are “I am sorry”, the two most important are “Thank you” and the single most important word is “Please”.
Erynn Nicholson, a former Husker dancer and NFL cheerleader who now manages Nebraska’s Spirit Squad, said she not only cheers for the Huskers, but also strives to convince others why they should not cheer against the opposing team. Jessie Pflug, a Spirit Squad member from Omaha, said having that honor is all about positive energy and respect.
Osborne: Big Difference Between Good, Bad
Osborne compared and contrasted Nebraska’s football atmosphere with others, describing how poorly a Southern team’s fans once treated Nebraska and how well Big Red fans treated Florida State, even though the Seminoles upset the Huskers in Lincoln. “Our fans gave Florida State a standing ovation because of how hard they played,” he said.
Character goes hand-in-hand with class, and 1,700 students went home Tuesday knowing what it takes to make that a reality.
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