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Before Nebraska’s women and men teams launched a new era of Nebraska basketball last Friday, an NU associate athletic director hinted that another important staple of Husker Athletics may have a launching pad of its own. “This was one of our most successful Life Skills sessions we’ve ever had, and I don’t know why we can’t continue to bring the state of Nebraska together with a similar event every year,” NU Associate AD Keith Zimmer said after 4,300 middle-school-aged children and their chaperones spent 90 meaningful minutes inside Lincoln’s new Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“We had a successful 10-year run at the Devaney Center with a program we pioneered and called School Is Cool Jam," Zimmer said. "To this day, as I travel around Lincoln and throughout this state, people still talk about what they learned at that event. We figured we impacted 100,000 kids with that program, and now that Lincoln has built this venue and our basketball teams are the city’s two major tenants, I think we showed today what can happen when everyone works together. We’re producing a middle school program that relates to our city, our state and our country, and we see Pinnacle Bank Arena as a great place to lift up this important age group. When they attend an event like this and get to listen to our coaches and student-athletes, they understand what’s important. This kind of event motivates kids, and it’s always been a dream of mine to reinvent the School is Cool model for reaching out. I think connecting life skills with sportsmanship in our partnership with the Nebraska State High School Hall of Fame Foundation is a great start.”
Friday’s pep rally featured cheers and chants and stirred applause and appreciation for Nebraska coaches and student-athletes who put exclamation points on the power of positive thinking. So did two high energy entertainment interludes. One was a quartet of nationally prominent basketball “dunkers” from Houston and San Antonio. The other was a young men’s choral group that not only made the crowd want to dance with somebody, but also became the prelude to an abbreviated version of the same song sung by Jordan Burroughs. The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist may have wrestled with the pitch of his own voice, but he drove home a point that you can’t just show up and be a great singer. Like any other endeavor, singing is something “you have to work hard at every day before you can become great,” Burroughs said.
Miles Stresses Importance of Setting Goals
Nebraska Basketball Coach Tim Miles stressed the importance of setting goals that you are the most passionate about and then sharing them with someone who can help hold you accountable. Miles acknowledges his own goal – to become the first Nebraska men’s basketball program in more than 100 years to qualify for the NCAA Basketball Tournament and then win a game in that tournament. “It takes time and it takes trust, but you have to share that goal so others can buy into it, too,” he said.
Erstad was his usual animated self, walking up the arena’s aisles to ask different students who they idolized. After one said Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska’s baseball coach said it not only takes talent to be a quarterback, but athletes “have to work their tails off” to become what they envision themselves to be. Erstad talked about the power of people’s dreams. “The more power you feel, the more likely you will not stop doing what it takes to chase your dream,” he said. “Today, I want to challenge every one of you to try your hardest. I want to challenge every one of you to empty the tank for the rest of the school year in everything you do. Try it and see where you are at the end of the year. Tell me how you feel because when you accomplish something and you put that kind of energy, effort and attitude into something … oh my … now you have something, and I’ll tell you something else: There are talented people all over the world, but talent can only take you so far, and at a certain point, there are going to be people more talented than you are but I’ll also tell you this – if you empty the tank more than they do in everything you do, you will succeed and you will pass those people.”
Erstad: Hard Work Never Changed in This World
“Hard work is one thing that has never changed in this world,” Erstad said, “and thank goodness hard work is what this whole state is built on. The harder you work, the more power you feel, and it’s why I moved my family here.”
Some of Nebraska’s hardest working student-athletes reinforced Erstad’s and Miles’ comments. Burroughs talked about the importance of protecting your personal brand by making responsible choices. Sophomore forward Shavon Shields, who scored 28 points on 8-of-13 shooting and a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line Friday night, talked about believing in yourself and why you have to believe before you can achieve. Nebraska softball first-baseman Mattie Fowler helped tee up other speakers with her enthusiastic pitch to convince kids to “dream more, do more and become more.” NCAA discus champion Chad Wright explained why it’s important to be a champion in academics and life, just as much as a champion in athletics. Former Husker women’s basketball player Meghan Williams ended the high-octane motivational session with a frank discussion of why it’s important to be nice to everyone and how you should help and inspire others who are experiencing tough times. Bullying has happened in her own life, and Williams believes everyone can help everyone else get through it and overcome it.
Partners: NU Life Skills, Prep Hall of Fame Group
Nebraska Athletics’ Life Skills group partnered with the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame Foundation in sponsoring the large-scale pep rally that could transition into one of the most popular field trips across the state, thanks to coaches like Miles and Erstad and student-athletes like Burroughs, Shields, Wright, Fowler and Williams.
Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s Executive Associate Athletic Director who oversees both Husker basketball programs, watched Friday morning’s pep rally, which followed a highly successful inaugural event that educated and entertained nearly 1,700 middle school students and chaperones in Waverly, Neb., last spring. “Educating our youth is what it’s all about,” Boehm said. “These kids have a high degree of interest in and respect for our student-athletes, and they will remember this day for the rest of their lives. You can see their love for our program and you can tell they’re becoming Nebraska basketball fans. And let’s be honest. That’s important, too.”
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