Bo Pelini, Tim Miles and Connie Yori will be passengers on Saturday's UP Big Red Express.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Big Red Express Whistle-Stop Tour Saturday

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

Five days before Husker coaches and University of Nebraska officials take a whistle-stop tour on Union Pacific Railroad's historic train cars, Jim Rose, the person who came up with the idea, had a penetrating thought.  "Outside of Warren Buffett, the two most recognizable national brands from the state of Nebraska are the Huskers and Union Pacific," he said.  "Saturday will be a great day for two brands to come together, travel together and celebrate the support that our great university and a great company have received from Nebraska communities for over a century."

Rose, a director for major gifts for the Huskers Athletic Fund, relishes the idea of Nebraska coaches boarding 16 rail cars in Omaha early Saturday morning.  The group will make the first-ever "Big Red Express Whistle-Stop Tour" that will make stops in Columbus, Grand Island, Kearney and North Platte to visit with and thank Big Red fans for their undying support.  "What better way to arrive in each town than in the grand style of a classic Union Pacific train?" Rose asked. 

Saturday will be a 16-hour day for Husker coaches, Nebraska administrators and UNL vice-chancellors and deans.  But everyone on the tour, reminiscent of quick-hitting 19th century political campaigns, is excited to hear the conductor yell "All Aboard!"  The group will leave Omaha and arrive in Columbus at 10:05 a.m. CT, Grand Island at 11:55 a.m. CT, Kearney at 1:50 p.m. CT and North Platte at 4:50 p.m. CT. 

Pelini, Miles Set to Speak at Three Stops Each

Nebraska Football Coach Bo Pelini and Husker Men’s Basketball Coach Tim Miles are scheduled to speak at three of the four stops.  The tour is a salute to yesteryear’s passenger trains that included whistle stops for political speeches, official proclamations and question-and-answer sessions for each local audience. 

"The support all of our teams receive from all corners of Nebraska is second to none, and this event will be a great way for coaches and staff to connect with Husker fans from all across the state," Pelini said.

"I'm looking forward to getting out and seeing all the great Nebraska fans," Miles said.  "It’ll be quite a day!"

Yori, Revelle, Walker, Kendig to Speak  

Head coaches for four 2013-14 Big Ten Championship women's programs will join Pelini and Miles as featured speakers with Nebraska Women's Basketball Coach Connie Yori speaking first in Columbus.  "It's always great to get out and visit with Husker fans in their hometowns," Yori said.  "This is a great opportunity for us to reach out across the state, so we can thank all our loyal fans in a unique way on the Big Red Express."

Nebraska Softball Coach Rhonda Revelle (above right) will speak at Grand Island, Husker Women's Soccer Coach John Walker (above left) will speak at Kearney, and NU Women's Gymnastics Coach Dan Kendig (above middle) will speak at North Platte.

In addition, a Nebraska men's and a women's head coach will receive proclamations at each whistle stop.  NU Men's Gymnastics Coach Chuck Chmelka and Women's Golf Coach Robin Krapfl will do the honors at Columbus; Men's and Women's Track & Field/Cross Country Coach Dave Harris and Women's Bowling Coach Bill Straub at Grand Island, Women's Tennis Coach Scott Jacobson and Men's Tennis Coach Kerry McDermott at Kearney and Men's Golf Coach Bill Spangler and Women's Swimming & Diving Coach Pablo Morales at North Platte.

Husker coaches will help executives from Union Pacific present proclamations to mayors of all four cities on the tour – Michael Moser in Columbus, Jay Vavricek in Grand Island, Stanley Clouse in Kearney and Dwight Livingston in North Platte.

Paul, Plowman Envision Unique Opportunities

Nebraska Athletics shares a bond with UNL academic leaders, and Prem Paul (above left), UNL's Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development, is one of seven such leaders who will be participating in the whistle-stop tour.  "I'm grateful to Union Pacific for sponsoring this unique tour that connects and provides a terrific opportunity to share more about our athletic, academic and research programs with Nebraskans," Paul said. 

"This trip is another example of the powerful partnership between research and athletics at UNL,” Paul said.  “We've worked together to include great research facilities in the East Stadium addition, and we continue to strengthen our collaborations with research that benefits our student-athletes, as well as our military service personnel and citizens nationwide who suffer from traumatic brain injuries."

Paul believes it's important to promote partnerships between the private and public sectors and says the UNL-UP partnership is an "excellent" example.  "Another great one is the Nebraska Innovation Campus,” he said, “and I look forward to visiting with many folks about it and related research opportunities.  As UNL's research coach, I look forward to boarding the Big Red Express with UNL's other athletic and academic coaches and sharing our passion about Nebraska's great University."

Donde Plowman (above right), Dean of UNL’s College of Business Administration, is equally honored to be part of the tour and a passenger on Union Pacific.  "This will be a unique opportunity for Nebraskans to connect with Husker coaches, academic deans and university officials and learn more about the University," she said.  "It's also a great way to share all we have started at the UNL College of Business Administration.

Nebraska Leaders Commit to Whistle-Stop

Joining Paul and Plowman from UNL on the tour are Brian Hastings, President and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Nebraska Foundation; Diane Mendenhall, Executive Director of the Nebraska Alumni Association; Michelle Waite, Assistant to the UNL Chancellor for Community Relations; Tim Wei, UNL Dean of the College of Engineering; and Ellen Weissinger, UNL Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs.

Nebraska athletic administrators that will board the train include Marc Boehm, Executive Associate Athletic Director; Bob Burton, Senior Associate Athletic Director; John Jentz, Senior Associate Athletic Director/Chief Financial Officer; Dennis Leblanc, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics; Pat Logsdon, Senior Associate Athletic Director/Senior Woman Administrator; Jamie Vaughn, Associate Athletic Director for Compliance; Steve Waterfield, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Performance and Strategic Research; Jamie Williams, Associate Athletic Director for Leadership, Student-Athlete Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives; and Keith Zimmer, Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills and N-Club.

Sharpe Will Emcee; Ex-Huskers Will Greet

At each stop, before the UP Big Red Express train arrives, a 30-minute pep rally presented and hosted by Husker Sports Network affiliates will take place.  The programming will also feature participation from local former student-athletes.  Greg Sharpe, IMG emcee and voice of the Huskers (pictured above) will moderate the question-and-answer sessions at each stop, where coaches, academic leaders and university officials also will mingle with the crowd and talk. 

Former Husker student-athletes will be part of the hometown greeters at each stop. They include: Columbus – Amanda Gates (volleyball) and three former football players – Clete Pillen, Dan Steiner, and Dan Pensick; Grand Island – former football players Gary Schneider and Cory Schlesinger; men’s basketball player Tom Wald; and soccer player Abby Penas; Kearney – football players Dennis Thorell and Monte Kratzenstein; and North Platte – former football players Steve Carmer, Lance Lewis, and Brady Caskey.

As a liaison between Nebraska Athletics and Union Pacific, Rose regrets only one thing about this modern-day whistle-stop tour.  "I wish we could visit every town and spend the day," he said.  "But hopefully, fans from neighboring towns will come and join in the celebration and help make it a memorable experience for everyone."

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