A Red Carpet Experience
There's a red carpet that leads onto the Tom Osborne Field in Memorial Stadium. A path that's typically known for being used for a tradition unlike any other - the Tunnel Walk. However, on Sunday night, it wasn't the Husker football team running on the red carpet onto the field, but rather 300 individuals with special needs, in attendance for NU Life Skills' Husker Heroes Outreach Event. People flocked from all over the state of Nebraska to run onto the field to meet their favorite Huskers. Once on the field, the guests played games, took photos, listened to the bands and got autographs.
Baseball players showed people how to pitch, basketball players helped guests dunk and soccer players taught people how to score goals.
Freshman track and field athlete Garrison Hughes traded his pole vault in for a brush, after getting assigned to the face painting station. The Sidney, Mont., native didn’t really know what to expect, but soon discovered it would be a memorable experience.
“I didn’t know the event would be as big as it was, but I love seeing all the kids out here,” he said. “I really like to work with kids and it’s great to see all these kids having a lot of fun. I know a lot of kids in the area look up to athletes around here, so for me, that would have been a big dream – to go meet all the athletes. I like knowing that we get to help out all these kids.”
While the event is required for first-years and transfers like Hughes, many returning Nebraska student-athletes make an effort to attend as well.
Bri Cassidy, a senior catcher for the Nebraska softball team, attended her fourth on Sunday night. For her, the event is personal.
"Autism runs in my family, so it's something that kind of hits home for me." Cassidy said. "I think it's just really cool to see the inclusion that goes on."
Cassidy raves about the event to first-years, as well.
"I tell them it's the best event of the year,” she said. “It's the best event you'll do."
Track and field freshman Michael Hoffer agreed.
“Being able to be out here and see all the happy faces and knowing that we can make that big of an impact on people is amazing,” Hoffer said.
And while it’s an unbelievable experience for the student-athletes, it's similar for the guests. Most memories in Memorial Stadium come on game days and people talk about them for years. These memories won’t have anything to do with a game, but they’ll be remembered and talked about for just as long.
And after the event, Memorial Stadium went back to being home of the Huskers. The field was cleared and preparations began for the home game against Troy on Saturday. But for one night, in Lincoln, Nebraska, in Memorial Stadium, the Huskers weren’t the main attraction. And that's the whole point.
"It's just really important that these people get to feel normal and that they see they're important," Cassidy said. "They're the superstars that they see us as."