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Even though Tear'a Laudermill, a freshman guard from Riverside, Calif., played her first basketball game as a Cornhusker Sunday afternoon, she never lost an ounce of energy Sunday night in her first-ever Husker Heroes event that drew 800 special needs children and adults and their family members to the Hawks Championship Center.
"This event is so neat because you learn about the athletes' personality and their energy and their spirit and you can definitely tell that Tear'a (pronounced TEAR-uh) has it all," said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's associate athletic director for Life Skills. "She's having fun, and she's making it fun for the kids, and that's what this is all about. It's not about the athletes. It's about the kids, and here she is - in her first outreach event - and she gets it right off the bat ... very impressive."
Laudermill was the supervisor and chief demonstrator at a station where she challenged kids to beat her in a dribbling drill through traffic cones. Yes, she's one of the fastest guards in the country - one that will have "instant impact" on Connie Yori's team because of that speed. But Laudermill made sure she finished second in every drill with her new friends Sunday night. "That was so fun," she said. "I used to work at a day care center, and I just love kids. I love the smile on their faces, especially when they see an athlete. They made my day more than I made theirs."
Catching the Spirit Better than Lecturing about It
There were 170 Nebraska freshman athletes at the event Sunday night, plus countless more in the upper classes that chose to come back, even though they're not required. "We've learned that instead of lecturing freshmen about community spirit, it's better for them to catch that spirit by reaching out and touching people," Zimmer said. "This is a can't-miss event for them, but they get hooked. They want to do more and more, and they become an ambassador for community service throughout their college career. And with the wishes of Tom Osborne, that service goes beyond their collegiate athletic careers ... it becomes part of the rest of their life."
David Sutton, a redshirt tight end from Lincoln Southeast, enjoyed joining his freshman teammates signing autographs Sunday night. "Growing up, my parents and coaches taught me how important something like this is," he said. "Most of these kids will never get a chance to compete in sports, so those of us who have been given that gift need to give back to those who don't. It's amazing to me how many of them were excited about yesterday's game. When you have people watch you and look up to you, it's a privilege to share and help pick up their spirits, just like they pick up ours."
Life Skills Influenced Recruitment to Nebraska
Two Husker track-and-field athletes were working in stations next to each other, and both were going above and beyond and enjoying every minute of the experience.
Melissa Dragoo, a freshman multi-event athlete from Scottsdale, Ariz., inspired and instructed children on how to push yoga balls through an obstacle course of cones. "I came from a background of community service," she said. "We had a group in Arizona called the Cowgirls Historical Foundation. We would ride horses and had a motto called 'Saddle Up for Service'. Helping others reach their goals is so much fun. Every other school I visited didn't have any source or commitment to life beyond sports, so one reason I came here was the Life Skills Department and everything it does to help others."
London Hawk, a freshman from Chicago, won the Illinois state 400-meter championship and finished second nationally. Sunday night, he was a popular attraction as a soccer goalie for special needs children who kicked the ball just past his diving body and into the net. "I love kids because I'm a big kid myself," he said. "When I came to Nebraska for my recruiting visit, and they started talking about life skills, I was amazed. Everywhere else I visited just wanted to talk about my running. Some wanted to talk about school, but Nebraska was the only one that wanted to talk about all three."
Scarlets, Cheer Squad Like to Make a Kid's Day
Sunday's event drew more than just Nebraska student-athletes. The Scarlets Dance Team and the Husker Cheer Squad became popular stops. "Speaking for all of the Scarlets, I can say we absolutely love doing events like this because we see so many smiles on the faces of kids and adults alike," Lincoln junior Sarah Vaggalis said.
Kara Brostrom, a Grand Island junior on the Cheer Squad, said Husker Heroes is one of her favorite events "because you meet people who really love us, and we do everything we can to make their day because they certainly make ours."
John Depenbusch's 13-year-old son, Jacob, is autistic and enjoyed several venues Sunday night, including getting his picture taken with the Cheer Squad. "See 'ya later, girls," he told them after the photo. "He was adorable," Brostrom said, "and we found out that he gets straight A's." They found out because Jacob had one of his best buddies with him - Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. "My wife (Vicki) works for the Lincoln Employee Assistance Program, and she invited Governor Dave to a parent-teacher conference two years ago," Depenbusch said. "They've developed a bond. My son calls Governor Dave his best friend. They really enjoy their time together."
Friends Advise Mom Not to Miss Husker Heroes
Lincoln's Andi Bishop was able to bring her 6-year-old special needs daughter, Kira, with her 7-year-old son Tristan. "Usually, we have trouble going out because she goes one way and he goes another," Bishop said. "But I know some other families that have Down syndrome children, and they encouraged me to come this year after their experience last year. This is a great way for her to see others with disabilities and interact with them."
Amber Lampe and her family had spent more than an hour at Husker Heroes and was preparing to leave with husband Dustin, 2-year-old daughter Adrianna, and 3-year-old son Joshua, who has a muscle disease. "This was a great event," she said. "I think it's really important that kids with disabilities can feel normal, and I think it's great that they get to see college kids who really care."
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