Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: How we can be inspired off the court by Husker volleyball’s success

There’s no inherent reason for Nebraska to be a volleyball talent pool, producing more major college players per capita than any state but Hawaii.

Rather, The World-Herald’s Henry Cordes reported, it happened intentionally. Taking over the Husker program in the late 1970s, former coach Terry Pettit set out to improve high school play, holding clinics for Nebraska players and coaches.

Over time, Nebraska had built homegrown talent and began attracting top recruits. In 1995, the Huskers won the first of their now-five national championships. With 15 total Final Four appearances and the best attendance in the nation, the college program has engendered some of the top high school programs in the country.

Cordes’ story showed how Omaha’s success in hosting the volleyball Final Four in 2006 set a new standard and forever changed the atmosphere and expectations for the NCAA tournament.

This of course is tremendous for women’s sports overall, and we can be proud of Omaha’s and Nebraska’s role in elevating and showcasing an exciting sport.

It also demonstrates a larger point.

Human beings hold within a wealth and diversity of untapped talent. That might be in sports, it might be in art, science or any number of areas.

Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan, for example, has won 21 state championships in mock trial and holds the record for advancing to the national competition. Mitchell High School in South Dakota has a long tradition of excellent show choirs. The University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop has produced a remarkable list of distinguished authors.

Lawyers who coach the Kalamazoo students aren’t the best in the nation; Mitchell doesn’t have unique musical roots; and Iowa doesn’t grow pretty words along with all that corn and soybeans.

Instead, as is the case with volleyball in Nebraska, someone had an idea of what’s possible and the dedication to make it happen.

Collectively and individually, we often don’t know our abilities.

But an enthusiastic champion, often not needing a vast investment of resources, can unlock the interests and skills lurking in young minds. Over time, that can become institutionalized and build a tradition.

It may be that the Omaha Public Schools’ plan for high school career pathways and academies, which officials acknowledge has been inadequately explained, has the potential to build such successes and create equal opportunities across the city.

But the important takeaway from these examples, from Husker volleyball to Kalamazoo’s aspiring attorneys, is that we can build great possibilities with a combination of vision and determination. But things don’t just happen. The sky doesn’t fall in our lap; we must reach for it.

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Lincoln Journal Star. April 13, 2021.

Editorial: Shutting NOISE out of briefings must not stand

This is a joint opinion from the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald editorial boards.

The Journal Star and World-Herald stand with NOISE Omaha in its effort to be credentialed for the governor’s news briefings.

The Ricketts administration has denied NOISE admission to the briefings because it deems NOISE “an advocacy organization funded by liberal donors. They are not a mainstream media outlet.”

While the rise of digital-only news operations in a rapidly changing media landscape creates new questions, and, indeed, not just anyone claiming to be media should be automatically admitted to news conferences, the implication is that anything Gov. Pete Ricketts deems to be advocacy – or liberal – can be barred.

That’s wrong, dangerous and smacks of authoritarianism.

NOISE, which stands for “North Omaha Information Support Everyone,” is a nonprofit news website founded two years ago to focus on coverage of Omaha’s minority communities. Its website, noiseomaha.com, says the organization’s goal is to “do community-based journalism that provides useful information and holds representatives and systems accountable ...”

This is not wildly different, at all, from our mission as legacy newspapers deemed to be mainstream media. It’s a proper, and traditional, journalism mission.

NOISE is but one example of the 21st-century kaleidoscope of digital media operations, many of which focus on specific interests. Publications and websites have long existed to serve such audiences – business journals, agriculture magazines and travel websites among them. Would the governor’s office grant credentials to Ethanol Today magazine, which exists to be an advocate?

Among the many problems with the Ricketts administration’s position is that it has no written criteria, no formal policy, for determining who gets media credentials.

It’s not alone in lagging to recognize digital-only media; Nebraska’s media associations must discuss creating a membership category for them.

NOISE is a journalistic organization on its face. Its home page features straightforward stories on topics such as the upcoming investigation of St. Francis Ministries’ contract for child welfare case management in Douglas and Sarpy counties, Asian Americans’ concerns about hate crimes and the shooting of an Omaha police officer last month at Westroads Mall. The stories do not by any stretch advocate for any position.

And Taylor Gage, the governor’s spokesman, acknowledges that the ban “has nothing to do with the issues they’re covering.”

He said the problem is evident in the organization’s name and “how they position themselves.”

Oh, and those liberal donors.

NOISE is supported by organizations including the Omaha Community Foundation, the Hitchcock Family Foundation (started by The World-Herald’s founder) and the Sherwood Foundation, founded by Susie Buffett.

Sherwood has supported organizations tied to several progressive state senators. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to conclude that the governor’s office then deems any organization that gets money from Sherwood to be its enemy.

When the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment, they certainly did not mean that it applied only to those with whom they agreed. They meant everyone. The idea of journalistic neutrality was rare at the time. Newspapers and pamphlets vigorously advocated particular positions – much more so than NOISE does today.

The Ricketts administration’s denial of credentials to NOISE must be seen for what it is: politics, pure and simple.

A political decision to restrict access to government officials in fact abridges the freedom of the organizations barred. That is anathema to the First Amendment and must not stand.

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Kearney Hub. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: Inclusive playground talks the talk

As Americans embrace the philosophy of inclusion, we invite everyone to feel they’re a part of our nation’s great big human family. Inclusion was a big reason behind the construction of the inclusive playground at Kearney’s Harmon Park a few years ago. It was added so children whose physical abilities may prevent them from using conventional playground equipment are able to have fun and feel they are a part of things.

This week, the Hub was happy to learn about an event planned at Harmon Park’s inclusive playground that was postponed last year because of — you guessed it — the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kearney Student Speech Language Hearing Association at the University of Nebraska at Kearney will conduct a ribbon cutting for the communication board that became a part of the inclusive playground. Unfortunately, health and safety concerns that limited so many gatherings during the coronavirus surge also prevented the dedication of the communication board.

The long-delayed formalities will be 7 p.m. April 27, according to Lauren Rezac, president of KSSLHA.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to have a celebration last year so we decided to have one now,” Rezac said.

What’s a communication board?

It’s a small billboard that’s covered with colorful pictures and letters. The intent is to help individuals to express how they’re feeling, what they need or other messages by pointing at the pictures on the board. They also could use the communication board to ask a friend to play or to tell a parent they would like to use the swing, according to a Kearney Hub news article.

“Designed by speech-language pathologists and vocabulary design specialists at Talk to Me Technologies, which is the company that sells the board, the different parts of speech are categorized in sections. Part of the board also features a full alphabet, so communication possibilities are limitless.

The aim of the communication board is to decrease language barriers and bring individuals together by tapping their abilities.

KSSLHA is made up of UNK students who are studying or have an interest in communication disorders and want to share the desire to help those with speech and language disorders. According to the Hub article, one of the group’s faculty advisers brought up the communication board idea at the beginning of the school year after reading about a family in Iowa that had installed a board at a local park because their son had a disability. The KSSLHA group started the planning process right away, researched signs and raised $1,000 via GoFundMe.

Harmon Park’s Leafie Mae Inclusive Playground opened in 2013. Additions such as the communication board demonstrate our community’s commitment to inclusion. Contributions such as the KSSLHA’s communicates something very powerful about inclusion.

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