DEWITT -- When Tom Osborne walked into the auditorium at Tri County School on Thursday afternoon, there was an awed hush. The somewhat raucous student body went nearly silent as the former coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers walked to the front of the room.
Osborne was on hand to talk up the school’s recent entry into the Teammates program, which he started in Lincoln in 1991. The program matches adult mentors with youth who could use a little guidance. On Thursday Osborne was on hand to thank the mentors and encourage others to sign up.
Elementary principal Jesse Gronemeyer introduced Osborne, saying he had met the coach at Husker football camp when he was 16 years old.
Gronemeyer said he and his friends were messing around and not really paying attention to directions Osborne was giving. They had to go up to the coach to figure out where they were going.
Osborne pointed Gronemeyer and his friends in the right direction after reminding them to pay attention. The meeting had a lasting impression, Gronemeyer said.
“You have an awesome opportunity to talk to one of the greatest men in our state of Nebraska, Dr. Tom Osborne,” Gronemeyer said.
Osborne, who coached the Huskers for 25 years and led the team to three national championships and served as U.S. Representative for Nebraska’s 3rd District, started Teammates in 1991 with his wife Nancy when he was still coaching. He’d asked his team if they’d be willing to mentor some seventh and eighth graders in Lincoln public schools.
There were 22 Huskers who said they would and matched up with 22 students. The goal was to identify their strengths, see them graduate and pursue a college education.
Osborne said he hadd needed a mentor when he was growing up and found one in his uncle after his dad went off to fight in World War II.
“My uncle kind of took me under his wing while my dad was gone,” he said. “He taught me how to swim, taught me how to fish, how to hunt, he kind of became my companion. I think during that time, there's no question, that my uncle was a tremendous support to me.”
Seeing the need for mentorship in the kids in Lincoln schools, Teammates was started. The mentors spent some time every week with those 22 kids as they made their way through middle and high school, he said.
As the students approached 16 — the age they could drop out of high school if they wanted to — Osborne started to get worried. That’s where he said his political career got its start by making promises he couldn’t keep.
“I got in front of them and I said, ‘If you guys stay out of trouble and graduate from high school, we'll pay your way to college,'” Osborne said. “The only problem was, we didn't have the money, we didn't know where the money was coming from. After a couple of years, we raised about $300,000 and that was the money.”
Of those 22 kids, 21 of them graduated high school on time and the one who didn’t was riding dirt bikes around the country on a motocross tour and later graduated. Osborne said 18 of those 22 kids went on to college.
There are 8,500 kids involved in Teammates today, Osborne said, but there’s about a one-third gap in people who can mentor them. The organization has spread through Nebraska and into Iowa, Kansas and Wyoming, where mentors will meet with their mentees about once a week, usually during a lunch break. Osborne thanked the new members of the Teammates program and said he hoped there would be more people interested in signing up.
Osborne ended his visit by answering questions from Tri County students. One student didn’t have a question, but wanted Osborne to know that his stepdad really liked him as a coach back in his time with the Huskers.
“You tell your stepdad I like him, too,” Osborne said. “In the days when we lost to Oklahoma, there were a whole lot of people who didn't like me. I used to have a whole box full of letters that were calling me some pretty bad names. Eventually we won a few.”
Community Players is trying something a little bit different this season with a bit of historical drama.
“The Lion in Winter” opens Friday at Community Players in Beatrice and brings the late 1100s to the stage in a show full of power struggles, family sparring and political machinations.
Telling the tale of King Henry II and his wife Elanor of Aquitaine—who was imprisoned for planning a rebellion against him—and their sons jockeying for the throne, it’s the story made famous by the Academy Award winning 1968 movie.
It’s a little bit different than shows the theater typically does, said director Tyler Rinne, but with a stable of solid actors at their disposal and some great writing, the time was right for “The Lion in Winter”.
“This is the type of show that we don't do very often around here,” Rinne said. “We stick to our comedies and our musicals and we do those really well, but a period drama like this is not something that we have a big opportunity to do.”
That’s not to say that the show’s not funny, Rinne said. There are quite a few laugh out loud moments and pithy barbs hurled between siblings and spouses. It’s a family drama, he said, and it’s full of infighting and backstabbing.
Set in a French castle at Christmastime in 1189, “The Lion in Winter” takes place in a gray, stone building, but the costuming is full of medieval style, with elegant robes, golden crowns and meticulously stitched gowns.
“It's an opportunity for our costumers to really have a lot of fun with period costumes,” Rinne said. “So, we were really particular about those and put a lot of work into those costumes. I think it's going to be one of many standout things about this show.”
“The Lion in Winter” is set during a fascinating time said Jeff Porter, who plays Henry. It’s also a show he’s been waiting for.
“I've wanted to play King Henry for years,” Porter said. “So, that was my draw to it. I'm a huge fan of the movie from the 60s, Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn.”
The show starts Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and runs on April 7, 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and on April 8 and 15 at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the show are available at the box office for $18 for adults and $12 for students and can be purchased online at beatricecommunityplayers.com as well.
A Beatrice man who assaulted police last year was sentenced to probation.
Preston Lawrence-Hutchison was sentenced to serve 20 months of probation for attempted third-offense shoplifting and attempted third-degree assault on an officer.
These charges were reduced from third-offense shoplifting and assault on an officer as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, who recommended probation in the case.
Defense attorney Marc Odgaard also requested probation.
“He’s admitted and acknowledges that he’s got a problem,” Odgaard said. “He understands he’s got a very real problem and that’s consistent with when we talked throughout this whole thing, it’s ‘I need to get out of here and get home.’”
Lawrence-Hutchison had never previously been given probation, and also served 338 days in the Gage County Detention Center during the pendency of the case, which both factored into the sentence by District Court Judge Julie Smith.
Odgaard added that alcohol has been at the root of Lawrence-Hutchison’s issues, and that the defendant has owned up to his problems.
He certainly has learned his lesson,” Odgaard said. “He does have a history, but what is consistent through that history is the use of alcohol that gets him into trouble. You combine that with the diagnosis for him and obviously…he needs help in a big way and he understands that.”
Lawrence-Hutchison was arrested last May after police responded to a shoplifting report at Walmart in Beatrice. Workers advised that earlier in the day a male and female caused a scene outside the store when they got into an argument.
Employees watched surveillance footage, and observed the man, identified as Lawrence-Hutchison, stash a bottle of alcohol in his pants.
Three hours later police responded to a disturbance where Lawrence-Hutchison was chasing a woman. He was detained, and when police went to get him out of the car he lunged at an officer and kicked him in the arm and stomach. He also slammed his head into the officer.
A breath test revealed Lawrence-Hutchison’s alcohol level was .212.
The owner of several drug-related items uncovered during a police search last year was sentenced to probation Thursday in Gage County District Court.
Michael Johnson Jr., of Fairbury, was sentenced by Judge Julie Smith to spend 36 months on probation following the search last January.
Authorities recovered a pipe that was in a blue suitcase and detected the presence of methamphetamine. Inside a silver container was a plastic baggie with a white substance and a credit card that belonged to another man who lived with Johnson, the warrant stated. The substance was identified as cocaine. During a search of their residence at 123 N. Sumner St. in Beatrice, police located multiple pieces of drug paraphernalia, including bongs and pipes, needles, grinders and baggies. Two phones and two computers were also seized as evidence. Johnson went to the department the next day to recover his items, and admitted to using drugs.
He went to the police department after leaving Beatrice Community Hospital and Health Center against medical advisement.
Prior to sentencing, defense attorney Chuck Bentjen said that Johnson has learned from his mistakes and is eager to make a fresh start.
“I would advise the court that I think this was really a lifesaving event for Mr. Johnson,” Bentjen said. “I have known him since I was appointed to represent him and I have seen tremendous progress.”