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Did Pelini make a promise, or a joke, to Navy seaman?

Bo Pelini argues with the official during the Colorado game. Photo by Bruce Thorson

As if the 19-7 loss in the Holiday Bowl weren’t bad enough, now Huskers Coach Bo Pelini is catching hell from Fox Sports for reneging on a promise they say he made to a U.S. Navy seaman from Nebraska that he could call one play during the bowl game.
According to Fox, Pelini one-upped the Washington Huskies coach by giving seaman Morgan Ryan of Minden, Neb., a field pass and jersey — and a promise to let him call one play in the bowl game. Ryan, a loyal Husker, was ecstatic at this gift before a seven-month deployment at sea.
But the game wasn’t as festive as planned, and Pelini never followed through. Then when questioned about it during the post-game press conference, he told the Fox reporter “It was just a joke, ma’am!”
Now he’s getting ripped on national sports shows.
Pelini’s temper is quickly becoming as much of a story as the precociousness of his quarterback or the return of the program to national prominence.
It’s interesting to see the difference in the way the story is being reported. In the Lincoln Journal Star, the reporter ledes off with the Husker Athletic Department’s take on the situation — that Pelini was speaking in a “light-hearted manner” and joking. He also describes Pelini as “mild-mannered” when he answered the Fox reporter’s question.
But the Fox news the story paints it as though everybody thought Pelini was serious, and that Pelini “barked” at her when she asked about it at the press conference.
Guess we’d have to see video of the press conference to see for ourselves how he acted.


Another chink in Antelope Valley

Several bridges that wind through Lincoln's Antelope Valley Project have been closed after a chunk of the new O Street bridge collapsed Tuesday.

Our $260 million investment in downtown Lincoln has a chink in it, and Mayor Chris Beutler is fighting mad, saying it’s totally unacceptable and he’ll make the responsible parties pay.
(To his credit) Beutler went public with the news that a big chunk of the Antelope Valley Project — specifically, the underside of the new O Street bridge — literally fell on Tuesday. The city closed the Antelope Valley trails in Union Plaza from N to Q streets, to be safe. But city officials said, don’t worry, the bridges are safe. Great.
These bridges were just built in the past few years and already they’re falling apart? The mayor ought to be mad.
The mayor’s office was also mad — at me — a couple of years ago when I wrote a lengthy, in-depth investigative series of stories about the Antelope Valley Project, concluding that the city of Lincoln had spent $34 million more than projected, even as it continued the work at a cost of $1,352 per hour.
In 2000, Antelope Valley proponents said the project would cost $175 million. That number has since been revised to more than $260 million. Although to be fair, there was a little footnote in 2000, noting that those were 1999 dollars. I also learned there really was no set budget; the city council approved a new budget every year.
The state auditor also found “significant accounting lapses” last year.
Less eye-catching was the fact that a New York consulting company called Parsons Brinckerhoff was hired to manage both design and construction of Antelope Valley under a “cost-plus fixed-fee” contract in which the company is paid for its costs, plus a fixed fee.
Such contracts are often criticized because they don’t encourage cost savings and (this is key) design flaws can be more easily covered up. Parsons Brinckerhoff, by the way, was also one of two companies that oversaw design and construction of Boston’s infamous Big Dig — widely considered the biggest public works debacle in our nation’s history. That interstate tunnel has been plagued by leaks and a woman was killed after 26 tons of concrete fell and crushed her car.
So I imagine city officials are a little nervous to see concrete falling from their bridges, too.
However, the mayor’s office did a full-court press when I was researching Antelope Valley, doing their best to make sure the story turned out as positively as possible. They sent a panel of city officials to refute various aspects of the story and argued that I should use larger inflationary factors to adjust the original cost projections (and blunt the blow) — all the spin you would expect in that situation.
After all, Beutler inherited the Antelope Valley Project. And after my series came out, Beutler decreed that the city would not proceed with phase two of the project. At least, not now.
The upshot is that even though it can make for dense reading, stories about the types of contracts the city enters for massive projects like Antelope Valley do matter. Which is why it’s important that we closely watch the way an even bigger public works project — the arena project — is handled. The way companies win bids matters. The way construction is overseen matters. The companies that are selected to build it matter.
Especially if it’s you who is under that bridge when a chunk of it gives way.


Another school shooting: What can we do?

A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old son got called into the principal’s office.
He was sitting in class when the boy next to him put a clay penis on his desk. My son did what any immature eighth-grade boy would do: He put it on the desk of a girl next to him – a friend of his.
She thought it was funny and then decided to get the first boy in trouble by going to the teacher with it. Both my son and the potter were punished.
My son’s friend told me the claymaker is the kind of kid who’s always in trouble and doesn’t have many friends. Then you need to be his friend, I told him. He needs friends. I told my son he should have put the offending art back on the boy’s desk. And now that it was over, he should still be that boy’s friend.
My son has also talked about another kid whom he says gets bullied a lot at Irving Middle School – a school whose anti-bullying program was featured on a national television show. I asked Jacob whether he’d tried to be the boy’s friend, and he said he did, but the boy said, “I’ve heard that before.” He’d learned not to trust kids, even those offering to help.
My son could easily be one of those kids who gets bullied – he has a disease called alopecia that makes him bald. Through the grace of God, I guess, he is not bullied. In fact, he has more friends than I can keep track of.
When I hear about school shootings – like the one in Millard yesterday, in which 17-year-old Robert Butler Jr. (formerly of Lincoln) shot and killed an administrator, wounded another administrator and then killed himself – I think of kids without friends.
Today, kids in schools and parents at work all over Lincoln will be talking about what happened in Omaha. We’ll all wring our hands and try to wrap our brains around what happened – wishing for an answer to the question, “Why?”
On a day like today, I think of those kids – and adults – on the margins of society, and wish I was doing more for them.
When school shootings happen, my husband always thinks back to his first year as a high school English teacher. He had this smiley kid who always talked to him before and after classes to the point of annoyance. The kid was a likable but insecure C student, a semi-skilled wrestler who had the acne to prove it.
A semester later, the sophomore killed himself over a dispute at home and with a girlfriend. Like in a suspense movie, the shocking ending forced my husband to think back to all the clues that led up to it that made it almost inevitable. After that suicide, he felt an almost oppressive need to get to know every one of his 187 students and make his classroom a safe haven for all students. The education system – with its factory-like approach to school — made that difficult and he felt like he was placed in a position in which he could only do the best he could. He felt a bit helpless.
I can’t figure it out, and neither can you, but I can still do something. How about we reach out to people on the margins. To that kid who sits alone at lunch and isn’t involved in any sports or clubs and who acts like they’d like to be left alone, but inside they’re dying for a friend.
A coworker once told me about her cripplingly shy son, who hardly talked to anyone at school. One day he told her he’d figured out what he was going to say if anyone ever tried to talk to him. She and I both had tears in our eyes as we talked in the break room.
That story breaks my heart – to think that nobody had really tried to strike up a friendship with him or just be kind to him? Maybe he’s exaggerating, but perception is reality for a teenager.
Instead of focusing on having perfectly straightened hair or the right brand of jeans or a boyfriend or straight As or a starting spot on the basketball team, today (and every day) students can do something to help.
They can make an effort to reach outside of their circle of friends, and make a new one. You know who needs a friend — go be that friend. They may not be perfect and they may be socially awkward or even downright weird — but you’re not perfect either and the weird people are often the most interesting.
You don’t have to become BFFs or go on a date or even hang out. Just think about how good it makes you feel when someone just says something nice to you (“I like your haircut.” “Cute jeans”). It can make your day. Make life seem better.
We all need a support system — friends, parents, somebody, anybody who’s there when we’re falling, falling, falling and ready to crash. Somebody who cares. Somebody who’s there to catch us.
Tragedy has struck in the schools again, just as we’re beginning a new year. This seems like a good time for all of us to resolve to reach out to others, just a little bit more. Especially if they don’t look like us, they don’t act like us and they don’t seem like they fit in at all.
It may not prevent another school shooting, but it may make someone’s life just a little bit better, if only for awhile.

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