And that's the ballgame!

By Lori Gottula
   When long-time umpire Doug Kottich decided to retire, he told no one but his wife, Diana. He wanted the sun to set on his umping career without fanfare. He wanted to just walk off the field after his final game, and drive home to his recliner without notice.
    “I didn’t want to make a big deal about it,” he said.
    That’s why, when he donned his chest protector for the final time last Thursday night, no one knew. It was Falls City’s last home softball game of the season, and the Tigers were playing Syracuse. But no one on the field knew that it was Doug’s last game. Neither did anyone in the press box, the dugouts, or in the stands. No one, that is, but Diana.
    She casually mentioned to Randy Gottula that the game would be Doug’s last, and Randy told Falls City’s baseball coach, Kory Huppert. Before the bottom of the fourth inning, as Syracuse took the field, Kory picked up the announcer’s mic, and asked for everyone’s attention.
    “I’ve just learned that tonight’s game is the last for umpire Doug Kottich, who is retiring,” he said. “Please give him a round of applause for serving as an umpire for 43 years, with 20 of those for high school softball.”
    With those two sentences, suddenly everyone knew. Fans throughout the stands jumped to their feet with raucous applause. The players for both teams did the same. Then Syracuse’s assistant coach, who had pitched for Syracuse several years prior, walked out from the visiting dugout, took Doug’s hand, and raised his arm in the air, like a referee signaling the winner in a boxing match.
    “You umpired when I pitched,” she said to Doug, “And I just felt like I needed to do this.”  
    That simple act elicited even more applause. Then, when she left the field, Syracuse’s catcher turned around and asked to shake Doug’s hand.
    “No visiting catcher has ever done that before,” Doug said. It was a magical moment. And it was just the beginning of a very special night.
    Doug began his career as an umpire in 1973 when his dad, Sterling Kottich, told him that he needed to get involved with summer recreation. His first game was behind the plate for a Pee Wee League game. As he gained experience, he advanced into the older age groups in summer rec, then started umpiring American Legion ball games, as well as Travelers’ softball. He started doing high school softball games in 1996.
    Doug’s primary job for the past 31 years has been as a salesman/warehouse worker for
Falls City Mercantile. Most nights during the warmer months, though, he could be found on a
ball diamond somewhere calling strikes and balls, and yelling “She’s ooouuuuuttt,” in that
gravelly voice that long-time umpires earn.
    His third job involves his main passion in life (besides his family!), and that is music.
With a degree in music education, Doug was trained as a classical pianist, and serves as the
organist/pianist at Zion United Church of Christ, and the First Christian Church of Falls City.  He
also accompanies and sings with The Clefsmen, and plays for weddings and funerals in the area.
    Needless to say, Doug is a busy man. But no matter how busy he has been, he just
couldn’t envision his life without his blue shirt. Until, that is, some of his 11 grandchildren
started playing sports.
    “All of them live away from Falls City,” Doug said, “So I knew when they got
involved in activities, I would want to be watching them rather than working behind the plate. I
just decided to keep doing it as long as I could.”
But there was one other reason that he decided to stick it out this long. That reason was
Falls City High School’s first baseman, Erin Brewer.
    “She has the most natural swing I’ve seen in a long time,” Doug said. “She was and is
one of the best hitters I’ve ever worked with. When she was 14, she would pound homers over
the fence all the time. Her team that year went to the state tournament, and defeated Fairbury by
ten runs in the championship game. I told my wife that I wanted to stick this out long enough to
see her hit one over the fence for Falls City High School.”
    Erin, who is a junior this year, has done so several times. So Doug decided that
Falls City’s final home game this season would be his last, too. Like everyone else at Hartman
Field, Erin Brewer had no idea. But when she led off for the Tigers in the bottom of the fifth
inning, she drilled a sweet one over the fence.
    “It was as if it was meant to be,” Doug said.
    Erin’s homer, and the way that the game ended, made Thursday night’s game Doug’s
most memorable game ever.  The air was crackling with excitement as the Syracuse Rockets and
Falls City Tigers battled it out neck-in-neck, and entered the top of the seventh inning tied at 2 –
    As an umpire—especially the official behind the plate—Doug remained impartial and
just did his job. But his heart started pounding when Syracuse scored a run in the top of the
seventh, and went up by one. The Tigers then hustled to the dugout, and the fans rose to their
feet. The players gripped the home team fence, and cheers filled the air. The Tigers refused to go
down without a fight.  The lead-off batter hit a pop fly to second base for the first out, but Falls
City still had two more chances.
    Catcher Molly Brown then walked up to the plate and hit a triple, and suddenly Falls City
had its tying run on third base. Shortstop Rylee Scholl came up to bat next. She had already
pounded a homer over the fence in the first inning, and there were several batters behind her who
could do the same, including Erin Brewer. But Rylee sauntered up to the plate, swung the bat
like she meant it, and sent the ball sailing out of the park.
    Doug remained the ultimate professional as he watched Molly score, watched Rylee run
the bases, and listened to the home crowd roar. But when Rylee’s foot crossed the plate, and
Doug declared the game over, he was officially an umpire no more.
    “All I felt was complete bliss,” he said. “It was the perfect game to end my career. I
couldn’t have choreographed it any better if I had tried.”
    Several people shook his hand afterward, and thanked him for his services. Then the man
in blue walked off the field, quietly thankful that everyone now knew. And the sun set on a very
special game—one that ended a man’s career the way he deserved. With fanfare.




City Council votes to bring Disc Golf to Falls City

By Nikki McKim
Logan and Marc Merz on behalf of the TSMF Foundation stood before the Falls City, City Council last week to request approval for installing a new Disc Golf Course at Stanton Lake. The proposed 18 hole golf course at Stanton Lake is shooting to be the best Disc Golf course in Southeast Nebraska.
Disc golf is played like traditional golf but instead of using clubs and balls, players use a disc or Frisbee. The sport was formed in the 1970’s but has recently exploded in popularity in the last few years. In recent years, Auburn has put in a course as well as Peru, Sabetha, Horton, Mahoney State Park and Beatrice. Indian Cave is currently in the processes of adding a course as well.
“It’s a low-impact sport, low impact on the environment and low impact as in the elderly can play it. It’s not hard, just a lot of walking. Good for exercise, promoting well being and wellness in the community,” said Logan Merz.
With a course in Falls City being PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association) approved, it would be featured on PDGA websites bringing people from all over the country to Falls City. Disc Golf supplies will be stocked in Falls City businesses to bring commerce to the area.
“I played in a tournament last weekend in Lincoln, and there were people from over eight hours away; from Kansas, and out west of Kearney. If we host a tournament and get the proper channels on the PDGA website, people will come from eight to ten hours away to play tournaments if the course is good and I’m a firm believer that this course is very good,” said Logan.
There are only a couple courses near Falls City with an 18 hole course, but Logan wants to step it up a notch and add features such as a water hole, which few courses have. The water hole feature raised questions with the Council, who asked what would happen with discs that go into the lake. According to Merz, floating discs are an option, and there are special utensils made to retrieve the discs but for those who are new to the sport or don’t think they could clear the lake, there will be an alternate route that doesn’t require you to throw the disk over water.
The course is also designed by Logan Merz to leave zero maintenance to the city. There will be no weed eating around the holes and no cost to the city at all. Everything will be funded by the Tanner Shelby Merz Foundation and the hole sponsors.
“I don’t like to do anything halfway. It’s all or nothing for us,” said Marc Merz. “We want to have tournaments and for the tournaments, the money used goes back into the town. It’s an up, and coming thing and people are loving it. We need to get on the bandwagon.”
 Before the final vote Council President, Judy Murphy questioned the liability to the city since the course is on city property. Marc Merz explained that there would be little to no liability.
“What liability would we ensure that isn’t already there? It isn’t any different than somebody walking through the grass. The pins aren’t hazards; they aren’t sharp,” said Merz adding “We’re ready to go tomorrow. You give us the green light, and we’re ready to go.”
The Council voted unanimously to approve the project.

Stella welcomes home native son, hoops icon

    The Village of Stella will celebrate small town America, dedicate the addition of thousands of donated dollars worth of new playground equipment and welcome home a celebrated native son Saturday, May 21.
    The festivities, which begin at 7 a.m. with a 5K run, will provide a sort of homecoming for recently retired legendary junior college basketball coach Jim Morris, a Southeast Consolidated graduate and 500-game winner. At Iowa Western, where he just last winter coached his 21st and final Reivers team, Morris led 17 teams to 20 or more wins. He retired as the program’s all-time winningest coach and one the folks in Council Bluffs hated to see go.
    “Jim Morris has been a first-class individual throughout his entire coaching career,” Iowa Western President Dr. Dan Kinney said. “I do not believe you will find one athlete our coaching colleague that will argue that Jim is a great leader of young men. He will be missed.”
    Iowa Western Athletic Director Brenda Hampton echoed those sentiments.
    “Beyond wins and losses, Jim has always been an advocate for the student athletes on our campus. He is a great person and coach.”
    Morris started his coaching career in the high school ranks at Chester-Hubbell and Pawnee City in Nebraska, and also in Prairie Gowrie, IA.
 and one at the two parks in Stella on Saturday, May 21, and in the process also welcome home a celebrated native son.  
    The ceremony will include the honoring of college basketball coach Jim Morris, a 500-game winner, and the celebration of small town America.    The performance by the group, The String Beans, has ties to the community through the Bright family of Shubert. The activities will be held on May 21, 2016 in Stella, Nebraska and will follow this agenda:

7-8:00 a.m.  Registration for 5K Run

8:00  5K Run and 1-Mile Run sponsored by Jana Anderson. Proceeds to go to the Richardson County Cancer Fund and  The Mary Kay Foundation

9:00 Trolley tours of the parks and Arboretum

10:30  Dedication and honor ceremonies at the downtown Mini-Park

11:00 The String Beans performance at the Mini-Park

12-1:00  Lunch provided by the Stella Volunteer Department and the Stella  Community Church at the Stella Fire Hall

Falls City Travelers off to a spectacular start

By Lori Gottula
The Falls City Travelers’ 18-and-under team started its season with a bang this weekend, finishing second in the Spring Spectacular class B tournament in Kansas City, MO. The girls were sponsored this weekend by Al Lipka and Brandy Coulter (sister to coach Matt Bletscher) of Evans Lipka & Associates, Lincoln.
The girls played four games in pool play on Saturday and ended the day 4-0, including two come-from-behind victories. Pitchers Tayten O’Brien and Bailey Armbruster shared duties with 2 1/2 games and 1 1/2 games respectively. First baseman/third baseman Josie Lunsford had the only home run of the day, pounding out her homer in the second game of the tourney against the Pleasant Hill Venom softball club.
On Sunday, the Travelers drew a bye in the first round, but saw action at eleven a.m. when they faced off again against the Venom team. Tayten O’Brien took on the pitching duties, and the Travelers won that game in a hard-fought 5 to 4 contest, advancing to the championship game against the Kansas City Maniacs.
In the second inning of the championship game, the score was tied at twos when pitcher Tayten O’Brien stepped off the mound into a hole of sorts, fired the pitch, and buckled at the knee. The batter swung, and plopped a slow grounder back to Tayten, who fielded it on her knees, fired the ball to first, then collapsed in the dirt with a knee injury.
The Travelers then fought a hard contest against the Maniacs with pitchers Bailey Armbruster and Meredith Poppe, but the girls’ focus was on their teammate, so the Maniacs drilled in five runs to take the lead 7 to 2. The Travelers never gave up, though. They battled back in the final inning, adding two runs and loading the bases before a final pop-up to shortstop ended the game. The Travelers received the runner-up trophy, and the girls earned individual trophies in their first tourney of the year.

Record 709 entries in 65th Annual GFWC Art Show

By Lori Gottula
The General Federation of Women’s Clubs has been sponsoring an area student art contest in Falls City for 65 years now, and this year’s competition soared with entries. According to contest director, Rita Seid, the competition attracted a record number of 709 entries from seven area schools, K – 12.  The previous record was just under 600. The schools that participated were: Falls City High School, FC Sacred Heart, Humboldt-TR-S, FC Middle School, South and North Schools, and the Kolbe Academy (home school).
Now in her seventh year as director of the contest, Seid has built the program into a GFWC-recognized powerhouse of student art work. The contest used to average around 200 entries. Obviously, it has grown substantially since she took over.  
“I believe that the large increase in entries this year was directly due to the Falls City Public Schools’ decision to hire a full-time art teacher for the elementary schools,” Seid said. “The submission numbers from North and South Schools just exploded.”     
The contest is sponsored by the GFWC, and held at the Falls City Library and Arts Center. On Wednesday evening, a reception was held for the students and their parents, so that everyone could see the entries, and the pieces submitted. Parents and students also wanted to see the works done by the winners!  
Sarah Thiltges, a senior with the Kolbe Academy (a Catholic home-schoolingprogram), won “Best of Show” with her pencil drawing depicting pop star Harry Styles. That means that judges Pat Steinman and Diana Rieschick selected her submission as the best out of 709 entries.
The other artists in the high school age group who were named best of category in their divisions were: Madison Huppert, sophomore, FCSH, colored pencils/pastels/crayons; Lauren Parrish, sophomore, FCSH, drawing/pencil; Austin Cochran, junior, FC High, drawing/pen and ink; Brittany Webster, junior, FC High, oil/acrylic; Sara Wertenberger, sophomore, FCSH, watercolor/tempera; Tayten O’Brien, junior, FC High, 2D/mixed media; Greg Folsom, senior, FC High, 3D/mixed media; Halee Roseberry, junior, FC High, graphic design/2D design/computer-generated; Sara Wertenberger, sophomore, FCSH, print-making.    
In the seventh and eighth grade divisions, Dillion Ebel, an eighth grader at FCMS, received the best of category award for his pencil drawing. Jayden Kreifels, a seventh grader at FCMS, submitted a pencil drawing that won best of category for the seventh grade.        
    The first place winners in the K – 6 divisions were: Kindergarten, Tanner Jackson, North; first grade, Ellery Vonderschmidt, FCSH; second grade, Kloie Berger, North; third grade, Kaitlynn Kirkendall, South; fourth grade, Jessica Jones, South; fifth grade, Gaby Niedfeldt, South; sixth grade, Ella Heineman, FCMS.
    The rest of the winners are listed below. An asterisk (*) means that the designated submission will represent this area in the state competition sponsored by the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. That contest will be held during the NFWC’s state convention in Omaha on April 14-16. Seid will deliver the pieces that qualified for state.
    Seid she would like to thank June Bowers and Esther Halbert for helping to hang the display, and Patty Kiekhafer for helping collect the artwork. She would also like to thank those who provided cookies and beverages for the reception, and those who donated prizes for the winners. Those donors were: Breezy Hill Café, Lori and Randy Gottula, Frontier Bank, Schulenberg Bakery, Ms. Beasley’s Dessert Shoppe, Lem’s Northvue Café, Stone Street Arts and Sonic Drive-In.
    The art will continue to hang in the Stalder Gallery at the Library and Arts Center through March 17. Drop by during library hours to view the work done by our talented students. For more information, contact Seid at 402-245-7237.
    Those who placed in each category are mentioned below, along with their grades and the schools that each represented. An asterisk denotes the winner as a state qualifier.
    Pencil/Pastels/Crayons: Best of category, Madison Huppert*, 10, FCSH; First place, Jonny Jones*, 9, FC High; Second place, Abby Fiegener, 10, FCSH; Third place, Keith Salimo, 11, FCSH; Honorable Mentions, Randee Witt, 9, FCSH; Ciara Catlin, 9, FCSH; Austin Sells, 9, FCSH.            
    Drawing/Pencil: Best of Category, Lauren Parrish*, 10, FCSH; First place, Teresa Morehead*, 9, FCSH; Second place, Sarah Thiltges, 12, Kolbe Academy; Third place, Barbara Wilhide*, 11, FC High; Honorable mention: Ahren Ebel, 9, FCSH; Chloe Schock, 9, FCSH; Maggie Goltz, 12, FCSH; and Marina Haralabidis, 10, FCSH.
    Drawing/Pen and Ink: Best of category, Austin Cochran*, 11, FC High; First place, Austin Cochran, 11, FC High; Second place, Louise Hamilton*, 12, FCSH; Third place, Emmet Kirkendall*, 10, FC High; Honorable mention: Ethan Beckner*, 9, FC High.  
    Oil/Acrylic: Best of category, Brittany Webster*, 11, FC High; First place, Jade Hill, 11, FCSH; Second place, Taylor Bachman, 11, FC High; Third place, Kayelee Mosiman*, 10, FC High; Honorable mention: Leslie Vitosh, 10, FC High; Haylee Vice, 10, FC High.
    Watercolor/Tempera: Best of category, Sara Wertenberger*, 10, FCSH; First place, Taylor Bachman*, 11, FC High; Second place, Emily Gonnella*, 12, HTRS; Third place, Lauren Bierman, 12, FC High.
    2D/Mixed Media: Best of category, Tayten O’Brien*, 11, FC High; First place, Bailey  Gilkerson*, 11, FC High; Peyton Campbell, 11, FC High; Savannah Davis, 11, FC High; Honorable mention: Josie Nolte*, 11, FC High; Kayly Leafty*, 12, FC High. 3D/Mixed Media: Best of category, Greg Folsom*, 12, FCHS; First place, Avery Scott, 12, FC High; Second place, Greg Folsom, 12, FC High; Third place, Bailey Coonce*, 11, FCSH; Honorable mention: Thea Schulenberg, 11, FCSH.
    Graphic Design/2DDesign/ Computer Generated: Best of category, Halee Roseberry*, 11, FC High; First place, Mercedes Koosier*, 9, FC High; Second place, Savannah Davis, 11, FC High; Third place, Jonny Jones, 9, FC High; Honorable mention: Jordyn Curtis, 9, FC High; Cece Coral, 9, FC High.
    Print Making: Best of category, Sara Wertenberger*, 10, FCSH; First place, Katie Crofford*, 12, FC High; Second place, Tanner Cromer*, 9, FCSH; Third place, Tayler Ruskamp, 9, HTRS; Honorable mentions: Brookelynne Patnode, 9, FC High; Catie Cooper, 12, FCSH.
    Eighth grade: Best of category, Dillon Ebel*, FCMS; First place, Trey Drake*, HTRS; Second place, Ian Mahs, HTRS; Third place, Paige Stamper*, FCSH; Honorable mention: Hannah Feighner*, FCMS; Trey McAfee, FCMS; Allyssa Mez, FCMS; Kailyn Frederick, FCMS.
    Seventh grade: Best of category, Jayden Kreifels*, FCMS; First place, Lukas Butler*, FCMS; Second place, Paige McCartney*, FCMS; Third place, Zoe Ebel, FCMS; Honorable mention: Dylan Vice, FCMS; Brenna Leyden, FCMS.     
    Sixth grade: First place, Ella Heineman*, FCMS; Second place, Abigail Boatright, FCMS; Third place, Hunter Bauman, FCSH; Honorable mention: Taryn Coronado, FCMS.
    Fifth grade: First place, Gaby Niedfeldt*, FC South; Second place, Brooke Simon, FC South, Third place, Caleb Hamilton, FC South, Honorable mention: Emily Thrash, FC South, Madison Jones, FCSH.
    Fourth grade: First place, Jessica Jones*, South; Second place, Remington Frank, South; Third place, Hannah Berger, South; Honorable mention: Nevada West, South; Zane Ebel, FC South; Mikaela Hawley, South; Grace Morris, South.
    Third grade: First place, Kaitlynn Kirkendall*, South; Second place, Robert Gilkerson, South; Third place, Jentry Lechtenberg, FCSH; Honorable mentions, Henry  Rottinghaus, FCSH; Olivia Frederick, South; Brayden Hatchcock, South.     
    Second grade: First place; Kloie Berger*, North; Second place, Brock Niedfeldt, North; Third place, Ella Glathar, North; Honorable mention: Brooklyn Denton, North; Brock Niedfeldt, North; Kyler Sipple, FCSH; Chaelee Schmidt, FCSH.
    First grade: First place, Ellery Vonderschmidt*, FCSH; Second place, Harley Sutton, North; Third place, Gabi Young, North; Honorable mention: Hallie Jones, FCSH.
    Kindergarten: First place, Tanner Jackson*, North, Second place, Isabella Johansen, North; Third place, Reagan McNeely, North; Honorable mention: Madalynn Hawley, North; Emma Frederick, North; Farrah Wissler, North.