Advice to New Readers

Welcome to The Last Train!  If you’re a new reader, my advice would be to begin by reading the “Introduction” and then work your way up the topics from oldest to newest (see the recent posts on the right).  That way you will start from the beginning of this journey rather than joining on a later stop.  Welcome aboard…and I hope you become a regular “rider” on The Last Train!

Jeff Schmahl

Introduction

A week ago at the end of a 30-minute phone conversation, a good friend of mine said, “you should start writing, it would be good for you, and you’re a good writer.”  Terry Pettit has written several books and has a mind that looks at life from just a slightly different perspective.  But in turning that crystal ever so slightly like Terry does, an array of light exposes an entirely different vantage point and I have always loved to discuss, argue, laugh, and be enriched in my time with him. Continue reading

My Best Investment

Investments.  As we grow older, financial investments are something we think about more and more.  But in my opinion, influencing and helping young people is the best investment we can make.

When HuskerVision was started in 1994, I made the decision to hire University of Nebraska students and they made up more than 75percent of our staff.  As a graduate of the Broadcast Journalism School at Nebraska, it was my chance to give back and help these students gain valuable experience that would help them obtain good jobs in an extremely competitive industry.

We invested a lot of time training these students and we gave them a lot of responsibility in all aspects of our many HuskerVision productions.  Most caught on quickly and when they graduated, HuskerVision students were able to get very good jobs as a result of their vast experience.

In my 10 years at Nebraska, we hired nearly 100 students and they went on to get jobs at ESPN, ABC news, CBS, Hollywood, the U.S. Olympic Committee, local television stations, video production companies, and most of all, in the big screen industry.

Some of the college and professional teams that have had their big screen and video production departments led by former HuskerVision students include: Arkansas, Auburn, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas A&M, the Houston Rockets, Kansas City Royals, New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Pelicans, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers.

There are dozens of success stories of HuskerVision students and here is one of my favorites.

Michaela Dowd grew up in Omaha and started working for HuskerVision during her junior year at Nebraska in 1997.  Michaela didn’t have much of a background in sports but I could tell she was smart and had a passion for broadcast journalism.  It didn’t take long for Michaela to also show that she had a talent for shooting and editing video as well as writing and producing video features and highlight tapes.

For the 1998 football season, one of the new features I wanted to introduce to Nebraska fans was “Football Physics.”  To do so, we needed a University of Nebraska Physics Professor who would be good on camera, was knowledgeable about football, and would be passionate about working on this feature.  I called the head of the Physics Department but didn’t really get anywhere.  So I sent Michaela over to talk with secretaries and students to see if there was a perfect professor for Football Physics.

Michaela came back a couple hours later very excited that she had indeed found our man, Dr. Tim Gay.  I asked Michaela if she wanted to produce our Football Physics feature and she enthusiastically said “yes.”

Over the next two seasons, Football Physics became a fan favorite.  When the feature played on the HuskerVision screens, Memorial Stadium went eerily quiet as the 76,000 fans were taught a new lesson from Dr. Gay on how physics related to the game of football.

Dr. Gay became a celebrity and not just in Nebraska.  ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings did a feature on Football Physics in 1999.  There was a front page article in the Wall Street Journal and then the NFL came calling and Dr. Gay was soon doing Football Physics features for NFL films.  Dr. Gay has also written a book called “Football Physics.”  Recently, as concerns have grown over concussions in football, Dr. Gay has testified before Congress as an expert on the physical impacts of the game.

As for Michaela, ABC News was so impressed with her when they came to Lincoln to do the piece on World News Tonight that they offered her a job upon graduation.  So for the last 15 years, Michaela has lived in New York City where she has worked with the likes of Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Peter Jennings.  She is currently a Producer, Editor, and Associate Director at ABC and is producing segments for the “What Would You Do” television show.

Michaela also has her own free-lance still photography business and all of the pictures on the Schmackary’s website were shot by her.


Football Physics feature with Dr. Tim Gay.

There are many similar success stories which makes me one proud “papa.”

It has been a thrill to watch these HuskerVision “alumni” grow and become leaders…and the notes, e-mails, and calls that I’ve received the past several months have meant the world to me.

Michelle Glover, Director of RazorVision Productions at the University of Arkansas, wrote the following:

“You gave me an opportunity at HuskerVision when I was being told I had no business working in sports production.  You definitely have the gift of seeing things in people they couldn’t see themselves.  I think this is evident by the number of talented people you have helped along the way as a friend, mentor, and boss.  I consider you all of the above and as I try to lead a group of people, your words always ring true.  Hire superstars, surround yourself with the best.  When you started that tradition at HuskerVision, you built the foundation we are all trying to emulate.  I hope you know how many lives you’ve touched and the difference you’ve made.  Even though we may not be there with you every day as you are fighting your fight; please know you have an army behind you cheering for you and praying for your recovery.  With love and prayer, Michelle.”

Investing in young people…the dividends are fantastic!

huskervision alumniHuskerVision alumni at the 2014 IDEA conference supporting their old boss.

Girls of HuskervisionThree of the “women of HuskerVision”  Bobbi Ullman (U.S. Olympic Committee), Michaela Dowd (ABC News), and Michelle Glover (Arkansas).


Medical/Personal Update:

A week ago, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the IDEA conference in Dallas.  IDEA is an organization made up of big screen operators from the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and Universities.  I also received a special honor from IDEA…more on that next week.

As for my health, a continued big thumbs up!  I even shot a one over par 73 at the challenging Ballyowen course this week.  So much for getting sympathy strokes from my golf buddies anymore.


Next Stop: My personal life philosophy

Where have all the Leaders gone?

After a lot of bad news in March and April, I’m really thankful for all the good news in the last two months.  The chemotherapy is doing its job of shrinking my tumors, my side effects from chemo have been minimal…and the Last Train is chugging along quite nicely.  We are up to 1,963 “riders” on the Last Train and it continues to grow by the day.

The opposite of follower is leader…and while I don’t consider myself to be the “leader” of those following this blog…I am trying to set a good example and unlike Charles Barkley, I am also willing to be a role model.

I always try to be a positive person, but when it comes to leadership in our country, I feel we’re going in the wrong direction.  When I look at our government agencies, our schools, corporations, and families, I think leadership has gotten weaker in the last 25 years and for sure in the last 50 or 60 years.

But I also see a lot of positive leaders…positive role models…and I’d like to tell you about the two best leaders that I have worked under, Bob Gates and Bill Byrne.

Robert M. Gates became a household name as the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama.  Prior to that appointment, he was President of Texas A&M University.

While I didn’t work directly under Dr. Gates, I was around him enough and observed his actions to get a good picture of his leadership style.

The most memorable time I spent with Dr. Gates was the night before the Texas A&M-Missouri football game in Columbia.  Eight of us in the Athletic Department spent the evening with Dr. Gates and his wife Becky.  While having drinks in his hotel suite before dinner, Dr. Gates was telling White House stories from the past when he was Director of the CIA.  Being a small town kid from Nebraska, it was thrilling to hear about decisions that Dr. Gates was involved in that affected the history of our country.

Bob Gates is the most intelligent person I’ve ever been around.  His knowledge of history and world affairs is incredible and he possesses an incredible memory.  As a leader, he surrounded himself with other talented leaders and then he let those people do their jobs.  More than once, I heard Dr. Gates say at meetings when the discussion involved Athletics, “Bill, you’re the Athletic Director, what do you think we should do?”  And while Dr. Gates was not afraid to disagree, he almost always took Bill’s valued advice.

Dr. Gates also had the courage to make tough decisions.  He cared about the people who worked for him.  As Secretary of Defense, when his decisions led to the death of United States soldiers, he showed immense compassion for the families and took responsibility for his actions.

In working under Bill Byrne for 20 years, I saw many of the same attributes.  Compassion, caring, courage…never afraid to make the tough decisions…but always listening to the advice of those he had hired to help lead the Athletic Departments at Nebraska and Texas A&M.

I loved walking around the Athletic Department and campus with Bill.  He would say “hi” to almost everyone and never hesitated to stop and talk.  He knew the names of custodians, ticket takers, ushers…the lowest paid people on staff.  He let those folks know that he cared about them and appreciated the jobs that they were doing.  In Bill’s eyes, everyone was an important part of the team.

Bill was never afraid to hold people accountable to do their jobs, but he was also always quick to compliment, show his appreciation, and give credit to his employees after a job well done.

There are many things that comprise great leadership…but here are the attributes I think are most important:

  • Care about the people you are leading.  It is a big responsibility to have power and influence over another person’s life…the best leaders don’t become arrogant they are humbled by that responsibility.
  • Challenge those you lead to become better, but also encourage and compliment them along the way.
  • Have a vision.  If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.
  • Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions.  As a leader…and as a parent…you can’t always take the friendship route, you have to be willing to take a stand and make decisions based on your convictions.
  • Last but not least, lead by example.  Your words mean very little if your character does not reflect what you say.

Medical/Personal update:

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person and have loved making short-term and long-term plans/goals for my life.  But now with my future so much up in the air, I have had a hard time with any long-term planning.

As a result, I’m taking things more one-month at a time.  In order to stay active, I’ve been golfing more and even walked 18 holes twice this past week.  One of the rounds was at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, the 4th ranked course in the world.  What a thrill it was to play there with three great friends from Texas.

On July 31st, I’ll play what many consider the best golf course in the world, Pine Valley.  The next day, it’s off to Grand Cayman for a week where Zach and I will check scuba diving off our “bucket list.”  Maria will stick with snorkeling and enjoying Pina Coladas on the beach.

In my all-time favorite movie, Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman says, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”  I choose living…and I love staying busy!

shawshank-redemption-quotes-e1351437776321