KENESAW — Madeline Adams celebrated her fourth birthday in a unique way — with bags of black, plastic rats.
“It’s something different,” said Stacy Adams, Madeline’s mom.
Madeline and her birthday group were trying Friday to fling the rats into one of the buckets sitting on the pitcher’s mound of the Kenesaw Public School’s baseball diamond. Madeline’s dad, Zach, and another person from the group helped hold the elastic band that was used to launch the rats from the edge of the diamond’s dirt.
Madeline’s birthday, like last year, fell on Wasenek Weekend, the annual community celebration for Kenesaw. Zach was competing in the Ribfest barbecue challenge Saturday evening.
At $1 a rat, local kids and parents tried to win one of the dozens of prizes that local businesses donated by either getting the rat into the bucket or as close as they could. The grand prize was $100, donated by the Adams County Bank. About 45 prizes were donated.
“I’ve got to make this count,” said Kyler Carraher, 13, as he got closer to the last rat in his stash.
While kids waited their turn to send the rats flying, their laughter was punctuated by an occasional squeak from the plastic toy being squeezed.
“Every small town girl’s dream — playing with the rats,” said Angela Keiser, whose daughterss Magdalene, 4, and Daphne, 6, carried armfuls of rats.
The event was hosted by the Kenesaw Music Parents group. The proceeds will go to purchasing new uniforms for the school’s band.
Paul Smith, president of the Kenesaw Music Parents, said the Rat-A-Pult competition started several years ago. Originally, the rats would float down a nearby creek and the first one to cross a finish line would win. Each rat has a number painted on its stomach to keep track of who bought what.
As the creek dried up, the music parents had to get creative with the 500 rats; Rat-A-Pult has been a part of Wasenek Weekend since then.
The Rat-A-Pult was part of the first day of events for Wasenek Weekend. Also on the baseball field, families were enjoying a cornhole tournament, a new event this year.
Project DC, a group from Kenesaw Public Schools, sold barbecue to help raise funds for their trip to Washington, D.C., and New York. SkillsUSA also supplied snow cones.
On Saturday, festivities will continue with a superhero themed fun run/walk, a pedal tractor pull, a treasure hunt and turtle races.
Food will be available almost continuously throughout the day, beginning with a pancake feed at the fire hall and a Mexican food truck for lunch.
For dinner, Ribfest will see about 13 teams compete for the best barbecue in Kenesaw. About 130 racks of ribs and 120 pounds of chicken quarters will be served at the fire hall.
Wasenek Weekend will end Sunday with a road rally, starting at the school and ending at The Silver Dollar.
With storm clouds overhead and rain expected for the evening, people started packing up chairs and tables about 30 minutes after Rat-A-Pult began.
Lexi Benson, an eighth-grader at Hastings Middle School, was trying to figure out how to make tense, synthetic music play while people played with her steady hand tester. She had already programmed a beep to play when the hand tool — a pen with copper wire sticking through and forming a loop — touched the copper wire suspended between two pieces of wood. A celebration sound played when someone made it to the end.
After 45 minutes of tape and more copper wire, she set up her game by having a start button on a computer to play the music.
Lexi made her project during the Hastings Middle School coding club, a twice-a-week summer program put together by Terry Julian, Hastings Public Schools technology facilitator. The club teaches kids how to code and experiment with different methods to achieve the result they want.
Thursday was the last day for the coding club this summer. The group made projects to present at the Hastings Middle School’s open house on Aug. 12.
During the club, kids use a small computer called a “makey makey.” The makey makey kit comes with wires and a USB connector that attaches to a computer. The kids then use Scratch, an online toolkit of preset commands, to code their project. Through Scratch, kids can make a specific action happen, like two pieces of wire touch.
The HMS Coding Club originally was started as “Girls Who Code,” but Julian said a few boys were interested and she didn’t want to stop anyone learning how to code. About four people went through the summer coding program.
Lexi has been coding since fifth grade with her elementary group. She said she wants to be a robotics technician when she grows up.
“It’s fun and interesting,” Lexi said. “I’m not set on one thing right now but this is something I like.”
While Lexi worked on her steady hand test, Beckett Hoshaw, a third-grader, worked on making piano. He laid pieces of tin foil on a piece of cardboard and set them in place with tape. Whenever someone touched a key, the makey makey detected the touch and told the computer to play a key.
There is a coding club at Beckett’s elementary school, but he said he wants to come to the middle school club.
“I want to come here because it’s harder,” Beckett said.
Julian is working to make coding more present in public schools because knowing how to code is becoming more important. She started the program after attending a Nebraska Educational Technology Association conference.
“I kept hearing about the need for coders and computer science and the ways that it develops kids with analytical thinking, problem solving and creativity,” Julian said.
After a few attempts starting coding clubs at elementary schools and the middle school, the clubs had difficulty staying alive because too few educators knew how to code, let alone teach it.
“During the school year, we just kind of dabbled in different stuff. With Girls Who Code, you’re supposed to come up with a project for your community, but we didn’t know enough about coding to get anything done,” Julian said.
This summer, Julian took a different approach and brought in CS First, a free coding toolkit made by Google. The CS First curriculum had daily projects and was structured to be more engaging for the students, she said.
With the program finishing up for the summer, Julian has seen the students grow more confident and creative. She said the kids now are able to solve problems themselves once they start a project.
“It’s bad when they’re smarter than you are,” Julian said.
Julian helps teach some coding to first- and second-graders with more other free programing software. The feedback has been positive and teachers have begun introducing coding on their own volition.
“I’ve been in at least two classrooms where teachers have gotten tears in their eyes and said ‘This student doesn’t get it in any other subject, and they’re over here helping other kids with their coding,’ ” Julian said.
Julian she would like to see the club grow and more groups like theirs get started in the community
“My dream is to get more opportunities in the community for anyone to learn how to do it, because it is such a needed field, and people seem to really enjoy it,” she said.
The Hastings Parks and Recreation Department is once again seeking participants for the Hastings Community Olympics, Aug. 23 and 24.
While the Community Olympics are still three weeks away, the deadline to register teams is Aug. 14 to allow for the printing of shirts.
Landon Arnold, recreation program coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Department, said team representatives can register in the Parks and Recreation Department office in the Hastings Community Center, 2015 W. Third St.
“We, of course, would like that before Aug. 14, but we will take registrations up to that date,” he said.
Knowing how many participants there is helps organizers plan larger events like the scavenger hunt.
Shirts will be handed out and the final schedule will be announced during the captains’ meeting Aug. 21.
Teams must have six people. It is recommended to have 10, however, due to some activities happening at the same time.
There are some changes from last year to the games included. Arnold talked to both teams last year — the Hastings Tribune and Pacha Soap — to gauge interest in the activities.
“We don’t want to do the same old thing every year because we won’t get anybody to come do it,” he said. “We want to make changes. We want to make it more fun.”
For instance, the spot shot basketball game will be replaced by knock out, which is more interactive and allows multiple teams to go at once.
“We just want to make sure everyone’s having a good time at the same time and no one’s just sitting there watching for too long,” Arnold said.
Ping-Pong will be replaced by pickleball.
“We’ve had great turnout with our pickleball program and realize it’s a pretty fun event,” Arnold said.
Pickleball is similar, but more active than Ping-Pong.
“We just want to get people moving and maybe even introduce a new game to them,” he said.
Pickleball has become more and more popular in Hastings. The Parks and Recreation Department regularly hosts pick up pickleball games in the Community Center.
“We have players out here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Right now we probably have 10 people here playing. It’s just getting bigger, bigger and bigger,” Arnold said during an interview Wednesday afternoon.
The Community Olympics could be a way to introduce even more people to the game.
The Parks and Recreation Department is getting a lot of interest with shares and comments on social media from people who say they plan to get a team together.
He said the parks department has reached out to several businesses.
“Again, the interest is there,” Arnold said. “Now we’re just waiting for people to act on it.”
It is easier to plan events the second year, he said.
He and Recreation Superintendent Ryan Martin received assistance from Ty and Hope LeBar — sports director and marketing director for the Hastings Family YMCA — in planning activities. The idea for archery came from YMCA representatives.
“It’s fun,” Arnold said of the planning process. “It keeps us up to date on the most popular games out right now for sure.”
Planning Community Olympic events allows for some creativity.
“It brings something to the traditional games you can add or change,” Arnold said. “It’s a lot of fun planning it.”
While it was disappointing to have just two teams compete the first year, Arnold said the goal of the Community Olympics is to bring the community together. He said it was still a positive interaction last year.
“We figured numbers would be low the first year,” Arnold said. “That’s just how it is with everything. The ultimate goal is to get people out and about and maybe interact with people they usually don’t from the community. We think that in turn will even strengthen the community and have people participate in more things around the community.”
7 p.m.: Knock Out: Community Center, 2015 W. Third St.
7:30 p.m.: Pickleball: Community Center, 2015 W. Third St.
8:30 p.m.: Bowling, Pastime Lanes, 1400 W. 18th St.
8:30 p.m.: Glow Golf: Hastings Family YMCA, 1220 W. 18th St.
9:30 p.m.: Quiz Bowl, Illusions Lounge at Pastime Lanes, 1400 W. 18th St.
9 a.m.: Key Log Roll, Lake Hastings
10 a.m.: Sand Volleyball, Libs Park
11 a.m.: Archery, Libs Park
11 a.m. to noon: Scavenger Hunt, around Hastings
12:30 p.m.: Capture the Flag, Libs Park
1:30 p.m.: Tug of War, Libs Park
The Hastings Economic Development Corp. announced in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers is coming to Hastings.
“Overall, people are excited to have some options — it’s something we heard,” HEDC Executive Director Michael Krings said of the public response to the announcement. “We’re glad they’re coming here and giving us a shot.”
TR Hospitality Group out of Wichita, Kansas, which owns other Freddy’s in the area, is developing the Freddy’s in Hastings.
The restaurant will be part of North Park Commons, at Osborne Drive East and 31st Street, near the Hampton Inn that is currently under construction.
The restaurant also will be in close proximity to My Place Hotel as well as the 84-unit Pioneer Trail Flats apartment complex, Osborne View Estates townhouses and single-family homes planned for the 93-acre North Park Commons development.
“This is a true mixed-use development,” Krings said. “All of the properties over there need to complement each other. Between the apartments and the homes that are going to be there and then the hotels and everything else, it kind of all fits together with what we’re trying to do there and making it a nice part of the community to live in.”
He couldn’t speak to a specific timeline for the restaurant.
“I’d like to think we could be looking at something late fall, maybe first part of next year,” he said. “It depends on how quick they can get going on it.”