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Franklin wins fall state tournament in esports debut

Junior Evan Kolami almost didn’t participate in Franklin High School’s inaugural entry in the esports program, but his friends talked him into it and they went on to win their division Saturday at the Nebraska Schools eSports Association fall state high school tournament at Hastings College.

Kolami said he was focused on athletic programs like cross country and basketball and wasn’t sure if he would have the time in his schedule for another activity.

His friends, fellow juniors Gregory Boettcher and Levi Meade, convinced Kolami to join the newly-created esports team at Franklin High School to take their joy of the video game “Rocket League” to the next level.

“We’ve been playing since the fourth or fifth grade,” Meade said. “We’ve developed teamwork and communication and that helps.”

Competitors from across the state converged at the Hastings College Esports Arena in the Gray Center Friday and Saturday to test their video game skills against the top high school players in more than 70 NSeSA schools.

It was the first state tournament hosted by Hastings College Esports, which began its first full year of collegiate varsity competition this fall.

Matt Hinkel, NSeSA board president and teacher at Grand Island Northwest, said it was the fourth year of the fall season tournament, which involved weekly matches and playoffs to qualify.

NSeSA’s state competition includes three video games: “Valorant” is a five-person team game, “Rocket League” is a three-person team game and “Smash Brothers Ultimate” is a single-player combat game.

In each of four divisions based on school size, the top four teams for “Rocket League” and “Valorant,” and the top eight “Smash Brothers Ultimate” players qualified to compete in the fall tournament.

NSeSA will have two more state tournaments this year for the winter and spring seasons.

The Franklin High School Rocket League team qualified as well as Boettcher individually for “Smash Brothers Ultimate.” Boettcher won third place in that tournament.

“Rocket League” is a soccer-style video game in which competitors use vehicles to strike the game ball (which is about the same size as the vehicles) through the goal.

Cars race across the field or up walls of the arena to pass the ball between players or take a shot at the goal. Players have five minutes to rack up points with ties putting a game into overtime until one side scores a tie-breaking goal.

Franklin battled Walthill in the first match, with the best three of five games winning the match. Walthill scored first in the first 50 seconds of the first game.

Franklin made a goal to tie up the game with 1:47 in the game. Walthill answered back with a second point 26 seconds later. Franklin managed a second point with 52 seconds remaining to push the round into overtime.

Franklin’s Meade made a goal off a rebound to win the game in 22 seconds.

In the second game, Boettcher scored first with 3:06 left. Walthill tied up the match with 2:08 to go and Franklin retook the lead a minute later. With 34 seconds in the game, Walthill scored a second point to force another overtime point.

Meade took a shot at 38 seconds into overtime and the ball bounced off the frame around the goal, but Boettcher was there to push the rebound in to win the game.

By the third game, the Franklin team started to settle in and Boettcher scored in the first six seconds of the match. Franklin kept up the pressure, scoring four unanswered points to take the match 5-0 and earning a spot in the final round.

After the first match, Kolami said the team was slow to start off as they tried to get used to depth perception difference from the screens being closer in the esports arena than what they are used to at home.

“Everyone is starting to get used to it,” he said.

Franklin faced Eustis-Farnam in the finals match.

Meade knocked in the team’s first goal about 40 seconds into the first round, followed 50 seconds later with a point from Boettcher.

Kolami moved up from his defensive position to press the attack and scored the team’s third point with 3:05 left in the match.

Seconds after the next kick-off, Eustis-Farnam scored it’s first point to make the total 3-1.

Boettcher put one in the net off a pass with 2:16 to go. In a quick series of attacks by Franklin, Boettcher scored twice more mere seconds within one another to make the score 6-1.

With 50 seconds left in the round, Meade found the goal once more for the final score of 7-1.

In the second round, Boettcher drew first blood in the first minute of play after taking a defensive save from Meade and turning it into a long shot on goal before Eustis-Farnam could stop it.

Seventeen seconds later, Franklin pressed the attack into Eustis-Farnam territory with Kolami pushing a rebounding shot into the goal.

A Boettcher pass to Meade upped the score to 3-0 in favor of Franklin with 2:56 left to go in the round.

After the kick-off, Eustis-Farnam put the ball in the net to keep from being shut out in the round, but Franklin answered with three more points to push the final score to 6-1.

Boettcher again put up the first point in the third game, followed by a second in the first 30 seconds of play.

Meade added two more points to the score before Eustis-Farnam earned their first point with one minute to go taking the total to 4-1.

Meade added a fifth point to Franklin’s score with eight seconds left in the round followed by another goal by Boettcher at the buzzer for a game final of 6-1.

Boettcher said the three were excited to win the Division 4 tournament and making quick attacks on the goal was part of the strategy.

“In that game, you don’t want to give anyone space,” he said. “It makes it harder to score. We just tryied to keep playing faster. We know how to take shots from any speed of the game.”

Kolami said that in the three years the trio have played “Rocket League” together, they have learned each other’s strengths and can respond accordingly.

“We know each other’s play style,” he said. “Not everything is about scoring, but a lot of it is setting up to make those plays.”

Co-head coaches Phillip Baumgart and Doyle Hanshaw said the win capped a successful first year for Franklin’s esports program.

The two agreed to help start the program in addition to their regular duties as teachers in the school.

Baumgart coaches the school’s basketball and track teams. Hanshaw is the band director, speech coach and assistant golf coach.

Hanshaw said esports can open up opportunities at the collegiate level with more colleges offering scholarships for esport programs. Nine students were involved in the first year.

It also can help students stay involved at school, even if they aren’t inclined to join other team sports or clubs.

“We felt the time was right,” Hanshaw said. “We knew we could get more kids involved that may not get into other activities.”

Adam Boettcher, Franklin’s principal, said the district had been considering the idea of adding esports for three or four years, based on recent college visits.

“We couldn’t keep acting like gaming doesn’t exist,” he said. “Schools are offering scholarships. It’s a good opportunity for kids.”

Police: Gunman kills 5 at gay club, is subdued by patrons
As bullets tore through a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and wounding many more, one patron who’d been partying moments before rushed into action, grabbing a handgun from the suspect, hitting him with it and pinning him down until police arrived just minutes later
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A 22-year-old gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and leaving 25 injured before he was subdued by “heroic” patrons and arrested by police who arrived within minutes, authorities said Sunday.

The suspect in the Saturday night shooting at Club Q used an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon, a law enforcement official said. A handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered, according to the official, who could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The attack ended when a patron grabbed a handgun from the suspect and hit him with it, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told The Associated Press. The person who hit the gunman had him pinned down when police arrived, Suthers said.

“Had that individual not intervened this could have been exponentially more tragic,” Suthers said.

On its Facebook page, the club called it a “hate attack.” Investigators were still determining a motive and whether to prosecute it as a hate crime, said El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen. Charges against the suspect will likely include first-degree murder, he said.

Police identified the alleged gunman as Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was in custody and being treated for injuries.

Aldrich was arrested in 2021 after his mother reported he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, authorities said. They declined to elaborate on that arrest. No explosives were found, authorities said at the time, and The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported that prosecutors did not pursue any charges and that records were sealed.

Of the 25 injured, at least seven were in critical condition, authorities said. Some were hurt trying to flee, and it was unclear if all of the victims were shot, a police spokesperson said.

Suthers said there was “reason to hope” that all of those hospitalized would recover.

The shooting rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.

It was the sixth mass killing this month and came in a year when the nation was shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Authorities were called to Club Q at 11:57 p.m. Saturday with a report of a shooting, and the first officer arrived at midnight.

Joshua Thurman said he was in the club with about two dozen other people and was dancing when the shots began. He initially thought it was part of the music, until he heard another shot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.

Thurman, 34, said he ran with another person to a dressing room where someone already was hiding. They locked the door, turned off the lights and got on the floor but could hear the violence unfolding, including the gunman getting beaten up, he added.

“I could have lost my life — over what? What was the purpose?” he said as tears ran down his cheeks. “We were just enjoying ourselves. We weren’t out harming anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everybody else does.”

Detectives also were examining whether anyone had helped Aldrich before the attack, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said. He said patrons who intervened during the attack were “heroic” and owed a debt of gratitude for preventing more deaths.

Club Q is a gay and lesbian nightclub that features a drag show on Saturdays, according to its website. Club Q’s Facebook page said planned entertainment included a “punk and alternative show” preceding a birthday dance party, with a Sunday all-ages drag brunch.

Suthers noted that the club had operated for 21 years and had not reported any threats before Saturday’s attack.

Drag events have become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests recently as opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them, falsely claiming they’re used to “groom” children.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting and the FBI was assisting police with the investigation.

To substantiate a hate-crime charge against Aldrich, prosecutors would have to prove he was motivated by the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. So far, the suspect has not been cooperative in interviews with investigators and has not given them clear insight yet about the motivation for the attack, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shootings was not yet clear, “we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years.”

“Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence,” he said. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man in the United States to be elected governor in 2018, called the shooting “sickening.”

“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized,” Polis said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn.”

A makeshift memorial sprang up Sunday near the club, with flowers, a stuffed animal and candles and a sign saying “Love over hate” next to a rainbow-colored heart.

Seth Stang was buying flowers for the memorial when he was told that two of the dead were his friends. The 34-year-old transgender man said it was like having “a bucket of hot water getting dumped on you. ... I’m just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely.”

Ryan Johnson, who lives near the club and was there last month, said it was one of only two nightspots for the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs. “It’s kind of the go-to for pride,” the 26-year-old said of the club, which is tucked behind other businesses, including a bowling alley and a sandwich shop.

Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 located 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Denver, is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, as well as Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ rights. The group condemned the shooting and said it “exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart.”

In November 2015, three people were killed and eight wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when authorities say a gunman targeted the clinic because it performed abortions.

“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the club posted on Facebook. “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”

The CEO of a national LGBTQ-rights organization, Kevin Jennings of Lambda Legal, pleaded for tighter restrictions on guns.

“America’s toxic mix of bigotry and absurdly easy access to firearms means that such events are all too common and LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC communities, the Jewish community and other vulnerable populations pay the price again and again for our political leadership’s failure to act,” he said in a statement.

The shooting came during Transgender Awareness Week and just at the start of Sunday’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world are held to mourn and remember transgender people lost to violence.

In June, 31 members of the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and charged with conspiracy to riot at a Pride event. Experts warned that extremist groups could see anti-gay rhetoric as a call to action.

The previous month, a fundamentalist Idaho pastor told his small Boise congregation that gay, lesbian and transgender people should be executed by the government, which lined up with similar sermons from a Texas fundamentalist pastor.

Since 2006, there have been 523 mass killings and 2,727 deaths as of Nov. 19, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S.

Council gets update on proposed east Highway 6 project

Representatives from the Nebraska Department of Transportation provided more information about one major change to the proposed update for the entrance into east Hastings.

Mick Syslo, NDOT roadway design engineer, provided an update during the Hastings City Council work session on Monday about the Hastings Southeast project.

The Hastings Southeast project would reconstruct about 2.38 miles of U.S. Highway 6. The project would start 0.77 mile east of the junction of U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. Highways 281 and 34 (the corner otherwise known as J Street and Burlington Avenue) and would extend north on Elm Avenue, then east on South Street, to a point 0.24 mile east of Showboat Boulevard.

Construction would begin and/or end about 1,000 feet ahead of or beyond the actual project limits to accommodate temporary surfacing for phased construction. The project would include work at adjacent roadways.

Such a project has been discussed in Hastings for decades, and the Hastings City Council previously approved contributing 20% toward the project total. The current total estimated project cost is $35 million.

The project now includes a proposed roundabout at the intersection at Elm Avenue and South Street to allow for fluid traffic movement. Location of the roundabout would be slightly shifted to the southeast of the intersection to avoid impacts to the adjacent land and to Duncan Field at the northwest corner of the intersection.

NDOT representatives brought the idea of the roundabout to the council’s October 2021 work session, but there were a lot of questions at that time about the logistics of a roundabout so close to the BNSF Railway crossing.

NDOT representatives studied train blockages at the Elm Avenue crossing. The crossing averaged eight blockages a day, most of which were two minutes in duration. A few of the average eight blockages lasted five minutes, and one was extended.

Syslo presented a video simulation created by engineering consultant Olsson of a potential five-minute blockage.

During the blockage, vehicles were backed up to the roundabout.

The roundabout also would include a queue leading to the intersection to allow traffic to continue through the intersection even if vehicles are backed up to the roundabout.

The purpose of the proposed project is to reduce the congestion, improve the reliability of the transportation system, perpetuate the mobility of the traveling public, and promote the economic development of the city of Hastings. The need for the project is based on the condition of the existing roadway.

The project recently was scaled back from five lanes to three lanes for most of the corridor.

Funding for the proposed project would come from state and local funding sources and would include Build Nebraska Act funds.

Proposed improvements on this project would include removing the existing pavement and subgrade and constructing doweled concrete pavement with new curb and gutter on a foundation course over a prepared subgrade.

A new storm sewer collection system would be constructed on the urban portion of the project. The project is located within a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Post-construction Water Quality Treatment Best Management Practices for storm water run-off from new pavements would be incorporated into the design.

New 5-foot sidewalks and retaining walls would be constructed, along with curb ramps built to current federal and state standards.

Additional work would include resurfacing or reconstructing existing surfaced driveways and intersections. Permanent pavement markings would be applied to new surfacing. Traffic signals would be built, and existing street lights would be removed and replaced where warranted.

The proposed project would require the acquisition of additional property rights for construction throughout the project area, including new right-of-way, temporary easements, permanent easements, and control of access. Multiple commercial and residential relocations are anticipated. Access to adjacent properties would be maintained during construction but may be limited at times due to phasing requirements.

Council members expressed concern about the safety of the proposed pedestrian crossings.

Construction now is planned to begin in spring 2025 and be complete by spring 2027.

NDOT is requesting the council take action to approve support for the project, including exploring the possibility of a roundabout.

“Because hopefully you believe it is the right way to go, as well,” Syslo said.

City Director of Engineering Lee Vrooman expressed support for the project Monday.

The council discussed the possibility of taking action on a resolution addressing the project at the Jan. 9, 2023, meeting.

Acting on the resolution gives the state the opportunity to hold a public meeting to make sure the Nebraska Department of Transportation isn’t missing a critical factor.

If there’s a large group that’s against something or for something, Syslo said, it’s hoped the state could accommodate such a request.

“We’ve got to move forward with what we think is right, and we need to try to accommodate requests or impacts,” he said. “Public meetings are related to help share what we believe is right.”

Consumers could pay price if railroads, unions can't agree
Railroad engineers accepted their deal with the railroads that will deliver 24% raises but conductors rejected the contract
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OMAHA — Consumers could see higher gas prices and shortages of some of their favorite groceries during the winter holiday season if railroads and all of their unions can’t agree on new contracts by an early-December deadline that had already been pushed back.

The likelihood of a strike that would paralyze the nation’s rail traffic grew on Monday when the largest of the 12 rail unions, which represents mostly conductors, rejected management’s latest offering that included 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses. With four of the 12 unions that represent half of the 115,000 rail workers holding out for a better deal, it might fall to Congress to impose one to protect the U.S. economy.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said a rail strike “would cause enormous disruption” although retail stores are well stocked for the crucial holiday shopping season. It’s not clear what a strike would mean for packages because FedEx and UPS, which both rely on rail to some degree, haven’t commented in detail.

“Fortunately, this year’s holiday gifts have already landed on store shelves. But an interruption to rail transportation does pose a significant challenge to getting items like perishable food products and e-commerce shipments delivered on time, and it will undoubtedly add to the inflationary pressures already hitting the U.S. economy,” said Jess Dankert with the group that represents more than 200 major retailers.

Even getting close to the deadline could cause problems because railroads will freeze shipments of dangerous chemicals and perishable goods ahead of time. And commuters could be stranded if there is a strike because so many passenger railroads operate on tracks owned by the freight railroads.

Just about every industry could be affected because so many businesses need railroads to deliver their raw materials and completed products, and there aren’t enough trucks to pick up the slack.

Tom Madrecki with the Consumer Brands Association said a rail strike “would effectively bring hundreds of America’s largest food, beverage, household and personal care manufacturing operations to a halt in a matter of days as inputs and ingredients run out. On-shelf availability and accessibility will quickly drop, compounded by almost inevitable panic buying.”

There’s no immediate threat of a strike even though four unions have rejected deals the Biden administration helped broker before the original strike deadline in September. Those unions agreed to try to hash out a contract before a new Dec. 5 strike deadline. But those talks have deadlocked because the railroads refuse to add paid sick time to what they’ve already offered.

Railroad engineers voted Monday to join seven smaller unions in approving the deal, but conductors’ union rejected its contract, joining three unions that previously voted no.

It appears increasingly likely that Congress will have to settle the dispute. Lawmakers have the power to impose contract terms, and hundreds of business groups have urged Congress and President Joe Biden to be ready to intervene.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated to reporters on Monday that Biden believes “a shutdown is unacceptable” but that “the best option is still for the parties to resolve this themselves.”

Workers frustrated with the demanding schedules and deep job cuts in the industry pushed to reject these contracts because they wouldn’t do enough to resolve their quality-of-life concerns.

The deals for the engineers and conductors did include a promise to improve the scheduling of regular days off and negotiate the details of those schedules further at each railroad. Those two unions also received three unpaid days off a year to tend to medical needs as long they were scheduled at least 30 days in advance and the railroads said they wouldn’t penalize workers who were hospitalized.

The railroads also lost out on their bid to cut crew sizes to one person as part of the negotiations. But the conductors in the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union still narrowly rejected the deal. A small division of the SMART-TD union did approve it.

“The ball is now in the railroads’ court. Let’s see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them.”

Dennis Pierce, the president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, said the deal engineers ratified should help improve working conditions somewhat, but that the railroads must address workers’ frustrations, especially after they cut nearly one-third of their jobs over the past six years as they overhauled their operations.

“When you’ve got to offer $20,000 to get somebody to go to work for the railroad in Lincoln, Nebraska, you’ve got a problem. People used to stand in line there,” Pierce said. “The reason for that is the word is out that if you go to work here, you’re not going to ever see your family.”

The railroads maintain that the deals with the unions should closely follow the recommendations made this summer by a special panel of arbitrators Biden appointed. That’s part of the reason why they don’t want to offer paid sick time. Plus, the railroads say the unions have agreed over the years to forgo paid sick time in favor of higher pay and strong short-term disability benefits.

The unions say it is long overdue for the railroads to offer paid sick time and that the pandemic highlighted the need for it.

The group that negotiates on behalf of the railroads that include Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, BNSF, Kansas City Southern and CSX said Monday that the unions that rejected their deals shouldn’t expect to receive more than the Presidential Emergency Board of arbitrators recommended.

It’s unclear what Congress might do given the deep political divisions in Washington D.C. and a single lawmaker could hold up a resolution. But the head of the Association of American Railroads trade group, Ian Jefferies, said “if the remaining unions do not accept an agreement, Congress should be prepared to act and avoid a disastrous $2 billion a day hit to our economy.”