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Evan Nordstrom, Fremont Tribune 

The Fremont Bergan girls basketball team celebrates during the C2-2 girls high school basketball subdistrict final Thursday night at Wahoo High School.

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Fremonter looks to grow equestrian vaulting club

Fremont resident Sarah Taylor, 12, had never heard of horse vaulting. But she heard the word “horse” and leapt at the chance.

The Johnson Crossing sixth grader got her first opportunity to participate in the unique sport, where riders perform gymnastics on the backs of moving horses, through an auction at the Fremont Alliance Church. Fellow parishioner and Fremont resident Amanda Marshall, who recently started the Two Rivers vaulting club in Valley, offered a voucher for four lessons. Sarah had done gymnastics and dance in the past, but was more interested in getting involved with horses again after attending a summer camp that taught campers how to care for the animals.

“I thought, ‘oh my gosh I love these animals,’” Sarah said. “They’re so pretty and fluffy and amazing.”

Three years later, and Sarah’s still jumping and rolling on the back of Marshall’s vaulting horse, Wade, in a Valley barn on Ida Street. She’s a veteran in a sport that few of her friends have heard of—and that’s exactly how she likes it.

“Lots of kids play sports, lots of kids do gymnastics, lots of kids do whatever,” said Sarah’s mom, Keri Taylor. “This is something that I think she likes because she feels like it’s kind of her own thing.”

It may not be a secret for long—since Marshall first began the club in 2013, it’s grown from around 5 students to 26 students. They’ve participated in competitions in Minnesota and Iowa, and performed in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center. And while they’ve made an impact as the only vaulting club in Nebraska, Marshall hopes that the sport will spread, creating more opportunities for students across the state.

“It’ll be three years this August, and it just keeps doubling and doubling each year,” Marshall said. “I would love for another club to happen. It’s just a small sport that nobody knows about. Sarah will have an amazing advantage—she could start her own club when she’s out of college because she’ll have been doing it for so long.”

Marshall grew up outside of Arlington but went to Asbury University in Kentucky to study equine management. It was there that she discovered vaulting.

“I grew up riding and dancing—and those are like my two great loves—I wasn’t good enough to dance professionally or in college,” Marshall said. “That’s where I learned about vaulting. I was like, ‘oh, all this stuff that I spent 16 years of my life learning and getting good at, I can now use on a horse.”

As the president of the school’s vaulting club, Marshall got her first experience coaching by teaching children from the surrounding community—though she didn’t grow to really like coaching until later, while she was working at a horse farm in Kentucky.

In 2013, she bought Wade—a brown Clydesdale with three white legs and one brown one who was originally a logging horse. He could be one of the iconic Clydesdales in Budweiser commercials, Marshall said, if it weren’t for his one brown leg.

Shortly after, Marshall and her husband decided to move back to Nebraska, and used Wade to open Two Rivers Vaulting.

Marshall currently holds her lessons in a barn where horse owners can board their animals. There’s an indoor riding area where she practices with Wade and her students. During lessons, just outside the riding area, students can practice their gymnastics on a stable vault over a floor mat.

During a recent Monday afternoon class, Marshall stood in the center of the riding area taking on the role of the “lunger,” guiding Wade around in a circle. A team of girls, including Sarah, took turns practicing rolling, jumping or lifting each other up in team tricks.

There are two styles of competition. Compulsories involve performing specific movements on the horse, which are judged according to very strict standards of right and wrong. Freestyle is more influenced by dance and involve more performance. There are several difficulty levels in vaulting based on the speed of the horse, ranging from walking to different levels of cantering. Eight of Marshall’s students have advanced from “Walk” to “Trot.”

Vaulters can compete individually, in a pair—known as a pot de deux—or as a six-person team, with up to three riding a single horse at a time.

“That’s what makes vaulting unique from other equestrian sports because you do use other people with it,” Marshall said.

Taylor says that the team element of vaulting has made the sport more exciting to Sarah.

“I think these are great friendships,” Taylor said of the other girls who take lessons with Sarah. “Sarah really enjoys these girls and wants to spend time with them. So that’s been good too—just different people, different friends than she has, say, in school.”

But an even more appealing part of the sport is its accessibility. Marshall says that her lessons, which last an hour and a half at $16, are more affordable than private riding lessons.

It’s also easy for all ages. Students in Marshall’s “Mighty Mites” program range from ages 3 to 5. She’s also tried doing adult classes, but found it was difficult to get students to commit to regular schedules.

“I think lots of kids love horses, and they don’t have very many opportunities, unless you know somebody with a horse,” Taylor said. “You don’t have to be in dance or gymnastics or horses or anything to come and do this.”

Modern-day vaulting originated in Germany as a way to encourage children to ride horses, Marshall said. It’s safe enough to the point where vaulters don’t wear helmets—it’s actually considered safer without them, as they could increase the chance that a falling rider gets caught on something.

“The vaulter has no control over the horse, it’s all done by me or the lunger, and so it makes a safer way,” Marshall said. “That way they’re thinking about themselves, and how to move on the horse, versus trying to control the horse and trying to move with the horse.”

Two Rivers is the only vaulting club recognized in Nebraska by the American Vaulting Association, according to the association’s website. And with rapidly growing numbers, Marshall is planning to expand. She just got two new horses that she plans to start training in the spring—they are smaller.

Just got two new horses to start training in the spring. And she’s building an indoor arena by her Fremont house that will be geared solely to vaulting.

“It’ll be a little safer, a little cleaner, a little better atmosphere,” Marshall said.

She plans to break ground on that when the frost thaws, and hopes to open it in May or June.

Sarah meanwhile, is still perfecting her skills at the Trot level and trying to get the hang of standing when the horse is cantering. She’s thinking about becoming a coach to the little kids when she turns 16.

“They’re just so cute,” Sarah said. “They’re up for anything and they’re like, ‘I’m invincible.’”

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FHS culinary team has strong showing at regional competition

Students on Fremont High School’s culinary team qualified for a bronze medal and won an award for creating the best appetizer during a regional competition at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha on Feb. 23.

Their appetizer, pork and cabbage potstickers, was deemed the best of all those prepared by 32 competing teams and won in the “Best Starter” category, according to the team’s adviser and the head of the FHS Family and Consumer Sciences program, Carolee Cronin.

Teams had to prepare a starter, an entree and dessert during Institute for Culinary Arts Regional Competition, in 60 minutes.

For its entree, the team cooked teriyaki flatiron steak with root mash and veggie bundles, and for dessert, it cooked white chocolate passion fruit mousse.

The team included seniors Maria Bernal and Alyssa Dockerty and juniors Zac Depue and Caitlyn Timm.

The FHS team didn’t qualify for the state competition later this week, but the bronze medal and win in the “Best Starter” category were welcome accomplishments for a team consisting solely of first-time competitors.

While Fremont has traditionally participated in culinary arts competitions, it was the first time anyone on the team, including Cronin, had ever participated.

Cronin said the team was “relieved and very proud.”

“They were very very happy because they really didn’t have any idea what to expect, none of us had ever been to a culinary competition, let alone participated in it,” Cronin said.

Cronin believes that Depue and Timm will continue on with the team next year.

“It’ll be really helpful next year having that experience, kids who have had that experience and leadership on the team,” Cronin said.

Cronin said that the kids likely benefited from working with the competition’s judges, which included experienced chefs.

“To be 18 years old and be preparing something in front of two people who are probably maybe 24 inches away from you and asking you questions, they were just so focused and they did such a good job,” Cronin said. “They were scored by very highly accomplished chefs in the industry. They did such a great job, I’m so proud of them.”

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City Council introduces SunRidge Place zoning change

The Fremont City Council during its Tuesday evening meeting voted to introduce and hold the first reading of an ordinance that would shift the zoning of a parcel of land within the proposed SunRidge Place housing development on the east side of Fremont.

The approximately 4.8 acres of land, located near the corner of E. Military Avenue and Luther Road, is currently zoned as RR Rural Residential and with the passage of the ordinance would be zoned as GC General Commercial.

SunRidge Place is a proposed multi-use development of Don Peterson & Associates, which has plans for approximately 240 units of apartments, 75 townhomes, 46 duplexes and 112 single family homes.

Along with residential housing, the proposed development is also planned to include commercial space.

While the ordinance was introduced, by a 5-3 vote from the Council, a second and third vote and reading will be needed for the ordinance to be passed. It would be implemented 15 days after the passage.

Councilmembers Linda McClain, Susan Jacobus, and Matt Bechtel voted no.

During the public hearing on the matter several members of the public raised concerns over the proposed zoning shift, citing concerns of potential student safety issues, especially due to the potential for increased traffic in the area.

“We are in a unique position where we can control the development around our middle school (Fremont Middle School), and the main issues about the commercial property would be the added traffic. Single family homes, duplexes, and residential apartments do not pose the same safety risks a convenience store or any other commercial property will,” local resident Mark Jensen said. “Anyone who has been out there to drop off or pick up children understands the dangers of the traffic and congestion in the area, and these safety issues would only increase with the addition of a commercial property.”

Dave Mitchell of Yost Law Firm, who spoke on behalf of Don Peterson & Associates at the meeting, addressed the concerns about traffic brought forth by members of the public.

He noted that the proposed zoning ordinance is just the first step in the use planning for the property, and that many steps – including a traffic and drainage study – would have to take place before any development begins on the property.

“As far as traffic concerns, the school has in fact weighed in on this issue and there is no evidence to indicate that one business or one retail area is going to adversely impact that entire corridor,” Mitchell added. “The traffic intensity in that area takes place in the mornings and again in the afternoons and subsides dramatically just as it does in all other areas of our community where we have schools, special events, and church gatherings from time to time.”

Along with the concerns about student safety related to increased traffic in the area, another local resident, Barbara Fanning, cited concerns about the potential for human trafficking due to the proposed commercial property’s proximity to Fremont Middle School and Highway 275.

“I have attended several conferences in and out of the state of Nebraska and the stories I have heard are horrific, and a convenience store quick shop built near a middle school — predators could sit at the convenience store and watch the children as they are walking to and from the school,” she said. “Do you want anything like this to happen to a child in Fremont?”

Councilmember Jacobus also raised concerns about the potential for human trafficking involved with developing a commercial property near Fremont Middle School, along with the proximity to Highway 275.

“This four lane, with a convenience store, with a middle school — you are creating a perfect storm. We already have issues here in Fremont with this, we already have runaways that get involved with this…” she said. “When you have 1,000 students you have to stop and take a look at what the enticement is; this is a huge issue in the state of Nebraska. We have to stop and take a look at the vulnerability of our students.”

Council President Scott Schaller, who ultimately voted to introduce the ordinance, said the Council has been working with the Coalition on Human Trafficking to address the issue locally.

“We started working with the organization for human trafficking of students in town, the librarian is starting programs with the school systems and a lot of that stuff is being addressed,” he said. “A lot of that stuff is relevant, I mean it is a serious issue in the state of Nebraska, I’m not going to take away from that.”

He also pointed to a number of other gas stations and convenience stores throughout Fremont and their proximity to areas where youth congregate.

“I can understand a truck stop out by Valley or even Sapp Brothers out north of town, I can understand that,” he said. “Most of these small gas stations, where there are gas stations on Military, on 23rd, on Bell Street, on Broad Street they are all within places where there are youth. There are parks and churches and everything else, we have those gas stations all over town. So most of those gas stations are feeding that area or development in Fremont and that is generally what they are for.”

Another issue raised by local resident Brad Yerger focused on a perceived conflict of interest in regards to Mayor Scott Getzschman’s landlord-tenant relationship with Don Peterson & Associates’ Marlin Brabec. Getzschman was the deciding vote to amend the future land-use plan to designate the property as General Commercial at the City Council meeting on Jan. 30. He said if it is a conflict of interest, Getzschman’s vote should be rescinded and therefore change the land-use map result.

“(The land-use map result) would either stand or fail depending on (Getzschman’s) vote so I would like the city attorney to go on public record tonight as to what were his findings and did that vote stand or fail. ...”

Getzschman and Oliver Glass, who is currently serving as temporary legal counsel for the city, addressed the potential conflict of interest.

“Without getting into in-depth legal analysis, the answer that I came up with independently of the attorney for which the mayor intends to read his statement, was that no, a conflict does not exist,” Glass said.

Mayor Getzschman also addressed the issue, entering into the record a letter from attorney Thomas Huston of Cline Williams Wright Johnson & Oldfather LLP providing the firm’s legal opinion on the matter.

“Marlin Brabec is a principal of Don Peterson & Associates, Mr. Brabec is currently leasing a house from you pursuant to a lease. You asked for guidance whether this landlord-tenant relationship constitutes a conflict of interest which would disqualify you from voting on this matter. The short answer is no,” Getzschman recited from the letter. “Since you have no financial interest in the rezoning, you have no conflict of interest which warrants an abstention on this matter. It is our opinion that your landlord-tenant relationship with Mr. Brabec is an immaterial interest. Mr. Brabec’s obligation to pay rent under the residential lease for the house is not dependent upon any public vote or change or zone application.”

Tribune files