Harrison Hruby brought his curling shoes to Lincoln, just in case.
The Bismarck, North Dakota, native had been introduced to the sport in middle school and played throughout high school at the town’s local curling club. But when he enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he wasn’t sure whether he would have an opportunity to continue competing.
He was happy to learn soon after making the move that Nebraska does indeed have a curling team, and a good one at that — the team is coming off a second-place finish at last year’s national championships in Utica, New York.
“It’s been awesome just to see how many people here are curious about the sport and want to play,” Hruby said earlier this week before a practice at the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center.
In curling, players slide stones on a sheet of ice toward a target area including four circles. Each team tries to get more of its stones closer to the center of the target than the other team.
If you watch the action during the Winter Olympics, you'll see the process of sweeping — yes, brooms are involved — and strategy.
Hruby, now a junior and president of the Nebraska Curling Club, says he feels Nebraska is in good position to return to the national championships this year, as it has every year since the club’s formation in 2007. The group got a boost from last weekend’s second-place finish in the Nebraska College Bonspiel in Omaha and is currently third in the national point standings, behind No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 1 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Nebraska hosted the tournament along with curling teams from Creighton and Wayne State, which is 12th in the national point standings. Nebraska was edged out by No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the final.
In addition to competing in a handful of tournaments specifically for college teams, Nebraska also competes weekly in the Aksarben Curling League in Omaha, which runs from late October through mid-March.
So yeah, there’s plenty of curling going on to keep Hruby happy.
“It’s just a lot of fun because you’re playing mostly with people from around your town or area, and that’s what is appealing to me and a lot of other people in the sport,” Hruby says. “It’s very much a social sport.”
Logun Gunderson has also been pleased with the interest in curling locally. The Wausau, Wisconsin, native curled for his high school team, and has found Lincoln to be as good a place as any to keep competing.
“When I was looking at different colleges, the fact that Nebraska had a curling team was definitely a factor for me coming here,” Gunderson said. “There’s definitely a good number of people interested in the sport here, more than I originally thought there would be, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
But for every experienced curler like Hruby and Gunderson, there are several more who have almost no knowledge of the sport before signing up to join the curling club when they get to college. Not a problem, Hruby says.
“I would say it’s almost all new people, which is pretty common in college curling,” he said. “It’s kind of on the lower end of the competitive scale, I guess, which ends up making it a ton of fun. And most people, if they’re good about coming to practice regularly, they have a pretty good handle on everything after three or four weeks.”
Added Gunderson: “You fall in love with it right away. It’s definitely more of a mental game, and that appealed to me quite a bit. It’s fun for that reason, and since it’s a little bit smaller, the curling community is pretty close and I like that part of it as well.”
And while it’s not imperative to be an overly athletic person, Hruby said the sport does require certain attributes.
“Balance is huge,” he says. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of athleticism, but you do need to have pretty solid leg muscles, and flexibility is huge too.”
Hruby and Gunderson say they think the sport will continue to grow in the area, especially after the team trials for the Winter Olympics were held in Omaha in November. The Nebraska team paid close attention to the event and even was able to spend some time on the same ice as the Olympians during the trials.
“Just having that event in Omaha I think helped generate a lot of interest here and it gets a lot of new people into the game,” Gunderson said.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Friday, the world will witness a truly extraordinary moment: An Olympics convening in South Korea with the participation of its nuclear rival, North Korea.
And against that backdrop of athletics and pomp, a cascade of political events unfolds even as the region's uneasiness about potential nuclear war continues unabated.
Two of The Associated Press' top Koreas journalists — Seoul bureau chief Foster Klug and Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge — are in Pyeongchang to cover the political maneuverings around the Olympics. On Thursday evening, we asked them to sit at a table across from each other and consider how the Olympics-related political maneuverings are playing in their areas of responsibility.
SOUTH KOREA: WHAT WILL THEY MAKE OF ALL THIS?
Just weeks ago, North Korea was threatening its southern rival with war, something it has done with numbing persistence since they fought, with Chinese and American help, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century.
So imagine the confusion, the wonder, the pervasive sense of the surreal that will greet South Koreans on Saturday when they watch their democratically elected president playing host to North Korean royalty, the granddaughter of the man who ordered the 1950 invasion of the South.
After decades mired in a standoff that has at times, especially over the last year, seemed ready to spiral into another Korean War, there will be North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, sitting down to lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It might even be in the presidential mansion in the capital Seoul, not far from where commandos sent by the Kim kids' grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, were slain during a failed assassination attempt on a South Korean dictator.
Though many here either sympathize or hate the North, most South Koreans pride themselves on their indifference to actions by Pyongyang that the rest of the world considers outrageous provocations.
But even the most jaded will struggle to ignore the ruling Kim family dynasty's introduction to the South and attendance at the Pyeongchang Olympics, the most important moment on the world stage for South Korea in years.
Social media was afire Thursday with comments from the curious, the incensed and the stunned.
Will she meet Ivanka Trump? Shinzo Abe, the leader of North Korean archrival Japan? U.S. Vice President Mike Pence? Don't forget, one poster said, that she's the granddaughter of the man responsible for mass South Korean deaths during the war.
The deep divide here between left and right could be seen in two snap editorials.
The liberal Hankyoreh newspaper played up her direct influence on Kim Jong Un, and interpreted the trip as an attempt by North Korea to reset its international relations and improve ties with both Seoul and Washington.
Oh no, said the conservative Munhwa Ilbo: The visit is a cynical attempt to weaken international sanctions over the North's weapons programs and water down the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
Maybe nothing substantive will come of the talks. Or maybe North Korea will start testing missiles and nukes again immediately after the Games end.
But even if it's only symbolic, even if it's only ephemeral, the image of a member of North Korea's ruling dynasty in South Korean territory will resonate in both parts of the peninsula.
And in the end, what she says and does may be less significant than the simple fact of who, and where, she is: A member of the House of Kim, the family that has been The Enemy for most South Koreans since the day they were born, standing on the soil of the South.
NORTH KOREA: STRAIGHT FROM THE KIM JONG UN PLAYBOOK
When North Korea does something that seems totally out of the blue, look at it from Kim Jong Un's perspective.
Sometimes, the in-your-face approach — the missile launches and all that — is great. It gets Washington's attention. It makes your adversaries think twice before pushing back. It makes the divide between bluff and credible, scary threat all the more difficult to discern.
But being aggressive all the time is costly. And, when you've got the weaker hand, it's dangerous. You have to know when to switch things up.
That's exactly what Kim is doing by sending his younger sister to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. It's a classic Kim move.
She's one of his closest confidants. She's family and can be trusted. By sending her, Kim is assured of making a big splash with both South Korea's still relatively new administration and with the South Korean public in general. For good reason, both harbor pretty deep distrust of the North. But they also nurse at least some frustration over the hard-line approach toward Pyongyang that U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed over the past year.
The Kim playbook, always, is to exploit such frustrations. The Olympics have presented an opening.
With Kim Yo Jong now expected to not only attend the Olympics opening ceremony but to also attend a luncheon with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Washington's main guest at the games, Vice President Mike Pence, risks becoming something of an angry uncle figure.
In sharp contrast with the "for-us-by-us-detente" message that Kim Jong Un is pushing — while explicitly telling the U.S. to mind its own business — Pence's demands for the North to abandon nuclear ambitions before any talks seem all the more harsh.
Pence's decision to bring along Fred Warmbier, the father of a college student who died shortly after being released from North Korean custody, is also cast in a more severe light by Kim's maneuvers — no matter how calculated or opportunistic they may turn out to be.
So the message of the past 48 hours from North Korea might be described like this: Hey, America. Your move.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln won’t expel a student claiming to be “the most active white nationalist in the Nebraska area,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said Thursday, saying UNL would respect Daniel Kleve’s right to free speech.
“The student’s viewpoint — however hateful and intolerant it is — is also protected by the First Amendment,” Green wrote in a statement. “That is the law, even if we disagree.”
UNL Police, responding to video of Kleve that surfaced earlier this week depicting him discussing his desire to commit violence in a Google Hangout with other white nationalists, said there is little evidence that students are in danger.
“We don’t feel there is that threat to the campus,” UNL Police Chief Owen Yardley said.
Kleve later said in another video posted to YouTube that his comments had been edited to misconstrue his meaning and that in fact he was telling other white nationalists and white supremacists to refrain from committing violence to achieve their goals.
But anger over the initial video has continued to simmer on campus this week, particularly among students of color, even as administrators and safety officials have sought to assure students that they reject Kleve’s ideology and put student safety at the forefront.
On Thursday morning, a handful of administrators led by Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman, hosted a listening session for students to voice their concerns, and in many cases, their frustrations at the situation.
Unek Langford bluntly asked the administrators gathered in the Kauffman Residential Center on campus if they cared about the fear that had rippled through the student community.
“I feel like we’re making every excuse not to solve the issue,” said the junior from Omaha. “We’re going in circles, we’re going around and around and around, we’re not hitting the target.”
Since the video of Kleve was shared on Tuesday, Langford said she had been walking around campus each day “telling my friends to be safe.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” she added.
Other students like Bryanna Schade, a senior from North Platte, also asked about where the university would draw a line between respecting a student’s right to free speech and ensuring the safety of students.
“I want you to know it’s my life, it’s her life, it’s his life, it’s our lives that are on the line,” Schade said. “Is it going to take a black martyr for you to finally take action?”
Bianca Swift described a phone call she had earlier this week, where her mother living in Omaha said that despite the cold, the freshmen student shouldn’t wear a coat in case she needed to flee a violent act.
Swift said she believed that had another student on campus who was of a different religion or race made similar statements to Kleve, “this would already be over.”
Joel Waddell, a sophomore from Michigan, recited the UNL Student Code of Conduct and noted that the university has jurisdiction to sanction students for conduct determined to “adversely affect the University community, its members, its reputation or the pursuit of its objectives” both on or off campus.
He also pointed to another part of the code that prohibits: “Physical abuse, verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, and/or other conduct that threatens or unreasonably endangers the mental or physical health, safety or reputation of any person or oneself.”
Referring to images showing Kleve apparently readying to strike a protester at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, as well as images of Kleve at a restaurant where white supremacists assaulted a biracial couple, Waddell asked when those actions would violate the student code.
A team of attorneys reviewed those incidents, but determined it did not meet the threshold needed to apply the code of conduct, said Laurie Bellows, interim vice chancellor for student affairs.
Graduate faculty said students in their classrooms have turned to them seeking assurances and advice this week.
“I have concerns, very, very grave concerns about how I or any other faculty member are to effectively create a safe learning environment for any student in my class, especially students of color who feel threatened by someone expressing these views,” said Jessie Jamison, a grad student from Tennessee.
Jamison said grad students feel additional pressure following another high-profile free speech controversy at UNL last fall, when a lecturer was filmed protesting a conservative student organization and later removed from her teaching duties.
“I feel like this all being a First Amendment issue is appropriate, but you can bring up instances where First Amendment rights stop when those rights and expressions infringe on the rights of others,” she added.
Plowman acknowledged graduate students are “walking a difficult line” and said she was working with other administrators to provide them additional resources.
Devanee Lasley, a graduate student from Kentucky, said one of her students told her he wasn’t surprised at UNL’s lack of response “because that’s not the first time something like that happened here.”
“And his words to me were, ‘I know the university isn't going to do anything to handle it,’” Lasley said. “That hurt me.”
Administrators mostly listened, allowing those present to voice their concerns or offer suggestions on how to best create a healthy and safe campus for all students in the future. A second listening session is scheduled for Friday morning.
“We want students to know that we’re with you, more so than just in this room and in this thinking,” said Charlie Foster, the director of the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. “This is an opportunity for us to come together.”
Sen. John Murante told the Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday that a plan requiring Nebraskans to show identification before they vote would not exclude any legally entitled voters from casting a ballot.
As part of Murante’s latest proposal (LB1066) to secure the state’s elections, as he put it, Nebraskans would also be entitled to receive a free government ID they could show to poll workers.
LB1066 would work toward two goals Murante, of Gretna, said he wants to see accomplished in the state: preventing illegal votes from being cast while not turning anyone away from the polls who is eligible to vote.
“They are not mutually exclusive and we can accomplish both,” Murante told the committee. “I believe this bill does that.”
Under his plan, Nebraska voters would be required to show a driver’s license, state, college or university-issue ID card, passport or military ID or other designated form of identification before they could cast a ballot in a state election.
Voters without a proper ID could still cast a provisional ballot, but would be required to prove who they are to an election commissioner in person within seven days of voting.
Murante said LB1066 was “substantially modeled” on an Indiana voter ID law that was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
But Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue told Murante she believed the bill would make it hard for African-Americans, Latinos, veterans and first-time voters to cast a ballot.
“I always hear you say that one case of voter fraud is one case too many,” Blood told Murante. “Well one case of somebody not being able to vote is one case too many.”
Providing free identification cards to Nebraskans who don’t have any other ID cards qualifying under LB1066 could cost nearly $3.6 million over the next two years, according to a Legislative Fiscal Office estimate.
Murante cast doubt on that estimate, saying a similar measure implemented in Missouri last year cost well below the original cost projections.
Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s secretary of state, told the committee that after Missouri voters approved a ballot initiative requiring voter IDs in the 2016 election, more than 400 state identification cards had been issued to voters for roughly $1.5 million of the $4 million to $5 million estimate.
And since it became a requirement, Ashcroft said, Missouri has administered 80 elections without a single voter being turned away.
“We’ve made sure people can have confidence in their elections and know their vote counts,” Ashcroft said. “The purpose of an election is for the voting public of a state to make that decision and for their voice to be heard. These sorts of laws do that.”
Opponents to the bill said while they agreed with Murante’s goals of improving the security of the state’s elections, particularly his efforts to upgrade election technology used throughout the state, they believed requiring photo IDs to vote would do more harm than good.
Spencer Danner, a Democrat running for Nebraska secretary of state, told the committee the costs of implementing voter ID could exceed the $3.5 million estimate due to the cost of educating voters and poll workers on the new system.
Danner said those funds could be better invested in modernizing voter registration, like adding same-day registration and allowing voters to update their information at the polls.
Civil rights groups like Civic Nebraska and the NAACP also opposed LB1066, indicating that requiring voter ID would add an additional hurdle for low-income or disabled voters.
John Cartier, director of voting rights for Civic Nebraska, said mounting evidence shows voter ID bills “will turn away eligible voters, election officials don’t think it will solve real issues, and it has an absolutely massive fiscal note considering our current budget shortfall."
In a “back and forth mental judo” — as Sen. Tom Brewer later quipped — Cartier and Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers debated the common attack on why IDs are needed to board a plane or buy alcohol, but not to vote.
“These are safeguards that we put in place because we know what human nature is,” Hilgers said. “And if there aren’t safeguards, people are going to take advantage of them.”
Cartier replied that in the context of voter identification, saying Murante’s bill only prevented voter impersonation fraud, which was very limited in scope because it was difficult to achieve in small communities, where poll workers often know many of the voters in their precinct personally.
“I don’t think from the numbers that we see, people aren’t necessarily that committed to pretending they are someone else and casting a ballot,” he said. “I think we should be spending our time on other solutions.”
Vickie Young, president of the Omaha Branch of the NAACP, said it took “major legislation in the 1960s to finally codify” the right to vote for African-Americans and other minorities.
“Now we find the Nebraska Legislature attempting to eviscerate people’s rights to vote again with needless voter ID requirements,” Young said.
“How does it make you personally feel as a strong woman of color when yet again there’s somebody throwing something in your way?” Blood asked Young.
“It’s a challenge, but again it’s a challenge I’m willing to take on,” Young replied. “My grandfather fought for this right. As a woman of color, I’m going to fight for this right so my children and my grandbabies who are looking to me to fight for this right will be empowered.”