I've been a Nebraska football season ticketholder for over 20 years now, and my wife started attending nearly every single game with me even before we got married. All that came to an end on October 21, 2006, and it wasn't because of Bill Callahan's idiotic decision to call a pass play on third and short while trying to chew up clock with the lead against Texas in the snow.
No, it was because my wife was eight months pregnant at the time. About two minutes into the game, my wife jumped up to cheer, and immediately regretted that sudden movement. She spent the rest of the game sitting down because, well, it was just too uncomfortable to stand the whole game. A few weeks later, our daughter was born, and we faced a new hurdle in attending a Nebraska football game together:
Finding a babysitter.
Sounds easy, right? Well, when you consider that you have to leave Omaha about three hours before kickoff to drive, get parked, tailgate, then allow 2-3 hours after the game for the drive home, it's kind of difficult to find a sitter for nearly nine hours on a Saturday. Especially when the television networks vary the kickoff times and typically give you less than two weeks' notice as to when the game will be played.
Ask Grandma and Grandpa? Not for us... they've had season tickets since Bob Devaney built the north end zone.
Oh, we tried. We actually found a babysitter a couple of times, but more often than not, our plans collapsed when a sitter couldn't be found.
Until last season, that is. That's when we started using the Jr. Blackshirts program operated by UNL Campus Recreation. It's a day camp for kids ages 2 through 12 during Nebraska football games, and it's allowed my wife to once again regularly attend Nebraska football games. And once my youngest was fully potty-trained, we were ready to head to Lincoln as a family.
Both my son and daughter love the program; the kids have a blast playing games and doing various activities. And it's so much easier than finding a sitter, and since it's only during the games, it's actually far cheaper than a babysitter. Just $25 per child, if you register by Wednesday of game week. (A $5 late charge applies if you register on Thursday or Friday; you cannot register on game day.)
I asked Mandi Mollring, UNL Campus Rec's coordinator of youth activities, a little more about the program, and here's what she had to say:
CN: How long has the Junior Blackshirts program been in existence?
CN: How many children do you typically care for during a game?
Each game varies, but typically between 70-100 children.
CN: What's the ratio of staff to children, and what kind of certifications do they have?
We operate with three different ratios, based on the ages of the children. 2-3 year old have a 1 staff to 4 children ratio, 4-5 year olds have a 1-7 ratio, and 6-12 year olds have a 1-12 ratio. At least one staff person with each age group has a CPR/AED certification.
CN: What activities do the kids at each level enjoy the most?
The 2-3 year olds love their time in Cook Pavilion. They play small group games, as well as free play with different sports equipment.
The 4-5 year olds also love their time in Cook Pavilion, but they really love when they get to play with the giant parachute.
The 6-12 year olds especially love their choice between swimming in the pool, or playing in the gym. The children who choose to go to the pool are supervised by two lifeguards and at least two Jr. Blackshirts staff members. The children who go to the gym get to play basketball games, volleyball games, dodgeball games, and tag games.
CN: Have you ever had fans of the Huskers' opponent sign up for the program?
Yes we have a few each year.
CN: Describe the safety and security procedures the staff follows.
In addition to the CPR/AED certifications, all of our staff are trained on UNL Campus Recreation risk management. They receive additional Jr. Blackshirts specific training on working with children and recognizing risks.
Our securities include taking a picture at check-in of any family or friends that will be allowed to pick up a child. When an adult arrives after the game, that picture is pulled up and verified by our staff. If a person is not in the picture, the staff person will ask for a photo ID and the parent will be called.
An additional security measure we have in place, is not allowing anyone not associated with Jr. Blackshirts to interact with the children. This is strictly enforced.
The Jr. Blackshirts program has been a great solution to allow the two of us to attend Nebraska football games together once again. We don't use it for every game; we decided that until our kids get older, staying up for night games will be too disruptive. But we will be using it this weekend for the Illinois game, and hope to use it again for the Northwestern and Michigan State games. (Since the Iowa game falls on Thanksgiving weekend, Jr. Blackshirts is not offered for that game.)