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The North Bend Eagle


Stranded GI debate team picked up by NBC bus, bunks in North Bend

by Katie Heller
Published 1/26/11

On a typical North Bend night in January one might expect certain things. For example, the North Bend Central wrestling team expected to quietly return home from an invitational with their hard earned medals, and Kevin and Janet Ferguson expected to enjoy a nice dinner date at Rawhide Steakhouse. As it turned out this past Saturday, both parties were in for an unexpected and interesting adventure.

The downfall of several inches of snow in the late afternoon on Saturday created difficult driving conditions, and it was no better for the NBC wrestlers as they rolled home from an meet in Oakland. The bus driver, assistant wrestling coach Dan Nelson, even placed a call to Ferguson, the NBC Maintenance Director, to say that the wrestling bus was having a tough go through the accumulating snow. However, the NBC athletes soon learned that their trip wasn’t nearly as difficult as one being had by another group of students.

Around 8 p.m. a mile west of Ames, the NBC bus came upon a stranded mini bus from Grand Island High School. It was stopped in the middle of the road, so the NBC bus stopped and coach Ken Streff got out to check the other bus out.

“We had plenty of room (in our bus),” Streff said. “When I first got there they weren’t frantic but had called 9-1-1. It made for a more interesting day. For a while they were going to bring a Grand Island bus from Columbus where their boys were playing basketball, but that driver decided against it.”

Streff said Nelson had been driving with tires on the rumble bars in the center of the road while Streff stood in the stairwell watching the right side. After loading up the Grand Island students and coaches, a plow truck came by and the NBC bus followed it to North Bend.

“It was an odd little trip the entire time,” Streff said. “Good Samaritian, yeah. Curious, a little bit. It was interesting. We had a good night wrestling, and we got to help someone out.”

The trouble for the Grand Island mini bus was that their windshield wipers had malfunctioned, making it impossible to see to drive. Nelson called Ferguson to tell him that they were picking up the Grand Island students - a senior high debate team that had been returning from a tournament - and were going to bring them to NBC.

“I told them that I would meet them there after we were finished eating,” said Ferguson.

The Fergusons were headed to the high school when they spotted the NBC bus at Gambinos - so they stopped in to see them. Though the NBC wrestlers had already been dropped off at the high school, the Grand Island students were inside Gambino’s, ordering pizza to go. The Fergusons helped them pack up and accompanied them to the high school to let them eat in the cafeteria.

Meanwhile, Tom Cerny of Cerny Auto Recovery and Towing had ventured out to tow the stranded mini bus to town. Once back in North Bend, Cerny was able to get the windshield wipers working. Despite the now functioning wiper blades, the late hour and rapidly piling snow caused the debate team sponsors Tara Baker and Elizabeth Butters to decide not to drive the remaining 95 miles to Grand Island. They asked if they could stay at the high school. Being that there were no blankets or pillows there, Ferguson came up with a better idea.

“I suggested they come to our house,” he said. “Tom (Cerny) offered to take some of them, but they didn’t want to split up, so they all came to our place. I went to Mini Mart before it closed and picked up orange juice, a couple of toothbrushes and some eggs.”

Once at the Ferguson’s home, the students settled into the basement, getting comfortable on a hide-away bed, an air mattress and a guest double bed.

In the morning Janet and Kevin provided a buffet breakfast of bacon and sausage sandwiches, toast, pop tarts and juice. After breakfast Ferguson, Baker and Butters went out to assess the road conditions to see if the Grand Island students could finally get home. They drove west out of town to look at the highway, and determined that the bus could make it.

“We brought their mini bus to our house, loaded the kids and sent them off,” Ferguson said. “They called around 12:30 p.m., saying that they had made it back to Grand Island.”

As for the debate students who unexpectedly got to share in a North Bend slumber party, their experience left them thrilled and grateful...even for the Gambino’s pizza.

“I am grateful to Janet and Kevin for letting us into their home,” sophomore Nalsi Interiano said. “They are great people. And the Gambino’s pizza is amazing.”

There are no Gambino’s locations in Grand Island.

“This will be an amazing memory,” GISH freshman Kanieka Alexander said. “I thank everyone who helped us.”

Senior Kolten Wall said that they might have had a very different experience had their bus broken down near a larger city.

“I am very thankful for small town hospitality, and would like to thank the Fergusons for welcoming us into their home,” he said.

Sophomore Audie Camacho agreed with her teammate, saying the evening was a bonding experience.

“This is one of my favorite debate meets!” she said. “A memory that will forever be planted in my mind and heart. This brought me closer to my three teammates.”

Though the whole experience was not part of the Ferguson’s original Saturday night plans, they too found the experience memorable and thoroughly enjoyed their unexpected company.

“They were a great group to have in our home under those circumstances,” Ferguson said.

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