It's hard to imagine the people at ESPN even know where Gretna is.
But many of them do.
In fact, two ESPN employees have very close ties to this little community.
“Outside the Lines” reporter Paula Lavigne graduated from Gretna High School in 1993 and college football writer Mitch Sherman lives in Tiburon and has a daughter who attends Palisades Elementary School.
Lavigne, who now lives in Omaha but whose mom still lives on the corner of Highway 6 and Q Street, has worked for the worldwide leader in sports coverage for six years after an extensive career as an investigative reporter at newspapers across the United States.
“I never imagined I would be in sports, and I never would have imagined I would be in television,” Lavigne said. “But, that said, I think it has become a really good fit.
“When I graduated from Gretna and I decided to major in journalism, initially, I really wanted to work for Rolling Stone magazine. That changed while I was in college to wanting to work for a major metro daily as an investigative reporter.”
Which she did. After stops in St. Joseph, Mo., and Tacoma, Wash., Lavigne landed a job at the Dallas Morning News.
It was that position that opened the door for her at ESPN.
Lavigne moved to Omaha to be with her now husband, Chris Arnold, and was working for the Des Moines Register when she got the call about changing jobs.
“I get a call from the former Metro editor from the Dallas Morning News who, at that time, was heading up the enterprise unit at ESPN,” she said. “He was wondering if I would be interested in working for his team. He was looking for someone who had computer-assisted reporting skills and investigative skills to join the enterprise unit.”
But for her entire career, Lavigne had been a newspaper reporter. She had no experience being in front of a TV camera.
Well, almost no experience.
“My junior and senior year at Gretna, we also did a video yearbook,” she said with a laugh. “Which, prior to ESPN, would have been my only actual video experience. I still have those video yearbooks. That is what really propelled me to ESPN.”
Sherman's television experience was nearly the same.
Unlike Lavigne, who was a die hard news reporter, he was a “sports guy” from the start, working the sports desk at the Daily Nebraskan in college and getting a job covering Nebraska football for the Omaha World-Herald before he had even graduated from the University of Nebraska — Lincoln. He was in school at NU the same time Lavigne was. The two even worked together at the college newspaper.
His career had been spent in print media, not television.
“We're digital journalists now,” he said. “I do a ton of video stuff. When I cover a game, just as important, or even more important in some instances, than doing a written story out of it is to do a video interview, like a stand-up. It's all stuff that's new to me. This is the kind of stuff I never could have envisioned myself doing in college. But you have to be able to do it.”
Sherman is a college football writer with an emphasis on covering Nebraska on a day-to-day basis for the CFB Nation arm of ESPN.com. He's been with the company for three years, but spent the first two mainly covering recruiting. He spent his hours doing “big-picture” stories, focusing on high school recruiting across the country, not just Nebraska.
But when ESPN changed its college football coverage to mimic its successful NFL coverage, Sherman moved back to covering Nebraska for the 2013 season.
“It wasn't really what I expected to be doing at ESPN, but it makes sense because I'm here,” he said. “Everything in media is always changing so fast. I wasn't going there with any plans on covering Nebraska. The first two football seasons I spent at ESPN, I think I did one or two stories a year that had anything to do with Nebraska.”
Sherman said he picked to live in Tiburon because both he and his wife, Shannon, are from Nebraska and they wanted their kids — Ally and Zac — to go to Gretna schools.
“We're from here and we want to raise our kids here,” he said. “ESPN gives me the option to live where we want to live, within reason. We want our kids to go to school here. Both our families are nearby; it wasn't a difficult decision.”
Lavigne came back to the area earlier than she originally planned.
“Because my mom is still here and still living where I grew up, I envisioned moving back at some point but not as soon as I did,” she said.
She followed her heart back to Omaha and now has a beautiful family with two-year-old twins Paxton and Penny. Her oldest son, Wyatt, passed away from Spinal Muscular Atrophy a few years ago.
But Gretna grew up while she was away. Gone are the favorite hangouts she remembers.
“I don't recognize the town,” she said. “I'm still chapped over losing Kone Korner. The bowling alley was where everyone hung out. We never bowled, we just hung out in the parking lot. The high school isn't the high school, and what it is doesn't look anything like the building I went to school in.”
But inside the walls of that building, which is now Gretna Middle School, Lavigne started down the road which led her to ESPN. The journalism teacher was Bob Michl.
“Right before my sophomore year at Gretna, I was picking out my classes and I really wanted to get into this particular art class,” she remembers. “But that art class was full. I was presented with some options and one of the options was journalism. I said, well, ok, sure. I liked English and I liked writing, I'll do this. That was it. The student newspaper back then was called The Edge. I still remember the very first newspaper story I ever wrote was for The Edge and it was about how the high school ... had just built the cafeteria. Previously, all the kids from the high school had to walk down to the elementary school if they wanted hot lunch.
"It didn't even make the front page of The Edge."