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Neal McCaleb Worked His Way to Oklahoma Hall of Fame

justin brotton - Saturday, November 01, 2014

By Michael W. Sasser

Chairman at Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc., Neal McCaleb, 79, was more surprised than one might think of a man of his accomplishments when he received an email and phone call informing him that he was to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame this year.

"I felt elated," he said. "I was honored, surprised and appreciative. I have spent my entire adult life in Oklahoma, and mostly in public service. I am grateful for the recognition."

The humble and affable McCaleb, though, should have perhaps been less surprised. After all, his résumé could conceivably have filled the business section of the phone book of his childhood home, Oklahoma City, when he was a small boy.

McCaleb has been chairman at CNI since March 2007, having been named its director in March 2003. His multitude of posts at all levels include: member of the advisory board at Community Development Financial Institutions Fund; appointed by President George W. Bush as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs; eight years in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives; Oklahoma’s first Secretary of Transportation under Gov. Henry Bellmon, a position he resumed in 1995 under Gov. Frank Keating; special advisor to Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby; and Ambassador-at-Large for the Chickasaw Nation. From bank and board positions to consulting for his own and other Native American tribes and to being one of the most influential Oklahoma Native Americans at the highest of levels, McCaleb shares the same impeccable repute and nature as Gov. Anoatubby. It's a small group of Oklahoma leaders overall who enjoy such.

"Small" is one of the fair descriptors one might use to describe McCaleb's childhood. Although a wilderness background is another, McCaleb was also influenced by his era.

"I was born in 1935 and became cognizant of the larger world around me in World War II," McCaleb said. "As a youngster, it very much influenced me. The news was filled with [war] reports and maps of troops advancing. Rationing was required; everyone got gas cards; tires couldn't be found – I remember seeing cars driving on rims."

After the war, when speed limits were raised from resource-driven restricted levels to normal, McCaleb said he felt like "we were speeding in jets." His father took him across the state on Oklahoma's highways. Perhaps in the nexus of those influences was the seed that grew into the sprout of McCaleb's educational and professional path. After most of his schooling in Ponca City, McCaleb became a 1957 graduate of Oklahoma State University (then Oklahoma A&M) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering.

Years followed of both public and private service success and eventual election to the State Legislature in 1974. He also became heavily involved with the greater Native American community.

"I did a lot of design and engineering work," he said. "I worked for 28 of the 38 tribes in Oklahoma. A lot of what I helped develop is still in use today, which is very rewarding."

When his career and reputation took him to the heart of government – Washington D.C. – he initially found himself in a standoffish, if not outright hostile, environment.

McCaleb said that in the early years of involvement of tribes with the federal government, the issue was basic respect – and respectability.

"In the early years, it was all about respectability," said McCaleb. "No one felt that the tribal governments were legitimate. Nixon began the move toward freeing up [tribal governments]. He made it possible to contract with the federal government and develop management skills in young professionals."

The national Indian Gaming Act established that because tribes are not subject to state laws, they could develop in the gaming industry. Because of the way management structure was built, McCaleb said, most tribes benefited from the Act.

Still, McCaleb said that when he arrived in Washington, the environment was little changed.

"It was very difficult," he said. "I went there in 2001 and was immediately involved in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with the suit representing the individual claims [of Native Americans]."

The BIA lawsuit, only recently settled and seeing payment dispensation, still distracted McCaleb's other objectives in D.C.

"A lot of my effort was divided because of that lawsuit. Also, I was sworn in on July 4, 2001. I woke up, and the Pentagon was on fire," he said. "That changed the whole government. Domestic expenses were cut and everything went toward the war."

McCaleb said the cloud of legitimacy and the lawsuit, the revelation that the BIA had mishandled trust accounts for individual Native American account holders to the degree that no one could easily put a dollar amount on the damages, slowed his efforts to push for other action. Congress eventually resolved the conflict in 2010, which managed to prompt action and payments some are just now receiving.

"My reason for going to Washington, D.C. was to advance economic development in Indian Territory," he said. "However, that was put on the back burner because of the lawsuit and what happened on Sept. 11, 2001."

Still, one of McCaleb's chief goals was a push for economic independence and the accompanying self-reliance. More than a decade later, there has been no advancement on that front.

"CNI started out depending on a Small Business Administration program, grew quickly, and [warranted] the ability to sole-source contracts," McCaleb said. "It became apparent several years ago that we needed to diversify in the private sector and not to rely on government programs."

In 2006, McCaleb said the Chickasaw acquired a manufacturing and assembly plant in Henryetta, were able to acquire it at "book value," and it began to turn profits.

"We're now manufacturing for the energy industry," he said. "We have also entered the oil field wastewater disposal industry, further expanding the tribe's reach into the private sector. We're pursuing a goal of Gov. Anoatubby's government, helping the tribe develop a self-sufficient economy. Thirty years ago, the tribe was reliant on the federal government," McCaleb added.

Today, the Chickasaw Nation and other tribes are less dependent on Washington, D.C.

"Gaming is a big part of that," he said. "We've re-invested in our gaming facilities, such as at WinStar Casino, which has the largest gaming floor in the world, and which also attracts most of its customers from across state borders, mostly Texas."

Engagement with the private sector, economic diversity and economic independence – and thus, prosperity – is more than McCaleb's vision for the Chickasaw Nation, but also for all Native American tribes in the country.

"My hope for tribal governments at large is for their economic independence and that they would base their vision on hope, health and prosperity – because that is something that is pretty thin right now," McCaleb said. "Many reservations are built in desolate lands with limited economic opportunities. However, take a look at the Bakken Oil Field – a large percentage of three tribes' land. Gaming, for example doesn't do any good when there are no people around.

"My hope is also that all tribes develop leadership that will lead people out of poverty and into prosperity," he added.

Given his decades of commitment to the Chickasaw Nation and all of Native America, McCaleb's notification about elevation to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame could hardly be called a long shot.

Still, Neal McCaleb feels humbled by the honor.

"I'm a 79-year-old, and this kind of recognition is truly heart-warming."

Leader and Legacy: Principal Chief George Tiger Leading Creek Nation Into the 21st Century

justin brotton - Wednesday, October 01, 2014

By Michael W. Sasser

One might fairly assess that leadership within the Native American community, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in particular, is in Creek Principal Chief George Tiger's blood. After all, his grandfather, Motey Tiger, was the Principal Chief of the Muscogee Nation from 1907 until 1917.

"My father used to share stories about my grandfather when he was Chief," Chief Tiger said. "I remember my father saying that he didn't know if any of his boys would ever be Chief, but he remembered what his father had done."

Chief Tiger's father was a pastor and was also involved in tribal politics. Chief Tiger remembers playing downstairs while his dad and other tribal figures met upstairs.

From childhood in a small town hearing stories of an influential grandfather in the early days of the 20th century to leadership of the Creek Nation in an entirely new century, Chief Tiger's journey has been driven by both tradition and recognition of the new century paradigm. Perhaps ironically, Chief Tiger is focused on both those aspects of tribal life today – preserving a culture and preparing the tribe for the inevitable changes needed to preserve the culture, and the Creek Nation, for centuries to come.

George Philip Tiger was born on March 22, 1950 at the family home in the rural Yardeka community near Henryetta, OK, to the late Coody and Lela (McNac) Tiger. Chief Tiger's traditional matrilineal descendancy renders him a member of the Hickory Ground Tribal Town and is of the Wind Clan.

Chief Tiger's hometown was a small Creek community with a school that was once operated by the tribe. He attended school there his first two years, surrounded by familiar faces.

"A lot of the other students were relatives, which was really nice," he said.

However, Coody Tiger's pastoral duties prompted the family to move to Okmulgee, which was a tremendous change for the young George Tiger.

"When we moved from Yardeka to Okmulgee, it was like we had moved to Manhattan – it was so relatively big," Chief Tiger said. "I was raised the majority of my life there."

Okmulgee is also the capital city of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, positioning the youngster at the very heart of Creek affairs.

Chief Tiger remembers well a key moment when his interest in Native American issues came squarely into focus, and, along with his family legacy, the thought that he wanted to become involved in guiding tribal progress.

"I think it was key when I learned that from the 1930s to the 1960s, the President of the United States would appoint Chiefs of the Nations," he said. "I disagreed with that and believed that there should be elections.

"Then, when I was 20 or 21 years old and in school in Kansas, I received a land settlement check, and I didn't understand why," Chief Tiger continued. "Every member of the tribe received checks. I think at that moment I started thinking about why these things were happening."

Chief Tiger's father had passed away when the younger Tiger was fairly young, and Chief Tiger said he didn't have his father to talk to about such issues. At the time, the tribe was drafting a constitution, and the advisory committee included a relative from his mother's side of the family.

"I've had Creek politics in my blood from both my father's and my mother's side," he said.

Before he could begin his career in addressing tribal issues, Chief Tiger had a mammoth personal obstacle to overcome. As a child, he was diagnosed with polio, then rampant nationwide, and his parents were told it was unlikely he would ever walk.

"The health industry didn't know how to address the problem at the time," Chief Tiger said. "In my family tradition and culture, my mother's mother took care of me, and would not give up. I always say that my maternal grandmother was responsible for my walking. It was a little bit of a miracle. Back then, most people with polio never could walk.

"In later life," the Chief continued, "I use that as personal motivation. If I could overcome that, then I could handle any challenges or obstacles to come my way."

Chief Tiger did, indeed, overcome that early challenge. He went on to attend Northeastern A&M Junior College, Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University) and Northeastern State University. He is a current member of the Board of Regents of Haskell Indian Nations University.

In the early 1970s, a friend engaged Chief Tiger into mass communications, and he became a presence both on radio and on television, discussing Native American issues and raising his profile. In 1974, at just 24, Chief Tiger was offered and accepted a position with the Seminole Tribe.

"At the time, there was federal funding available for program grants, and I wrote those proposals and started their newspaper as well," he said. "That gave me the urge to become more involved."

At the time, Chief Claude Cox, whom Chief Tiger considers a mentor, spoke to Chief Tiger and suggested he come work with his own tribe.

"The calling of home was very powerful," Chief Tiger said. "I worked for them, and consulted for other tribes as well." He accepted a position, and said he had the opportunity to see government working from inside – an invaluable asset to the budding leader.

With the advocacy of Cox, Chief Tiger ran for and won a seat on the tribal council, where he would serve for 14 years. He ran for Principal Chief, won, and was inaugurated in 2012. His current term runs through 2015.

It has been a busy term to date.

The Chief is proud of his accomplishments and the direction he has led the Creek Nation.

"The overall thing I feel most important is diversifying economic development," he said. "For a long time, when people would talk about tribes, they would only think about casinos and smoke shops. I've wanted to diversity our economic development, and I am glad we have done that. In the big picture, down the road, the more we diversify, the more we are able to help provide jobs to people."

Among the accomplishments Chief Tiger is most pleased with are the expansion of the Creek Nation on the Arkansas River in Tulsa, which will be enlarging to include a hotel property and re-branding of the popular venue as a “Margaritaville.”

"It's a good time to develop the property," Chief Tiger said. "Some people don't understand, but this is needed to diversify our economic opportunities and scope. It will include a retail component, for example."

The development or expansion of healthcare facilities is another area of pride. When an Okmulgee hospital faced closing, the Creek Nation assumed its debt and operations, has diminished the debt without touching tribal coffers, and now services the community. An MRI center is in the works, ground has been broken on a new hospital in Okema, and a new clinic in Eufala in conjunction with Indian Health Service will vastly improve access to care in that community.

Under Chief Tiger's leadership, a private foundation was formed to help increase the number of scholarships available for students.

In terms of cultural preservation, Chief Tiger said the government's efforts have been buoyed by today's youth.

"I think we're turning the tide in that area," he said. "I am blessed to serve as Chief at a time when there is a new, energized generation wanting to preserve our culture. We have a cultural division and are looking at expanding available programs."

Chief Tiger's goals for the Creek Nation remain focused on perpetuating the strides his administration has made, he said.

"Most importantly, we need to provide job opportunities for our citizens," he said. "By diversifying the possibilities in economic development, with educational programs, we can empower a strong work force. We want to build on our relationships, to work together to attract jobs to the Nation. We're looking at creating a job fair, and this is an area we are working on very aggressively.

"It's also important for our citizens to have good housing," the Chief continued. "We're pursuing that, have been making strides in that area, and will continue to do so."

In the longer term, looking decades down the line, Chief Tiger believes that a solid groundwork is being established in his administration to propel the tribe into the future.

"I think we are setting the foundation for the future," he said. "When I came into office, there was no road map for the future. One of the first things I did in office was to put together a strategic plan for the future, and we are working on a master plan. We're working on strategic plans for economic development and housing. We're setting the table by increasing and expanding educational opportunities, and building and expanding in health care."

Chief Tiger's vision of the Creek Nation's future appears reasonable, pragmatic and universally beneficial to the Nation and to the entire state of Oklahoma. Moreover, given his drive and overcoming adversity to reach the position he now holds, the smart money is on his success, and that of the Creek Nation.

Tribute to an Oklahoma Legend

justin brotton - Monday, September 01, 2014

By David Althouse

Legendary actor James Garner will be remembered as a charming,

quick-witted, handsome leading man and proud Oklahoman.

July 19, 2014 marked the death of actor James Garner, the tall, dark, handsome yet unassuming Oklahoman who walked softly yet cut a wide swath in all that he did, and who, if his unpretentious approach to life was any indication, may have preferred that no one make a fuss over his passing.

Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner to parents Weldon “Bill” and Mildred Meek Bumgarner in Norman on April 7, 1928, and was raised in nearby Denver, a hamlet now under the waters of Lake Thunderbird. Mildred died when Garner was just 4, an event that ultimately thrust the future Hollywood star into a horrific childhood at the hands of a verbally and physically abusive stepmother.

His father eventually split with the stepmother and moved to California, essentially setting Garner on a path to total self-reliance at age 14.

Garner went on to work a multitude of jobs, fight in the Korean War, and ultimately earn his way to Hollywood superstardom.

He returned home from Korea and landed a nonspeaking gig in the Broadway play “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” a career score that led to a contract with Warner Brothers and an appearance in the pilot of the television series “Cheyenne” in 1955.

Garner became known to the wider television audience in 1957 when he appeared in the hit Western series “Maverick,” portraying the lead character, cardsharp Bret Maverick. To audiences bombarded with steel-eyed Western hard cases, Garner projected his character with affability, portraying a charmer, a lovable con, and one who often preferred joking, rather than fighting, his way out of a fight.

James Garner became a household name and “Maverick” became an ABC television hit, outpolling both “The Steve Allen Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Having established himself as a television star with “Maverick,” Garner went on to establish himself as a star of the big screen with his portrayal of Joe Cardin in William Wyler’s remake of Lillian Hellman’s lesbian drama, “The Children’s Hour,” co-starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

Garner then appeared in the 1962 comedy “Boys Night Out,” starring Tony Randall and Kim Novak.

He solidified his status as a box office draw in 1963 with the blockbuster war production “The Great Escape.” Garner played alongside such notables as Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, David McCallum, James Coburn and Donald Pleasence. Based on a true story, the film depicted a mass escape from a German prisoner of war camp during World War Two.

More success came with “Support Your Local Sheriff!,” a 1969 Western comedy that parodied the oft-repeated Western movie theme of an unlikely new arrival taming a lawless Old West town. Garner played the lead role in the movie that also featured actors Joan Hackett, Walter Brennan, Harry Morgan and Jack Elam. Two years later, Garner also starred in the sequel, “Support Your Local Gunfighter,” playing alongside Suzanne Pleshette, Harry Morgan, Jack Elam, Chuck Connors, John Dehner, Marie Windsor and Joan Blondell.

Garner endeared himself to a new generation of television viewers with his portrayal of Jim Rockford, a Los Angeles-based private investigator, in the “Rockford Files.” The NBC television drama series ran from September 13, 1974 to January 10, 1980. Jim Rockford approached trouble in much the same manner as did Bret Maverick – using fancy talk and funny jokes and nearly always avoiding outright violence.

Garner charmed audiences while portraying a character who wore tired, off-the-rack attire while solving missing persons investigations and low-budget insurance scams for $200 a day plus expenses, all while barely making enough money to keep the lights on in his mobile home located at Paradise Cove, 29 Cove Road.

Garner explained in an interview that Rockford’s license plate number, 853-OKG, stood for August 1953, the date of his first acting job, and Oklahoma Garner, a tribute to his home state.

Of the humble Oklahoman, legendary actor John Wayne once remarked, “I think the best actor in the world today is James Garner. He can do anything – comedy, detective. Just his facial expressions alone are enough to crack you up. They rave about Brando and Scott, but they couldn’t hold a candle to him.”

Garner’s was an old-school approach to acting. “I'm a Spencer Tracy-type actor,” Garner once said. “His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn't, looks for the easy way out. I don't think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote.”

Garner was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, into the Hall of Great Western Performers by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role for 2004’s “The Notebook.” A statue of Garner as Bret Maverick stands in Garner’s hometown of Norman.

Garner supported the University of Oklahoma and was often seen on the sidelines or in the press box at Sooner football games. In 1995, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at OU.

Despite an Oscar nomination and success in a variety of film genres, Garner remained humble about his acting career. “When I started working, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, in that I was just wandering around, hoping that I could succeed,” Garner said. “Then after I got a little under my belt, it took me about 25 years to feel like I knew what I was doing.”

Garner met his one and only in 1956, fell in love with her and married her before she could get away. “I saw my wife at a pool, flipped over her, and 14 days later we were married,” Garner once said. He stayed married to that same woman until the day of his passing.

Garner will be remembered for many things about which he seldom spoke – for overcoming a terrifying childhood, for keeping a sense of humor and humanity in a world that had dealt him severe injustices, for being the first Oklahoman drafted into the Korean War in which he won two Purple Hearts, for his work as a humanitarian, and for his work in Hollywood, where he became a top leading man and Oscar-nominated actor.

A true hero in real life, Garner probably found humor in the fact that he will be remembered most for his work as an actor, a profession in which one works hard to portray a memorable someone else. A man of quiet yet commanding confidence, his is a rare breed in modern times. R.I.P.

JIMMY NIELSEN: The Right Coach for OKC Energy FC

justin brotton - Friday, August 01, 2014

By Jason Black


Did you get World Cup fever in July? A lot of people did, especially in Oklahoma where ratings were huge for the soccer tournament that happens every four years. Soccer has slowly been building momentum over the last few years and we are seeing the fervor locally with the Oklahoma City Energy FC that plays in the USL Pro league. In its inaugural year, Energy FC has played their games at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School’s Pribil Stadium; next year they will move to the renovated Taft Stadium.

USL Pro is a professional soccer league affiliated with Major League Soccer. Energy FC’s parent club is the MLS club Sporting Kansas City, which will provide four to six players to play in Oklahoma City. Sporting KC will call up players and send others to Oklahoma City throughout the season (similar to how minor league baseball works). The Energy FC signs the rest of the players on their own to fill out the remaining roster (not how minor league baseball works).

Energy FC is owned and operated primarily by Prodigal, which also owns and operates the Oklahoma City Barons hockey team.

The games have been wildly popular, with the majority of games being sold out. Tickets can be hard to come by, demonstrating that soccer has become very popular in Oklahoma City. The first season couldn’t have come at a better time, running concurrently with the World Cup.

Prodigal has proven to know a thing or two about running sports teams in Oklahoma. The timing, along with their marketing acumen and putting on a good show at games (with a well-dressed, sometimes bearded front office to boot) are further reasons that people keep coming back for more.

Even though Kansas City has provided some of the players from the MLS, the face of the organization on the field has been head coach Jimmy Nielsen.

In a word, Jimmy Nielsen is cool. He has cool nicknames (“Casino Jimmy” and “The White Puma”), he has cool hair (natural color), he’s a former goalkeeper for Sporting Kansas City, and was a member of both the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship team and the 2013 MLS Cup championship team.

“I never had time to enjoy it. We won the championship on December 8th,” Nielsen said, “and two days later I retired. I had fun and enjoyed it, but I never had that feeling like I was a champion. Right after I retired, I negotiated with Oklahoma City, then a few days later I started a new chapter … a new life. I never had time to sit down and enjoy it.”

Energy FC and Nielsen essentially had to start from scratch. The franchise is an expansion team, and even though Sporting KC provides a few of the players, the rest had to be recruited and signed.

“It was unusual to start a soccer team from scratch. That means you have to recruit a whole new roster, use your network to recruit and take some chances,” Nielsen said. “We have 25 players, and I have not regretted a single one of them. I wanted hard-working, hungry players. They want it. It’s something special to start a new team.”

Nielsen expressed how important it is to have buy-in from every guy on the team, but there is more to the team than how they play on the field.

“We could have brought in more expensive players, but that’s not the right thing to do. You want players who are committed to this project here,” Nielsen said. “That means be active in the community, go out to the youth clubs and be role models for those kids, and bring them to the stadium when we play. That gives them someone to look up to. That’s important.”

The coach was a kid himself when he fell in love with soccer. Growing up in Denmark, Nielsen started playing soccer when he was just 4 years old.

“Soccer is the number one sport in Denmark; it’s the number one sport in every country except maybe the United States,” Nielsen said. “Almost every kid is trying to play soccer in Denmark; other kids drop out and some continue. I played because I have a passion; I would go to every game I could, watch every game on television.”

Nielsen loved soccer so much that during school he wasn’t that concerned with being a student, but during breaks he would divide up the students into teams and have impromptu soccer games.

His passion turned into a dream to play professionally, and it came true.

“I had the honor to play for a local team as professional for 12 years,” Nielsen said.

After playing in his native country, Nielsen got a chance to come to the United States and play in Kansas City.

“I was on a team in Denmark, and I came to the club because of the coach. But he got fired,” Nielsen said, “and then I had another coach, who also got fired, so I was unhappy and wanted out, but still had a four-year contract there. I heard Kansas City was interested, so I paid myself out of the contract and went to Kansas City and signed a one-year deal; I stayed four years, and then retired last season.”

Almost immediately after retirement, he was hired to be the first coach in the history of the Oklahoma Energy FC. Growing up, his passion was playing soccer, but during his career he realized that coaching would be his future.

“Six years ago I got my coaching license, so I knew I would go in that direction,” Nielsen said. “I coached in Denmark at the team's academy, and I also coached at the Kansas City academy. I always had that in me.”

Upon hearing about the job in Oklahoma City, Nielsen wondered to himself, Where in the heck is Oklahoma? But he had wondered the same thing about Kansas City.

So far, his impressions of Oklahoma City are about what you would think. “Very windy, earthquakes, but I haven't been involved in a tornado,” Nielsen said. “But Oklahomans are hard working, friendly and helpful.”

The coach had to get started right away recruiting his team, so the move to Oklahoma City came quickly after being hired.

“My kids finished school in Kansas City, so the first five months I lived here alone. Since I can't cook, I have been to 90 percent of the restaurants,” Nielsen said. “I’m impressed. I have a lot of favorite places.”

“I am very happy to be here. There isn’t a place that I want to do better than here,” Nielsen said. “It’s a well-run organization. I believe they are doing this the right way, not just for the team, but for the whole city.”

He knew it was time to retire when, for the last couple years of playing, his body didn’t respond like it had in his youth. He feels it was the right time to transition to the sidelines.

“I’m not allowing myself to miss playing,” Nielsen said. “I’m not putting on any gloves, and I’m not putting on any cleats anymore. I don’t want to be in that situation to miss it. I had my career as a player, and I accept that it’s over.”

With a nickname like “Casino Jimmy,” surely he must be a gambler.

“As a coach, I’m not afraid of taking chances. If it doesn’t work, I make a change,” Nielsen said. “You have to challenge yourself and challenge your players. If you don’t, you’re not pushing hard enough. Just make sure you don’t make the same mistakes twice.”

He has really been impressed with how avidly soccer has caught on in the United States, and sees a real passion in Oklahoma City.

“I came to this country four years ago and have seen a gigantic improvement in soccer. It puts a big smile on the face. It’s awesome to see passion for the sport developing in Oklahoma City.”

The future of the game in Oklahoma City will happen the same way it did for him, and that starts with the kids.

“I see a huge youth program here in Oklahoma City, a lot of young kids playing soccer here. That’s awesome,” Nielsen said. “It’s very important for the future. Hopefully in the next few years the Energy can add an academy, so the best players in Oklahoma City can come together and push each other. Then the club teams will be proud to bring their teams to the Energy academy rather that taking them to competition.”

It’s the right time and place for soccer to gain more and more momentum in the ever-growing Oklahoma City sports scene. It looks like the right coach, too.

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