Colorado’s breathtaking scenery and wealth of cultural activities were not enough to eclipse Matt Skiff’s love for small-town values. “Family is more important to have nearby,” the 28-year-old man said.
After spending his first three years out of college in the Fort Collins, Colo., area, Skiff resettled in Norfolk. The fourth-generation Norfolk resident likens his childhood here to the movie “The Sandlot.” It was a lifestyle that left a lasting impression on both him and his older brother.
“We used to play street baseball,” he said, “and play hoops in our driveway until it got dark. And we ran around the neighborhood through our neighbors’ yards. It was just kind of one big playground in about a four-block area.” But like many of his peers, Skiff was ready for a change after graduating from Norfolk High School in 1995.
Looking forward to experiencing new surroundings, he headed to nearby University of South Dakota in Vermillion on a football scholarship. Although he had wanted to play football at a school like the University of Nebraska, Skiff said, he felt it was important to support himself financially through college. His volunteer experience at a school in South Dakota piqued his interest in education.
After playing on the football team as a linebacker for four years, Skiff moved to Fort Collins for the summer to be closer to his girlfriend, Angie Blase, whom he had met at the University of South Dakota. Blase, a Mitchell, S.D., native, had graduated and started taking occupational therapy classes at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. In the fall, Skiff returned to Vermillion to graduate with a degree in elementary education. He then moved back to Fort Collins and married Blase in the summer of 2000.
Skiff spent his first year in Colorado substitute teaching and working part time at a hardware store. In the fall of 2000, he landed a full-time job in Greeley, Colo., as a fifth-grade teacher. He also volunteered as the middle school athletic director. The Skiffs moved to Greeley to shorten their commute.
But Skiff said he felt lost in the area’s rapid urban growth. He said the huge expansion had even created a rift between the newcomers and the native Colorado residents, who are tired of the rapid growth.
“They’ve seen their little, quaint communities nestled into the hills and the mountains and the front range area just explode,” he said, “because everyone wants a piece of the pie, and that kind of infringes on why people originally settled in Colorado or what they appreciate about living there.”
Skiff said his perspective on Norfolk changed and, as he matured, he began to value what his hometown had to offer. Citing the way people wave to one another while driving in Northeast Nebraska, Skiff said he missed the sense of community he felt while growing up.
“Colorado was a great experience,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place to live and offers so many things.” Despite its uniqueness, Skiff said he and his wife did not want to stay in Colorado to raise a family. “Both of us are from family-oriented lifestyles,” he said, “and if we were going to start a family, we wanted our parents to be close enough to enjoy their grandchildren.”
After his wife finished school at Colorado State in 2002, the Skiffs decided they wanted to move back to an area central to both of their hometowns. Skiff said they decided on Norfolk because “it just kind of fell in our lap.” Skiff said the area appealed to him because of its low cost of living and strong values. Both secured jobs in the area; Skiff teaching sixth grade at Westside Elementary and his wife at Enduracare, an assisted living home.
With a 2-year-old daughter and another child due in April, Skiff now also serves as assistant coach of the varsity football team and co-coach of the junior varsity team at Norfolk High. Skiff works with some of the same coaches he played under while in high school. He also coaches the throwers on the girls track and field team.
“I think there are things that extracurricular activities teach kids beyond the normal scope of classroom education,” he said. “There are certain discipline issues and time-management issues and things of that nature that are reinforced by extracurricular activities and developed there.”
Skiff said he hopes to be a good role model for his students, and help develop strong values, such as a strong work ethic. The kind of values, perhaps, that drew him back to Nebraska once again.
- Story Courtesy of the Norfolk Daily News