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Top stories of 2012

by and on December 27, 2012 12:03 PM

There was no shortage of headline-grabbing stories in 2012.

What a year it was in Centre County.

Most of the stories centered around Penn State. It was an especially daunting year for the Penn State football program. In January, longtime coach Joe Paterno died, his legacy tarnished by the sex-abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. In June, Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys and was later sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. In July, the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions to the football program.

There were plenty of other newsworthy happenings in Centre County, however.

What was the biggest story of 2012?

Here's a look at The Centre County Gazette staff's picks for the top 10 stories of 2012:

1. Jerry Sandusky trial — Former Penn State assistant coach and founder of The Second Mile, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty in June of 45 of the 48 charges against him involving sexual abuse of at least 10 young boys over a 15-year period. The charges and trial, which sparked both national and worldwide attention, forced a harsh spotlight upon the university and local community. Since the charges arose last year, a number of school officials also have been under investigation for their involvement, including former Penn State president Graham Spanier. It could be argued that the Sandusky scandal is one of the biggest school scandals in history. A Dec. 23 story from StateCollege.com says Sandusky, 68, wrote a letter to the Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes Barre saying he wants to talk, but declined an interview request at counsel’s advice while it works through the appeals process. In the note he remains focused on his appeal and maintains his innocence. Sentenced in October to at least 30 years in prison, Sandusky is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene in western Pennsylvania. He has a post-trial hearing scheduled for Jan. 10, 2013, in Bellefonte.

2. Joe Paterno’s death — Joseph V. Paterno, Penn State’s head football coach for nearly 46 years, passed away on Jan. 22, 2012. Paterno, who had just turned 85, was surrounded by his family at Mount Nittany Medical Center, near the University Park campus, when he died. The legendary teacher, mentor and humanitarian had been diagnosed with lung cancer in November. A member of the Penn State coaching staff for 62 seasons, Paterno was among the first three active coaches to be inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Hall of Fame in 2007. Paterno was the winningest coach in the history of college football when he was fired on Nov. 9, 2011. Shortly after his firing, his family revealed that he was battling lung cancer.

3. Freeh Report/NCAA Sanctions — On July 23 in Indianapolis, the NCAA hit Penn State with an all-out blitz. NCAA president Mark Emmert held a news conference that morning. He announced that Penn State would be fined $60 million, face a four-year postseason ban and lose 10 scholarships per year. The NCAA also stripped Penn State of all wins from 1998 to 2011, meaning that Paterno's win total dropped from 409 to 298. He is no longer the winningest coach in NCAA history.

4. Joe Paterno statue comes down — On July 22, just a day before the NCAA sanctions were announced, Penn State took the Paterno statue down. Just after 6 a.m. that morning, Penn State police officers were out en masse as barricades were erected along Porter Road. After the barricades came a chain-link fence and tarps. Jackhammers were brought in. Several hours later, a workers used a forklift to remove the statue from its base. It was taken to an undisclosed location. The site now features green grass and trees. The university has not decided on the statue's fate.

5. Bill O’Brien hired as Penn State’s head football coach — Bill O’Brien was hired as Penn State’s 15th head football coach in January, replacing Joe Paterno. O’Brien has received much support from the Penn State community, and many have congratulated him for a great season, especially in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky trial and the release of the Freeh Report. O'Brien lost his first two games as the head coach of the Nittany Lions. However, they won 8 of 10, including a thrilling 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin in the season finale. The Nittany Lions finished 8-4 during his first season, the best record ever for a first-year football coach at Penn State. According to Penn State Athletics, O’Brien’s experience includes 14 years at the collegiate level and the past five years spent as an offensive assistant coach with the National Football League's New England Patriots. A member of the Patriots' coaching staff since 2007, O'Brien was instrumental in helping New England reach two Super Bowls in the past five years, including Super Bowl XLVI. From 2009-11, O'Brien coached the Patriots' quarterbacks, being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2011 season, when New England led the AFC in scoring at 32.1 points per game.

6. Cheerleader falls: When a Penn State cheerleader suffered a 39-foot fall out of a Calder Commons apartment in October, it received both local and national attention. Penn State students rallied for Paige Raque, 19, who suffered brain and pelvic injuries, by holding prayer circles and selling bracelets. By Thanksgiving, Raque was able to travel home to Kentucky to be with her family. She made her first public appearance after the accident earlier this month. The State College Police Department continues to investigate whether alcohol was a factor, and the fall still appears to be accidental, according to officials.

7. Historic Bellefonte hotel burns — Bellefonte's historic Hotel Do-De was gutted by fire in the early hours of Sept. 9. The Garman Theatre was also gutted in the blaze, which began at approximately 12:30 a.m. Fire crews worked throughout the night to get the blaze under control, which they did around 6 a.m. In October, Bellefonte Borough police chief Shawn Weaver told borough council that the fire was a “deliberate and intentional act.” The building is no longer structurally sound and has remained closed, and a chain-link fence now surrounds it.

8. Board of trustees shakeup — In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, trial and subsequent conviction, there was a big shakeup on Penn State's Board of Trustees. In mid-July, Steve Garban resigned. The former chairman was the first board member to do so. In a letter, he called his last few months on the board “some of the most painful of my life.” Current Board of Trustees Chair Karen Peetz will not seek reelection to that leadership position for the next term, according to a release from Penn State. She still plans to remain an active member of the board, but cited her recent appointment as president of the Bank of New York Mellon as the reason for her decision. There were also some new additions to the board. Following a heavily-publicized election, three new members — Anthony P. Lubrano, Ryan J. McCombie and Adam J. Taliaferro — were voted to the board.

9. Children attacked on trail — In May, four teenage boys were attacked by an armed robber while they were hiking in the Greens Valley area of Centre Hall Mountain. Richard Martinez, 19, of State College chased the boys, robbed them, assaulted one and threatened to kill them all, police said. He was charged with three counts of felony robbery, the threat of immediate serious injury and force. The case did not go to trial, however. Martinez entered a plea and was sentenced to 8 to 16 years in prison.

10. Chi Omega’s photo — Earlier this month the Penn State sorority Chi Omega was placed on probation after a photo emerged on social media sites that many found stereotypical and racially insensitive. The photo is of sorority members, most likely taken around Halloween, dressed in stereotypical Mexican garb holding signs that read “will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.” As a result of the photo, a tolerance march was organized on campus and many student groups have spoken out, including Mexican-American Student Association, the Latina Caucus and the Black Student Cauc



Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.


Staff Writer at The Centre County Gazette
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