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2014: The Year in Review

by and and on January 01, 2015 3:45 PM

What a year it was, Centre County.

There was plenty of news to write about in 2014 — both good and bad.

Once again, news about Penn State dominated the headlines.

Here's a closer look at The Centre County Gazette staff's picks for the top 10 stories of 2014:

1. SANCTIONS LIFTED — In September, some of the sanctions against the Penn State football program were lifted by the NCAA.

Just like that, Penn State became eligible for the postseason. The team will have all its scholarships returned next year.

Penn State's athletics integrity monitor, former Sen. George Mitchell, recommended both actions in his second annual report that gauges progress made by the university. Minutes after the report was announced, the NCAA said it would follow both recommendations immediately.

"Penn State has made remarkable progress over the past year," said South Carolina University president Harris Pastides, a member of the NCAA's board of directors. "The board members and I believe the executive committee's decision is the right one. It allows both the university and the association to continue to move toward a common goal of ensuring that educating, nurturing and protecting young people is a top priority."

The university still must pay a $60 million fine, while 111 wins under Joe Paterno — and one win under interim coach Tom Bradley — remain forfeited. The program will remain under monitoring.

2. FRANKLIN WINS DEBUT — In January, Penn State introduced James Franklin, formerly of Vanderbilt University, as the new coach of the Nittany Lions.

In April, he prowled the sidelines during the annual Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium.

But everything got real in August when the Nittany Lions traveled to Ireland to face the University of Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic.

It wasn't pretty, but when Sam Ficken's field goal  sailed through the uprights as time expired to give the Nittany Lions a 26-24 win over UCF, Franklin probably didn't care what it looked like. He had won his debut game as head coach at Penn State

Franklin ran up and down the sideline hugging his coaches, and then picked Ficken up off the ground as he hugged him, with Penn State players celebrating around him. The Nittany Lions would start the 2014 campaign 4-0. However, they won just twice during the final eight games to finish the regular season at 6-6 with the Pinstripe Bowl looming.

3. BARRON HIRED — Eric Barron was hired as Penn State University's 18th president in February. Barron came to Penn State in May from Florida State University, where he served as president from 2010 to 2014. His ties to Penn State go back to 1986 when he served as a faculty member and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences before leaving in 2006 to join the University of Texas at Austin as the dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences. Barron took over for Rodney Erickson, who was named interim president of Penn State when then-president Graham Spanier was forced out in November 2011 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

4. BARBOUR HIRED — Sandy Barbour was hired as Penn State University's new athletic director in July, making her the first female to hold the position in the university's history. Barbour formerly served as the athletic director of the University of California Berkeley for 10 years. She stepped down from that position about a month before being hired at Penn State. Barbour took over for David Joyner, who was named the university's athletic director in January 2013. Joyner has actually been in the position since November 2011 when then-athletic director Tim Curley was placed on administrative leave in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

5. STATE HIGH EXPANSION — Voters in the State College Area School District voted in favor of a referendum that will fund an expansive renovation of the high school. Renovations will include updating mechanical and structural issues in both buildings, as well as relocating all core academic programs to the south building and the school's Delta Program to the north building. The project is expected to be completed by 2018 and will cost an estimated $115 million.

6. SPORTS TEAMS FIND SUCCESS — It was a big year for Centre County sports teams. At Penn State, the women's volleyball squad and wrestling teams captured national championships (again). For the Nittany Lion wrestlers, it was their fourth consecutive title. Just last week, the women's volleyball squad won its second straight title. The program now has seven national titles. Dynasty, anyone?

On the high school front, the State College Area High School made a nice run through the PIAA Class AAAA state playoffs before getting de-railed by Pine-Richland. In June, the Bald Eagle Area High School softball squad suffered a 13-5 defeat to Central Columbia in the Class AA title game.

At the sandlot level, a group of young ladies from the Nittany Valley Little League made a dramatic run through the state tournament in Berwick before losing in the championship game to West Point, 7-3.

In September, the State College Spikes — the Class A rookie ball affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals — captured the New York Penn League title. It was their first title in team history. As a result, Oliver Marmol, who managed the Spikes to the title, was promoted during the offseason.

7. THON FUNDRAISING RECORD — The IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, THON, raised a record-breaking $13,343,517.33 in 2014 for Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital to fight pediatric cancer. Next year's THON weekend will take place from Friday, Feb. 20, to Sunday, Feb. 22, when hundreds of Penn State students will stay on their feet and "dance" for 46 hours.

8. GARMAN DEMOLITION — Demolition of Bellefonte's Garman Theatre began in January. A group of area residents had fought to save the historic building along with the Hotel Do De. Demolition of the Hotel Do De began in December 2013. Both were badly damaged by a fire in 2012. The properties, along with the burned-out Cadillac Building, are owned by developer Ara Kervandijan, who plans to build apartments on the vacant spaces.

9. NEW SCOREBOARDS — During the summer months, new scoreboards were installed at Beaver Stadium. They made their official debut during the Sept. 6 home opener with Akron.

They weren't exactly a hit.

Fans complained that there were too many ads and not enough information on the new scoreboards. Missing from the boards was vital information — score, time, down and distance. Instead of finding that information on the main board, fans had to squint at a ribbon display beneath it.

The new scoreboards are impressive. The north board measures 53 yards, while the south is 43 yards. They feature live action, as well as replays from the game, in high definition.

Flooded with complaints, Penn State made some changes for the second game home game with UMass on Sept. 20.

The critical information was added to the boards and fans were happy once again.

10. CHILDREN'S GARDEN OPENS — The Childhood's Gate Children's Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State opened in early July to rave reviews.

The Children's Garden was several years in the making. It is described by designers as a unique space for exploring nature, fostering wonder, and celebrating the plants, animals and geography of central Pennsylvania.

It was designed for children ages 3 through 12.

"It's amazing," said children's educational programs coordinator Linda Duerr.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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

Brittany is the staff writer for The Centre County Gazette.
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