2014 Newsmakers: A Year in ReviewWritten by Staff Reports | | email@example.com
Here’s a list, plus updates, on some of the biggest local news stories of 2014:
Water crisis puts Toledo in national spotlight
National attention turned to Toledo this summer as it became the largest U.S. city to face a do-not-drink water advisory, thanks to detection of a toxic level of microcystin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.
The Aug. 2-4 incident affected more than 400,000 people who get water from the City of Toledo, prompting a run on bottled water at stores for miles around.
Despite some legislative changes, a main problem affecting Lake Erie is the lack of federal oversight, said Sandy Bihn, executive director of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Inc. Her agency, along with Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, advocated early on for an executive order to help Lake Erie.
“What we really want now is federal coordination, a federal leader and for the state and governor to come together with a conference. That’s what we’re asking for,” Bihn said.
Since the crisis there have been some improvements, she said. A lot of money has come into the region to help farmers prevent phosphorus runoff, but most notable, Bihn said, is that Ohio’s congressional delegation passed a health advisory for microcystin, which set guidelines for treating water for the toxin.
Ohio lawmakers recently came close to passing a bill that would have prohibited the application of manure on frozen ground, reducing phosphorus runoff that contributes to algae growth in Lake Erie. The Ohio House of Representatives passed the bill 90 to 4, but the bill was killed in the Senate, due to riders such as a measure permitting massive commercial water withdrawals from Lake Erie, and a measure denying landline phone service to rural consumers, said State Rep. Michael Sheehy.
Sheehy and his cohorts do not plan to give up. “At the beginning of the year, I will start the process again,” he said.
In August, Gov. John Kasich announced he was committing $150 million in zero-interest loans to cities for water and wastewater treatment costs in the fight against phosphorus pollution in the Lake Erie watershed.
“Lake Erie is one of Ohio’s most precious resources and each day millions turn to it for drinking as well as their livelihoods,” Kasich said in a statement. “Ohio has been increasingly aggressive in protecting it.”
In recent months, the controlling board of the Ohio General Assembly, which controls the expenditure of funds, passed a request for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, asking the Ohio Geological Survey to do a study of the Maumee Bay region, Sheehy said.
The planned study will look at flooding and water quality and will establish monitoring stations at streams and creeks that feed into Maumee Bay. The stations will be able to record phosphorus levels and the presence of other metals, Sheehy said.
Sen. Rob Portman led an effort to make the Great Lakes region eligible for congressional funds that normally only go to the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. The money is intended to fund research into algae and pollutants, Bihn said.
More algae blooms are predicted for 2015. Regardless of these changes, Bihn said more crises could still occur.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “The probability it could happen is high because we haven’t stopped the sources that cause it.”
— Danielle Stanton
Two Toledo firefighters killed
On Jan. 26, Toledo was rocked by the deaths of two Toledo firefighters. Pvt. Stephen Machcinski and Pvt. James Dickman died from injuries sustained while fighting a North Toledo apartment fire. On Jan. 31 came a new blow, as the building’s owner was arrested and charged with arson.
Dickman, 31, who went by Jamie, was bubbly and quick to smile at everyone he met, while Machcinski, 42, who went by Steve, seemed quiet and reserved — until he found his comfort zone, friends and family members said.
Dickman was married with two young children, including a son born on Christmas Eve 2013; Machcinski was a lifelong bachelor, whose brother is also a firefighter.
Machcinski had served with Toledo Fire Department (TFD) for 15 years, Dickman for only five months. But while Dickman was new to Toledo, he was not new to firefighting. It had been his career for the past 10 years in Perkins Township.
Perkins Township Fire Department Chief Keith Wohlever said Dickman’s goal from the time he joined the Perkins department as a part-timer was to be a member of a larger city’s fire department — a dream he realized in September 2013 when he joined TFD.
“He absolutely loved what he did. This was his dream job, and I heard it more than once,” TFD Fire Chief Luis Santiago echoed during a news conference Jan. 27. “They are both going to be a great, great loss to us.”
A firefighters’ Mass took place Jan. 29 at the Historic Church of St. Patrick in Downtown Toledo. The next night, thousands of supporters, including first responders from across the United States and Canada, packed the SeaGate Convention Centre to bid farewell to the two men during the Last Alarm ceremony.
On Jan. 31, Ray Abou-Arab, 61, was charged with aggravated arson and aggravated murder in connection with the fire at 528 Magnolia St. He pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 27.
“Rapidly deteriorating conditions” led to the deaths, Santiago said. The full report on the fire is not complete, and could not be released even if it were per a gag order from the judge, TFD Public Information Officer Matthew Hertzfeld said.
In June, Fire Station No. 3 in North Toledo, where Machcinski and Dickman were assigned, was rededicated, including memorial plaques in the kitchen and at the entrance to the garage. The $2.8 million project renovated the existing firehouse located on Bush and Erie streets and added a 7,000-square-foot addition.
Plans for an anniversary memorial service next month are in the works, but not yet finalized, Hertzfeld said.
“It means a great deal to our department that the folks that we serve still keep Steve and Jamie in their thoughts,” Hertzfeld wrote in an email to Toledo Free Press. “We do occasionally hear comments from the community about Steve and Jamie, though it is not every day as it once was. Even though Steve and Jamie may not be spoken of on a daily basis, the thoughts still linger for us. Part of the healing process for the department, and our city, is to move on, but at the same time remember and honor Steve and Jamie.”
— Sarah Ottney
City hopes land purchases help keep Jeep
With a single comment to a reporter at the Paris Auto Show, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sent shockwaves through Northwest Ohio with the unexpected news that the company was considering moving Jeep Wrangler production out of Toledo.
“If the solution is aluminum, then I think unfortunately that Toledo is the wrong place, the wrong setup to try and build a Wrangler, because it requires a complete reconfiguring of the assets that would be cost-prohibitive,” Marchionne told Automotive News on Oct. 2.
City and union leadership immediately set to work, meeting with Marchionne at Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on Oct. 9 and quietly pursuing purchase of available land around the Jeep plant.
On Nov. 25, about 100 Jeep workers and supporters gathered outside One Government Center to express support for the proposed purchase of the 28.8-acre former Textileather site. Wearing red shirts reading “Solidarity on Stickney,” they chanted and carried signs reading “Keep Jeep,” “This is Home” and “Sergio Promised.”
On Dec. 2, Toledo City Council voted unanimously to purchase the property for $738,000. When added to the 4.1-acre former MedCorp property plus a few other smaller parcels, the total acreage acquired by the city in the area is about 70, said Matt Sapara, the city’s director of business and economic development.
“I think we put ourselves in the best position we could possibly be in by acquiring the land and giving Chrysler more options and more flexibility,” Sapara said. “It shows Chrysler we have a really united front.”
Toledo Assembly Complex recently built its 500,000th Jeep, putting the facility on track to build more vehicles than any other Chrysler plant and second-most of any U.S. production facility.
“The Wrangler is Toledo, and Toledo is Jeep,” said Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, a former Jeep employee. Gerken said if there’s new technology needed to build Wrangler, Toledo can provide it.
Marchionne has said Chrysler would replace Wrangler production with another vehicle, but Wrangler is the one Toledo wants, UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower said.
Another meeting with Marchionne is set for January, said Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins. Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson has declined to comment.
— Sarah Ottney
Anthony Wayne Bridge closes for repairs
One of Toledo’s most iconic landmarks temporarily went out of commission in March.
The Anthony Wayne Bridge — more commonly called the High-Level Bridge — closed to both vehicles and pedestrians March 17 as it undergoes repairs; it is not scheduled to reopen until September 2015.
After reopening, lane restrictions will allow work to continue through the planned completion date of December 2015. Further lane restrictions will be put in place in spring 2016 for painting.
It’s the first long-term closure in the bridge’s 80-year history, said Theresa Pollick, public information officer with Ohio Department of Transportation, District 2. The 3,215-foot-long span is the last cable suspension bridge on the state highway system in Ohio.
E.S. Wagner Company of Oregon is the main contractor for the $28.7 million project, which will include redecking the bridge, rehabilitating the existing substructures, installing new street lighting and rebuilding the sidewalks, railings and fence.
The most noticeable difference will be the replacement of two steel trusses with steel girders on each end of the suspension spans and the addition of two concrete support pillars, one on each side of the bridge, said Mel Williams, bridge division estimator and project manager with E.S. Wagner.
“It’s a very aggressive schedule to get the amount of work done that has to be done in that time frame,” he said.
“We wanted to keep its historical integrity and do as much preservation work as possible,” Pollick said. “But we had to make these changes to ensure the bridge’s span for the next 50 years.”
— Sarah Ottney
Downtown, Southwyck primed
Every city has its share of doubters and negativity, but even for the most hardened skeptic, it’s hard to deny the potential of Downtown Toledo after 2014. All signs point to a resurgence — a sort of domino effect — that’s making Downtown more vibrant, livable and inviting.
“Right now there are more positives than negatives,” said Cindy Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District. “This would be the most active year we’ve had since the Huntington Center [opened].”
The biggest news of the year came early in February, when ProMedica announced it would relocate its headquarters onto one consolidated campus in the former Toledo Edison Steam Plant, and also occupy the entire KeyBank office building.
The $40 million move will bring around 800 administrative employees together in the two structures on Summit Street and also incorporate a new multilevel parking garage to be built on a section of Promenade Park along the Maumee River.
The new National Museum of the Great Lakes opened along the Maumee River in April, having relocated from Vermilion, Ohio. It expects to draw 40,000 visitors each year.
In July, The Lathrop Company — a construction firm responsible for building many of Toledo’s signature landmarks — announced it was moving its offices and over 50 employees from Maumee to Downtown in early 2015. Lathrop admitted the ProMedica relocation helped influence its decision, wanting to be a part of the “real momentum about Downtown,” according to Tom Manahan, president of Lathrop, and senior vice president for Turner Construction Company, Lathrop’s parent company.
“The economy is on an upswing, which has people feeling positive about their investment and the potential,” Kerr said.
A new four-story, 26,000-square-foot center in UpTown will offer groceries, health screenings and other life services, according to plans unveiled by ProMedica in October. The cornerstone of the Ebeid Institute for Population Health will be a 6,500-square-foot grocery market offering healthy food options to an area that currently has none.
Calling it an “eyesore and a nuisance,” the Lucas County Commissioners announced in November they planned to purchase the former Hotel Seagate for $1.38 million and demolish it to make room for potential future development. The 19-story building, which has been vacant for years, is located across from Promenade Park in Downtown Toledo.
Cherry Street Mission Ministries has spent the last year readying the former Macomber High School to become its new Life Revitalization Center. Through a collaboration with Penta Career Center, it began offering GED classes and adult basic and literacy education (ABLE) services in early December.
Though the Toledo Mud Hens’ Hensville project was announced last August, it was just last week the franchise received $3.9 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits from the Ohio Development Services Agency to rehabilitate three Warehouse District buildings for its neighborhood project. The total estimated cost of the project is $18.8 million.
In addition, the 10-day Toledo Walleye Winterfest caps off a year with an event that some believe will generate unprecedented visitors Downtown.
“We’ve never seen anything like that for the duration of time that’s down here,” said Richard Nachazel, president of Destination Toledo, the convention and visitors bureau.
The much-anticipated renovation of the 113-year-old Berdan Building at Huron and Washington Streets in Downtown will begin in February. Kevin Prater of Prater Development will create 115 new one- or two-bedroom apartments, and also have room for first floor commercial space.
Kerr believes a Downtown renaissance is happening for several reasons, one notable factor being the variety.
“With Hensville, it’s restaurants and retail, and you have other restaurants coming,” she said. “With ProMedica you have jobs and health initiatives. We have the Winterfest. So, it’s the variety. It’s not just an isolated event or storefront. We’re now hitting so many different target markets.”
Meanwhile, along the Reynolds Road corridor, Toledo City Council voted in November to purchase the former Southwyck Mall site for $3.25 million in hopes of attracting a developer. The area is seeing some resurgence as the Clarion Hotel was demolished, a home store moved in and Genesis Village opened in a former hotel.
— Tom Konecny
Bishop ‘exhausted but exhilarated’ after first two months
With a rigorous schedule designed to help him meet as many of his flock as possible, the Bishop Daniel Thomas has spent much of his first two months on the job proving there’s a lot more to the Diocese of Toledo than its eponymous name.
Between Oct. 29 and Dec. 15, Thomas visited all 15 diocesan deaneries.
“I’m especially delighted to visit the entire diocese before Christmas, and to have an opportunity to sit and visit with every one of my priests,” Thomas said. “It was invaluable to be able to meet and greet with the good folks of the diocese, and to get to know the diocese geographically.”
Thomas estimates having visited 600-800 people at each deanery, which as a group covers 8,222 square miles.
“A large percentage of the diocese is rural, so it’s very important for them to know their bishop,” he said. “There are a lot of folks who have felt distant due to physical distance.”
Thomas is also reaching out through “The Bishop’s Corner” radio show, airing Thursday evenings on WNOC 89.7 FM, with rebroadcasts on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as Internet podcasts. He also embraces social media: “When they see your picture, there is a deeper connection; symbolically, it’s a way to connect.”
Parishioners at the far reaches of the diocesan borders report already feeling a close connection.
“He was very personable, and took time in line to talk to everyone,” said Julie Taylor, principal of St. Mary Catholic School in Edgerton, near the Indiana border. “Our kids feel a connection to him already even though he’s in Toledo. That says a lot.”
Thomas is making plans to bring a local contingent to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January. He’s also planning to lead a pilgrimage to Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis is also scheduled to attend.
Thomas plans to visit family and friends in his native Philadelphia for Christmas.
“In the middle of (deanery) visits, one of the fine women in the office here said, ‘My gosh, you must be exhausted, but exhilarated,” Thomas said. “So, that’s exactly how I feel.”
— Tom Konecny
County steps up fight on heroin
Lucas County came out swinging in its fight against heroin addiction in 2014.
The abuse of heroin and opioids has reached epidemic proportions in Northwest Ohio and across the country. It is now the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the nation, Dr. Robert Forney, Lucas County chief toxicologist told Toledo Free Press in July.
As families battle to save the lives of their loved ones from potentially deadly addictions, the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office has picked up the fight by developing the Addiction Resource Unit (ARU).
“This is not a program, not a philosophy,” said John Tharp, Lucas County Sheriff. “This is a new way of doing business.”
The ARU involves cooperation among police and fire departments, rehabilitation services, the metro drug unit, the county prosecutor’s office, the county coroner and more.
Sheriff’s deputies visit patients in the hospital who have overdosed on heroin to get them into treatment and to gather information leading to their dealer.
Deputies investigate overdoses that result in death as homicide cases. They now collect evidence, including syringes and fingerprints, to track down suppliers.
Dealers are now being charged with involuntary manslaughter. At least one Toledo man was indicted in November on involuntary manslaughter charges for dealing heroin that killed an Oregon man.
Tharp said two to three people overdose in Toledo every week.
In August the new ARU had 60 cases including two deaths, and by Dec. 18, the unit had logged 218 overdose cases plus eight deaths, Tharp said.
Since the formation of ARU, Tharp has been reaching out to the community in search of financial aid and other support so he can double the number of deputies and counselors in the unit. The number of heroin and opioid-related deaths is expected to double in 2015, he said.
“We’ve been reaching out. I had meetings with private industry for financial assistance to double the unit,” Tharp said. “That’s where we’re at now, and I’m bound and determined to get that done.”
— Danielle Stanton
Local boy’s $20 gift inspires pay-it-forward movement
When then-8-year-old Myles Eckert of Waterville found a $20 bill in a Maumee restaurant parking lot earlier this year, he had no idea his simple gesture of giving the money and a note to a soldier eating lunch would lead to national attention or inspire a pay-it-forward movement that would raise millions for Gold Star families like his.
The recipient was Lt. Col. Frank Dailey, a 27-year military veteran serving with the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard.
Myles’ father, 24-year-old Army Sgt. Gary “Andy” Eckert Jr., was killed in Iraq on May 8, 2005. Myles was just 5 weeks old and his sister Marlee was 21 months old.
“Dear Soldier,” the note read. “My dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this 20 dollars in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.”
The Daileys took a photo of the note and shared it with their daughter, who posted it on Facebook.
“From there it just went gangbusters,” Dailey said.
Dailey and the Eckerts have appeared on national television, visited the White House, been invited to appear at events across the country and more.
Myles’ mom, Tiffany Eckert, also didn’t expect her son’s random act of kindness would generate so much attention. But when it did, the family was inundated with inquiries on how to send Myles money or toys.
Instead, they decided to redirect the requests to a fundraising website for children’s charity Snowball Express, which benefits Gold Star kids who have lost a parent in war. A matching grant allowed them to raise $1.8 million for the group.
“Things have mellowed a bit, but requests are still coming in,” Tiffany said Dec. 22. “We look forward to providing help to a new Gold Star program in 2015. We’ve chosen Camp Hometown Heroes.”
The Wisconsin-based program offers a weeklong summer camp for Gold Star kids, focusing on healing through art therapy.
Tiffany has also joined the speaker’s board of Folds of Honor, an organization that provides scholarships and assistance to spouses and children of killed or disabled service members.
“I travel and tell our story in support of Folds,” she said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity. Working with Folds is a dream come true.”
The family is in the process of starting their own scholarship through Folds, the Eckert Endowed Scholarship Program for families of soldiers killed in action.
“So many amazing things have happened in the past several months,” Tiffany said. “I often pinch myself as I look back on all that has happened. It still seems very, very surreal.
“I look forward to taking the next step as we focus on helping Camp Hometown Heroes. I’m thrilled that we’ve been given the opportunity to work with Folds of Honor and pioneer a scholarship program in our name.
“It’s amazing to look back and reflect on how a $20 bill has multiplied in the past 11 months. Something so small has created such an impactful tidal-wave. Only God does that, and I still can’t believe that he chose our family to make such a profound impact.”
— Sarah Ottney
Four killed in Lake Erie boat accident
On April 16, a group of close friends — practically family — left the shores of Lake Erie to begin a fishing trip. Within about four hours, they had caught their limit and started back. None were seen alive again.
About all that’s known for sure is Bryan Huff, 31, his girlfriend Amy Santus, 33, their friend Andrew Rose, 33, and Santus’ relative Paige Widmer, 16, spent their last hours doing something they all loved: fishing.
Despite the recovery of the boat and — eventually — all four bodies, questions still linger in the families’ minds.
In July, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources released its report on the deaths. The same word is repeated throughout: Unknown.
“Due to the fact that everyone on board died and there were no witnesses to the accident, the circumstances surrounding the accident are unknown,” the report concluded.
All four drowned, the report stated. There was no trauma to any of the bodies, no damage to the boat and alcohol was not a factor.
Huff, who owned the boat, was known to be an experienced boater. All four were familiar with the lake.
“That was the hardest part,” Huff’s father, Butch, said. “He was very experienced out there.”
But their memories live on. Huff’s sister had a baby boy in November. She named him Bryan.
— Amanda Tindall
Chrys Peterson steps down as anchor
After spending 20 years coming into our homes via WTOL-11 newscasts, Chrys Peterson has relished spending more time in 2014 in her own home.
The former news anchor’s last day on the air was Feb. 28. The main reason she decided not to sign another contract with WTOL was so she could spend more time with her teenage daughter, Riley.
“I’ve really enjoyed my family time since I left WTOL,” Peterson said. “I’ve been able to spend a lot of quality time with Riley, attending all her basketball games, tennis matches and musical performances. But it’s also been nice just being able to be home when Riley has her friends over or be available to help with homework at night.
“When [kids are] older they’re making choices and decisions about things that are really helping them to become the people that they’re going to be,” she said. “I just don’t think I can do that over the phone effectively, and basically that’s what it comes down to.”
The move also allowed Peterson more freedom to travel over the summer to see her husband Tom Runnells, bench coach for the Colorado Rockies.
“We made two trips to Denver, a trip to Florida, two trips to California and were also able to drive and spend time when they played in Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland,” she said. “The flexibility has been wonderful!”
Peterson isn’t exactly taking it easy in retirement, however. She started her own consulting business, working primarily with ProMedica on leadership training and video projects.
“Doing the training is exciting because it’s something new for me, and employee development is something I’m passionate about,” said Peterson, who has her master’s degree in organizational leadership from Lourdes University.
“I’m also excited that I still get to tell interesting stories about people in our community doing amazing things. … I absolutely love the work and love the people I work with there.”
The stories can be found at promedicahealthconnect.org.
While she said she does miss her friends from the station and interaction with viewers, she is able to stay in touch with many of them.
“I’ve continued to stay connected to many of them through my Chrys Peterson WTOL Facebook page and people still come up to me and say ‘Hi’ when I’m out, which I enjoy very much.”
But for Peterson, it’s all about the flexibility these days.
“I can plan my work and activities around my important family events instead of having to be sitting on the set at a certain time each day,” she said. “I’ve been surprised that my schedule has changed so dramatically. For years, I worked until midnight, so I didn’t really go to sleep until 3 a.m. most nights. Now, I get up with Riley around 6 a.m. so I’m not always able to stay awake to watch the 11 p.m. news.
“Thank goodness I can still see [former co-anchor] Jerry [Anderson] on Fox at 10!” she said with a smile.
— Joel Sensenig
CAC ends residency program
It’s been a year of growing pains for the Collingwood Arts Center (CAC), but the nonprofit’s leadership believes it’s headed in the right direction.
Former Interim Executive Director Sarah Kurfis shepherded CAC through a period of transition, most notably from an artist residency program to a community-focused arts center.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’ve come pretty far,” Kurfis told Toledo Free Press in September. “People are getting re-energized.”
On Jan. 21, faced with “significant electrical and plumbing issues,” the 108-year-old building’s 28 residents were given 30 days to move out. “It was the weather that made the decision to move quicker, but it was still the right decision to make,” Kurfis said. “It just wasn’t safe.”
However, many former residents, including Michael Grover, are still bitter. “All I can say about it was that arts center was a unique facility, not only for this area but for the whole country,” he said. “Its loss is a loss to the community as a whole and is a sad statement on the state of the arts in America.”
On Oct. 1, CAC’s Special Events Coordinator Lexi Staples took over as executive director.
“I’m excited to continue what Sarah started,” Staples said in September. “It’s been cool to see just how much the community does want to be involved with the space and with the idea there could be a different use for the building.”
A donated boiler was recently installed and groups still rent space.
“The building is on the mend,” said Erin Garber-Pearson, founder of CAC-based Bird’s Eye View Circus Space. “It’s just been incredibly busy here, which is really exciting.”
— Sarah Ottney
New coach off to strong start, leads Walleye at long-awaited Winterfest
It’s been more than three years in the making, but Toledo Walleye Winterfest has finally slid into Fifth Third Field.
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement,” said Mike Keedy, manager of special events for the Walleye. “To finally see the rink on the field and all of our plans and projects coming to fruition — it’s a rewarding feeling. Our entire staff has worked extremely hard and we are ready!”
Winterfest, presented by ProMedica, kicks off Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 4. Its biggest events are the outdoor Walleye hockey games Dec. 27 and Jan. 3. The outdoor rink will also host more than 150 free youth, high school and adult recreational teams.
Also planned 6-10 p.m. Jan. 2 is the Walleye Winter Brewfest, featuring more than 250 beers from more than 50 breweries.
The baseball stadium underwent an extreme makeover to prepare for the inaugural winter event.
The outdoor rink was constructed by Rink Specialists, a North Carolina-based company that has set up NHL-sized rinks at venues such as Fenway Park in Boston and Comerica Park in Detroit.
Since Dec. 8, the company has been setting up the rink, dropping a huge generator into the outfield via crane to power its equipment, testing 13 miles of plastic tubing that goes underneath the rink and putting ice where the infield normally sits.
At 5:30 p.m. Dec. 27, the Walleye will host the Kalamazoo Wings in the first outdoor hockey game in ECHL history. The Walleye will also host the Fort Wayne Komets at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 3. Prior to that game, there will be a 4:30 p.m. showdown featuring alumni teams from Toledo and Fort Wayne.
“This is going to be a first-class experience for the fans and the participating teams,” Keedy said. “People will want to be in the ballpark early to not miss a thing.”
Open skate sessions will be offered Dec. 28-29 and 31. The Stanley Cup will be on display Dec. 29.
There is also a game at 4 p.m. Dec. 31 featuring Adrian College vs. the U.S. National Under-18 team. At noon Jan. 3, the Bowling Green State University Falcons will play its first outdoor game vs. Robert Morris.
The Walleye are off to a 19-4 start this seasion under new head coach Derek Lalonde. He took over the head coaching spot vacated by Nick Vitucci in February.
“I’m ecstatic,” LaLonde said. “If you told us we were going to be on record pace, 19-4 at this time, I would have said not a chance. With that said, we did concentrate on bringing in the right kid that was going to buy in to the culture we wanted: team-first culture.”
Part of what attracted LaLonde to Toledo was the city’s enthusiastic fanbase, which has been showing up in strong numbers even with last year’s poor results on the ice.
“Now that we’re winning, the response has been extremely great,” he said.
Winterfest marks LaLonde’s first time being involved in an outdoor hockey game. The buzz around the games in undeniable, he said.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I tip my hat to how hard everyone has worked here. My job has been easy when you relate it to what people have done to get ready for this event. My job is to put the best team on the ice I can.”
For a full schedule, visit www.toledowalleye.com/winterfest.
Central Catholic wins state DIII football crown.
I’ve been trying to put into words what we watched Dec. 4 without using the typical clichés and, for the life of me, I can’t.
The Division III State Championship game between Central Catholic and Athens was a slugfest. A neck-and-neck race. A back-and-forth affair. A heavyweight bout. All those clichés we hear thrown about in regards to a Week 3 game that doesn’t mean a whole lot should be reserved so that they could apply to that night’s masterpiece.
And yes, I’d be saying that even if the Irish lost.
The good news is they pulled it off: A 56-52 victory over the previously unbeaten Bulldogs gave Central Catholic its third title in school history, and its second state crown in the last three years.
It was a classic pass vs. rush matchup between the two schools. The Irish had made their bread and butter in the trenches, with quarterback Marcus Winters and running backs Michael Warren and Tre’Von Wade each having over 1,000 rushing yards coming into the title game.
For Athens, the star was quarterback Joe Burrow, who shortly before the game was named Ohio’s Mr. Football. Burrow is already committed to Ohio State next year, and came in with just under 4,000 yards passing, 57 touchdowns and one pick.
So it was just about right that this game was punch after punch after punch. Just when it seemed like Central Catholic had the momentum, Burrow would find the right receiver on third and long to keep the Bulldogs going. Just when Athens looked like they were about to open things up, the Irish defense brought down an interception.
And so when the Bulldogs took a 52-49 lead with less than three minutes left, the Irish held their destiny in their own hands, and they had to fight for every inch — converting on three separate fourth downs, including a 4th-and-1 from the 7-yard line, which Winters ran in himself for the go-ahead score with 15 seconds left on the clock.
A perfect end? It doesn’t get much better. You make that game-winning touchdown as time expired, and I’d say it was almost too cheesy. In a game that felt like the last team with the ball was going to win it, the Irish managed to score with too little time on the clock for Mr. Football to overcome.
Winters, Warren and Wade got it done, Coach Greg Dempsey got his third trophy, and Northwest Ohio tasted success yet again. Congratulations.
— Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath
Hessman breaks league home run record
Mud Hens third basemen Mike Hessman swung for the fences in Indianapolis June 30 and came back with a league record for home runs.
Hessman’s homer — his 15th of the season — brought Hessman’s career total International League home runs to 259, breaking a record that had stood since 1945.
The third-inning hit over the left-field fence against Indianapolis pitcher Jake Brigham surpassed Ollie Carnegie’s former record of 258 homers. Carnegie played for the Buffalo Bisons from 1931-41 and in 1945. Hessman tied Carnegie’s record on May 30 against Charlotte.
Hessman now sits at 404 career minor league home runs, good for third on the American minor league home run list. Buzz Arlett is atop that list with 432 homers.
Hessman, 36, donned a Toledo uniform again this season after playing five seasons with the team 2005-09, including as an integral part of Toledo’s 2005-06 championship squads.
— Sarah Ottney
Three of Scholastic’s eight ‘Coolest Kids We Met in 2014’ hail from Southeast Michigan
A local teenager is officially one of the coolest kids in America.
Hunter Gandee of Temperance was recently named one of the “8 Coolest Kids We Met in 2014” by Scholastic, a publisher that specializes in classroom magazines.
The “Coolest Kids” honor is an annual list of kids featured in Scholastic’s magazines who best exemplify inspiration, courage or innovation.
In June, Hunter, now 15, walked 40 miles from Temperance to Ann Arbor with his brother Braden, 7, who has cerebral palsy, strapped to his back. The walk was to raise awareness of the disease.
Ann Arbor’s Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld, both 17, also made the list. After their school blocked publication of a newspaper issue on depression, they penned an essay that was printed in the New York Times.
— Jay Hathaway