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The top news stories of 2008 for Nevada and nation
by Harry Spencer
Jan 02, 2009 | 852 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Tribune file photos Prominent Nevada leaders have had their ups and downs this year. Gov. Jim Gibbons and his wife, Dawn, (above) are going through a heated divorce while Nevada Wolf Pack football coach Chris Ault (right) has gotten heat from TV commentators for his clock management.
For a remarkable year news-wise, look back on 2008.

The Obama election would have to rate in the top spot on a national and worldwide basis, but there were plenty of stories on the local and state scene that kept readers on their intellectual toes.

Gov. Jim Gibbons’ divorce was a long-running affair, as were his various encounters with other problems such as Elko County land usage to mention but one. The ending of the long career of state Sen. Bill Raggio as majority leader, based on the overall outcome of the November election, was a shocker but not nearly so jolting as his narrow win over Republican opponent Sharron Angle in the primary.

The scaling back of the RED Development project timetable due to the economy came as unwelcome news to the Sparks city fathers while the Renoites got the news that the New Year’s Eve fireworks would be eliminated due to budget constraints.

Sports-wise, the rapid construction of the new baseball stadium in downtown Reno ranks as tops, with the activation of an NBA development league team a close second. On the university level, Javale McGee’s defection to the NBA draft caused the most concern at the University of Nevada, Reno, however the signing of Galena High School’s Luke Babbitt — a blue chip player for any college in the country — helped mollify basketball coach Mark Fox.

Staying with the U., there was a firestorm of protest over the announcement that the school would employ a re-seating program for the 2009-10 basketball season at Lawlor Events Center based on the amount of money that a seat-seeker gave to the university. The issue finally resulted in Nevada Athletic Director Cary Groth reneging on the proposition — due mainly to the economic hard times. Interestingly enough, the majority of home basketball games at Lawlor so far this season have seen little more than 50 percent of the seats filled. Even Las Vegas vs. Nevada, a biennial sellout, did not fill to 100 percent. According to figures released late in the week, the North Carolina tussle on New Year’s Eve was projected a sellout, pending the release of the batch of student tickets.

Statewide, the supposedly recession-proof Las Vegas gaming industry saw a huge downturn and Vegas led the nation in home foreclosure percentage.

The year witnessed the departure of a lot of iconic localites. To mention but a few: Bob McDonald, Fred Davis, Jim Eardley and Dick Dankworth.

Reno philanthropist Link Piazzo celebrated his 90th birthday and is still a dynamo human being as are monsignors Leo McFadden and Elwood Lavoy, who celebrated 55 years of serving in the Nevada Catholic priesthood.

While many of Reno’s most famous structures are now long gone, it was good to note that centenarians St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral are still standing and functioning – the latter being the recipient of a $4 million makeover.

The under-construction plaza over a two-block section of the railroad trench in downtown Reno is coming along ahead of schedule and promises to provided an excellent venue for more exciting special events in the downtown area. Meanwhile, the heavyweight special events in the area fared well despite the economic downturn and they would include the Reno Rodeo, Hot August Nights, the Reno Air Races, John Ascuaga’s Nugget’s Best in the West Rib Cook-Off and the Eldorado’s Great Italian Festival.

Perfect timing of snow dumping on the surrounding ski hills for the Christmas holiday gave the area a white Christmas and the ski facilities a green fortnight.

While Legislators are viewing the upcoming session in Carson City with some trepidation, many are hoping the “worst is over.”

Humanitarian Bowl

Back to back excitement for UNR fans was offered this past week with the Nevada football game in Boise at the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl and the New Year’s Eve basketball game against North Carolina both carried nationally on ESPN. The No. 1-ranked Tarheels’ victory on the court was no surprise, and the loss in Boise by Nevada has been well hashed over by pigskin buffs in the Truckee Meadows. Although outscoring the Maryland Terrapins in the second half, Nevada still fell shy, by seven points, of winning the game.

Once again, on national TV the ESPN commentators ripped Nevada coach Chris Ault over his clock-management skills. Many localites watching the game at a crowded sports bar started to “pass the hat” to pay for a timekeeper’s watch that could be synchronized to work in harmony with the game clock at any given stadium in the country.

To the credit of the Nevada players, quarterback Colin Kaepernick turned in a herculean performance, particularly when operating at half speed following an ankle sprain near the end of the first half. He proved he could throw accurately for over 300 yards, mostly due to the fine protection that the offensive line afforded as well as the great hands of Mike McCoy and Marko Mitchell. Running back Vai Taua also had his usual terrific run game and only the defense and special teams had lapses of intensity.

Strangely enough, a stratagem employed by the Maryland coach — benching seven of his top players for the first half because of a curfew violation — seemed to work in reverse as his first half squad outscored Nevada by a pair of touchdowns and his second half “stars” were outscored by the Wolf Pack by a TD.

All in all, the Western Athletic Conference ran up a mediocre total of 1-4 in this year’s Bowl outings and now the Boise Bowl folks are in negotiations with the Mountain West Conference and the PAC-10 represent the west in future matchups.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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