The top Press Times stories of 2020
By Ben Rodgers
BROWN COUNTY – If there’s one word we would never like to hear again, “unprecedented” takes the cake, because 2020 has been a year like no other.
It doesn’t take a master’s degree to understand that one giant news item hung over 2020, casting a shadow on the majority of the local news and sports stories The Press Times printed in the last year.
Even with the rise of COVID-19, a few stories we covered looked beyond the traditional approach to become the most read stories (according to our website, gopresstimes.com) of the year.
That, however, is not the case for the top story of 2020.
On Sept. 30, we published a story about Green Bay being named one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation, according to the New York Times.
At that time, Green Bay had 69.2 positive tests for every 100,000 people, the seventh worst in the nation.
Updated local figures put that number closer to 77.4 cases at that time with a 15 percent positivity rate.
This would lead local school districts to shift to virtual instruction at that time.
Those numbers would get worse before they got better.
However, recent numbers, prior to the new year have been on a downward trend, and now districts plan to resume in-person learning in January.
About a month before Green Bay was named one of the worst hotspots, the Green Bay city council extended a state of emergency for the city on Aug. 18.
It required a tie-breaking vote by Mayor Eric Genrich.
It was just one extension of the declaration first made March 17.
The proclamation highlighted the power of the mayor and his administration to make “all further actions reasonable and necessary to prevent exposure to and/or spread of COVID-19.”
In December he opted not to extend the state of emergency, because he said he feels comfortable with the council being able to meet remotely on short notice to handle any upcoming issues.
Law enforcement in the area had to deal with a shift in how it approaches situations, and instead focused on the mental health and safety of citizens and its own officers.
Masks became commonplace for law enforcement officers on every call, and departments started disinfecting like never before with electro-static sprayers.
May and June is normally a time when families and friends come together and honor the accomplishments of seniors who just graduated from high school or college.
A Press Times story in late May as these parties were gearing up looked at what local students and parents had in mind for celebrating graduation.
Some students canceled parties, others went ahead, and others changed plans.
Along with the switch to online learning, some students ended up altering their sleep schedules, as they no longer had to be in class at a certain time when the first wave of virtual learning took place in March.
Essentially, all teenagers struggle with delayed sleep phase syndrome, but throwing online schooling with no set times on top of that, and students ended up staying up later and later.
The best advice was to either go forward around the clock, staying up later and later until the normal bedtime returned, or using melatonin to get to bed earlier.
Some students are just better at handling adversity than others, and there was no better example of that than Cain Delos Santos.
The De Pere High School senior was one of eight Wisconsin high school seniors who were chosen as Milwaukee Bucks Perseverance Award winners.
By the time Delos Santos was a junior, both of his parents had died.
Delos Santos played football for four years, rugby for three and was in Jam Session show choir for four years.
He is now attending Carroll University to study environmental science, and offered this bit of advice for anyone struggling.
“I’d tell them, ‘Things stink now, but there’s still so much left to live for and give,’” Delos Santos said. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you can do anything and help anyone. It only takes a little bit of time. You have to persevere and be confident in yourself.”
Hitting the weights
A story from early 2020, before the pandemic, about Bay Port High School getting a new weight room was widely read.
Coming off the heels of a football season that saw the Pirates lose in the state championship game the year before, the Howard-Suamico School District received more than $500,000 in donations for a new weight room.
At the time, the project had a projected cost of $2.8 million, but district officials said putting off the project would cost more in the long-run, because a significant donation required the project to move quickly.
Victor Murphy, a popular physical education teacher at Suamico Elementary School, abruptly resigned in late February.
He was also the head coach of the Bay Port girls’ track and field team.
An online petition to reinstate Murphy gained nearly 6,000 signatures, but he ultimately left his position.
The school district was mum on what exactly happened to cause Murphy to resign.
Swanson bows out
Another resignation, this one of Allison Swanson, former village manager for Ashwaubenon, was also widely read.
In July, Swanson resigned citing “the unbearable work environment that was created by the barrage of unjustified, unnecessary, and unsupported allegations of wrongdoing” made by the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association.
Swanson was called out by the union over a list of alleged wrongdoings in February.
There have been lawsuits filed against both sides, lengthy investigations and more.
This story unfolded over the course of 2020.
Redistricting on the ballot
Finally, an article in June about an advisory referendum question being asked in November was widely read in 2020.
The issue was regarding redrawing legislative district maps to combat what is commonly known as gerrymandering.
The practice involves designing districts with a majority of voters who favor one particular party, therefore virtually eliminating the chance that the other party has a chance to ever win the seat.
“I do think it is more powerful if the actual residents of Brown County share their voice,” said District 23 Supervisor Ray Suennen about holding the referendum. “It gets heard a little louder in Madison then just a county board proposing it and shipping it forward.”
In November, the advisory referendum question passed by more than 57,000 votes, sending the message to lawmakers in Madison, that Brown County wants to see fair election maps.