A year in review: Looking back at the top stories of 2017 | Local News

Every year is eventful in the news world, but there was a lot of ink to spill in 2017.

At the national level, President Donald Trump’s first year in office has made for a never-ending string of headlines, adding to the countless stories that touched lives far and wide.

Political upheavals, hurricanes, celebrity deaths, tax reform, terrorism, gun violence, civil unrest, protest marches, net neutrality and the ongoing investigations into Russian influence on American democracy have drawn national attention and concern.

Then, there are the stories that hit close to home. Here’s a look back at 10 of the top news and sports stories that captivated Transcript readers in 2017.

1. OU President David Boren announces retirement (published Sept. 20)

In September, OU President David Boren announced that he will retire at the end of the academic year.

The second-longest serving president in university history said during a press conference that the decision is contingent on finding a successor.

“I wanted the transition to occur at a time of maximum strength for the university,” Boren said. “I believe that time has come.”

Boren, 76, said selecting his successor was up to the board of regents. If he did have any say, Boren said he would choose someone who truly loves the job and the institution.

Boren, who will have been president for 23-and-a-half years when he steps aside, said he first began considering retirement two or three years ago.

In October, the OU Board of Regents named a 17-member search committee to begin reviewing candidates to replace Boren.

2. Bob Stoops retires; Lincoln Riley named head coach (published June 8)

After nearly two decades as OU football coach, Bob Stoops announced his retirement in June. In a double-whammy press conference, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was named the new head coach.

The 56-year-old Stoops said the decision was not health related. Like Boren’s announcement that followed a few months later, Stoops said he wanted to make sure the timing was right for a transition.

“My health was not the deciding factor of this decision and I’ve had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching,” said Stoops. “I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins. The program is in tremendous shape. We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship.”

Stoops’ assessment proved correct, as the Sooners went on to win the Big 12 title and secure a spot in the college football playoff.

The longest-tenured FBS coach and winningest in OU history, Stoops went 190-48 with the Sooners, claiming 10 Big 12 conference titles and the 2000 national championship.

3. Baker Mayfield wins Heisman (published Dec. 9)

OU quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman in a landslide, becoming the first winner to begin his career as a walk-on since athletic scholarships were created in the 1950s.

Claiming 78.8 percent of the first-place votes to beat out Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson and Stanford running back Bryce Love, Mayfield added to a trophy case that includes the Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien and AP Player of the Year.

Mayfield grabbed 86 percent of the possible Heisman points, which is third-highest in award history behind Troy Smith (91.6, 2006) and Marcus Mariota (90.9, 2014).

4. Humphreys plans to resign from OU Board of Regents (published Dec. 21)

Last month, University of Oklahoma regent Kirk Humphreys said that he will resign from the board after making controversial comments comparing homosexuality to pedophilia.

Humphreys, a former Oklahoma City mayor who was vice chair and next in line for the chairmanship of the board, made the announcement at a special meeting of the OU Board of Regents after a two-hour executive session in which his position was discussed.

Humphreys came under fire for his comments from LGBTQ advocacy groups, students, faculty and staff.

During the Dec. 10 “Flash Point” broadcast, while speaking about sexual harassment and assault scandals involving entertainers and politicians, Humphreys brought up homosexuality.

He said that if it was OK for people to be gay, “then it’s OK for men to sleep with little boys if it’s OK.”

He has since apologized multiple times, but said he would not resign immediately because he wanted to attend the Rose Bowl as a sitting regent.

“Well, there’s an official party that goes to the Rose Bowl,” Humphreys said. “I’d rather participate in that than not. I’m a little bit like [Sen.] Al Franken. He said, ‘At some time in the near future, I’m going to resign.’ For him, I think it was after the first of the year so he got another year of retirement.

“I want to make sure I don’t shoot myself in the foot. I’ve already done that once; I don’t want to do it twice.”

5. Sheriff Joe Lester steps down (published Oct. 2)

Cleveland County Sheriff Joe Lester announced his retirement in October and dismissed his lawsuit against the county commissioners. 

Lester has given no reason for his notice of immediate retirement, but the retirement and lawsuit dismissal come on the heels of an operations audit by the State Auditors and Inspectors Office released in September.

The audit identified possible mismanagement, over-expenditure of public funds, noncompliance with state law and multiple findings of “Inadequate Internal Controls” in a variety of areas.

Additionally, the audit found 48 vehicles — representing a $993,829 investment of public dollars — were in use without insurance coverage, and 37 vehicles that had been disposed by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office were still insured because the fleet inventory had not been kept current.

Other issues included inmate head counts, overpayment for inmate medical services, un-billed revenue from housing Department of Corrections inmates and community sentencing, un-budgeted payments of Compensatory Time, delayed transfer of commissary funds and inaccuracies of the Inmate Trust Fund checking account balance.

Undersheriff Rhett Burnett became active sheriff by default upon Lester’s retirement. Todd Gibson was later appointed interim sheriff. Gibson has said he intends to run for the office in 2018.

6. Opening the Lindsey Street Bridge (published July 21)

Hundreds of Normanites lined up on West Lindsey Street on the morning of July 20 to celebrate the opening of the Lindsey Street bridge. They rode bikes, ran, and walked, some of them pushing strollers and some dragging wagon trains of young Normanites making their first trek across the bridge.

Mayor Lynne Miller said it was a unique opportunity.

“You don’t get anything of this magnitude,” she said. “This whole project is over $100 million and that doesn’t happen very often in a community.”

At 337 feet wide, Lindsey Street bridge is now the widest bridge in the state and the largest single-contractor public project in state history. The project was part of a total overhaul of West Lindsey Street that began in 2015. The road work portion of the W. Lindsey Street project wrapped up last month, beckoning visitors back to Lindsey Street merchants who managed to weather the long storm of construction.

The bridge project also completes the widening of I-35 to six lanes from I-40 in downtown Oklahoma City to Highway 9, a more than $400 million project that began in the 1980s. 

7. Julie Siberts becomes Pride of Oklahoma’s first female drum major (published Feb. 2)

OU junior Julie Siberts made history in 2017 by becoming the first female drum major in the history of the Pride of Oklahoma.

“It’s kind of an honor to be the first girl, because it says, ‘We can do this,’” Siberts said. “I’m really excited to be a part of this historic thing that’s happening with the university, but more than anything, I hope that I’m able to have a big impact on the band in more ways than one. I’m just so honored and humbled to have the opportunity.”

Pride of Oklahoma Director Brian Britt said the selection process includes an interview, conducting auditions and the “drum major strut.” Three finalists are selected, and from that pool, all band members cast votes.

Though Siberts expressed some surprise at getting the nod, Britt said her work speaks for itself.

“Over the years, we have had many women advance to compete in the final round, but they did not get elected. This year we had three outstanding candidates and the students elected Julie,” Britt said.

“Julie is going to be an outstanding drum major for the Pride of Oklahoma. She has the skill set to perform all the duties of the drum major, as well as the confidence and personal attributes that will help her manage the extra attention brought about by being the first woman to hold this position.”

8. Trae Young chooses OU / Thunder trade for Paul George / Carmelo Anthony comes to OKC / Westbrook signs five-year deal

As a state, Oklahoma rarely tops athletes’ lists of coveted destinations. But in 2017, the Thunder and the Sooners turned that idea on its head with three marquee contracts and one dazzling hometown college commitment.

For the Sooners, securing five-star recruit and Norman North grad Trae Young was the story of the offseason.

Young chose the Sooners over Kansas and Oklahoma State, but he had suitors from across the country.

“This is just home,” Young said. “It’s always been home to me.”

With OU men’s basketball in full swing, Young’s performance so far has become the story of the season. He has led the Sooners to a 11-1 start, including Saturday’s Big 12 opening victory against No. 10 TCU in Fort Worth, Texas where the freshman finished with 39 points and 14 assists.

For the Thunder, it was an offseason full of surprises.

Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook signed a five-year deal, and the Thunder traded for Eastern Conference All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

9. DeBarr Avenue to be renamed Deans Row Avenue (published Dec. 22)

After months of wrangling over the city’s street renaming policy, a street named after founding OU professor and KKK leader Edwin DeBarr is now just weeks away from being renamed.

Local and state activists spoke out against DeBarr Avenue, and last month, the city council unanimously voted to approve a petition by property owners to rename the controversial street Deans Row Avenue.

Ward 6 council member Breea Clark, who spearheaded the revival of a movement to see the name changed, said the signs should be kept as a historical reminder of how far Norman has come as an inclusive community.

“I want to thank everyone who called, emailed, posted and shared your thoughts on this issue,” she said. “They did not fall on deaf ears.”

Ward 4 council member Bill Hickman thanked Clark for her efforts and acknowledged the historic nature of the moment.

“After over 100 years of having a street named after a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, we’re going to change that name and take that sign down,” he said.

10. Center City and University North Park

Following the passage of the new Center City Form Based Code in March, the city council gave final authorization last month to the creation of TIF district No. 3, an ad valorem tax increment finance district aimed at promoting investment in the center city area.

Unlike the more hotly contested University North Park TIF, which redirects sales tax and ad valorem tax funds back into the TIF area, the center city TIF will rely solely on ad valorem taxes, spreading the burden between the beneficiaries of ad valorem tax collections: Cleveland County, the Cleveland County Health Department, Norman Public Schools, Moore-Norman Technology Center, Pioneer Library System and the city.

Meanwhile, the University North Park TIF, or TIF No. 2, continued to generate revenue and discussion.

The area currently generates about $10 million annually in gross sales tax, and that number is projected to rise. Sixty percent of that goes back into the TIF.

In November, an accounting error was discovered showing that an extra $5 million had been kept in the UNP TIF account. That has since been sorted out, but questions and differing ideas remain about how the city should handle the TIF.

The city also began to weigh a new TIF proposal in 2017 from the OU Foundation aimed at using tax increment financing to help pay for a new arena and entertainment district.

City consultant James Dan Batchelor made a presentation in October projecting a $90.75 million public price tag for the OU Foundation’s new arena and entertainment district proposal.

TOP WEB HITS  

1. Former state seismologist testifies officials coerced him to alter research on induced quakes — 43,473

2. Three Norman family members die in crash on Turner Turnpike — 36,612

3. Othello’s roof destroyed in fire — 27,811

4. Oklahoma Senate takes historic stand against LGBTQ discrimination — 23,561

5. Norman doctor offering health care at affordable rates to all patients — 22,015

6. Thunder announce Paul George trade — 19,889

7. Lincoln Riley: Some recruits rushed with new early signing period — 16,794

8. Norman musician Boyd Littel found dead in Portland — 16,101

9. Timberwolves going nowhere playing like this — 15,593

10. Behind the scenes of Trae Young’s wild recruitment — 15,581

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