Mason earns national kudos. Greater Cincinnati’s trial of the year. Miss Ohio pedals into town. The world’s top tennis players converge on Mason. A disgraced teacher goes to prison. New attractions open at the region’s premier amusement park. Mason’s band takes the national stage. New faces appear on City Council. Controversial comments propel Mason to center of Ohio’s public workers debate. A Mason woman follows her dream on prime-time TV.
These were just some of the breaking news stories to hit Mason in 2011 and that commanded our online attention. Now, in MasonBuzz’s first annual Year in Review, readers are asked to count down the top local stories of the year. Vote in the poll below for the story you believe should be the top Mason story of the year (if you are unable to vote in the poll, please refresh your browser or leave your vote in the comments field). Select up to 2 stories. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 29 with results to be posted on Saturday, Dec. 31.
What is the top Mason story of 2011?
- Mason bands take national stage (52%, 1,075 Votes)
- Ryan Widmer convicted in third murder trial (27%, 563 Votes)
- Mason Schools receives statewide honors, awards (24%, 504 Votes)
- Disgraced Mason teacher heads to prison (16%, 323 Votes)
- Mason named among best places to live (12%, 250 Votes)
- Kings Island opens new attractions (6%, 126 Votes)
- Western & Southern Open welcomes world’s top tennis players (5%, 94 Votes)
- Miss Ohio pedals into town amidst fanfare (1%, 30 Votes)
- Mason woman follows dream on prime-time TV (1%, 25 Votes)
- Huckabee comments propel Mason to center of state Issue 2 debate (1%, 23 Votes)
- Mason seats three on City Council, names new mayor (1%, 20 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,070
Ryan Widmer convicted in third murder trial
In what has been called Greater Cincinnati’s “trial(s) of the year,” Ryan Widmer was convicted in his third murder trial in the 2008 drowning death of his wife, Sarah Widmer. Widmer, 32, who last lived in Mason, was sentenced in February to 15 years to life in prison. The Colerain Township native has maintained his innocence. He was convicted in his first trial in 2009 but the verdict was set aside because of jury misconduct. His 2010 trial resulted in a hung jury. His attorneys have appealed the third jury’s verdict and have asked for a fourth trial.
Kings Island opens new attractions
The region’s premier amusement park saw the opening of two new attractions this year and announced the expansion of a third major attraction for next year. Kings Island debuted the world’s largest animatronic dinosaur park, Dinosaurs Alive!, in April and its newest thrill ride, WindSeeker, in June. The park, which was also honored in September for the best kids’ area in the world by Amusement Today, this year announced a $10 million Soak City water park expansion that will double its size to 33 acres for 2012.
Mason named among best places to live
In August, Money magazine has confirmed what many Mason residents have long suspected. The magazine announced Mason to be the 24th best place to live in its national survey of smaller towns and cities. The city of 33,100 was cited for its high-ranking schools, recreational opportunities and housing prices.
Western & Southern Open welcomes world’s top tennis players
For the first time ever, the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason hosted top-tier men’s and women’s tournaments simultaneously during the same week in the largest Western & Southern Open. The new combined format joined Rome, Madrid, Miami and Indian Wells as the only other cities in the world hosting the same caliber events for both sexes at the same time. To make room for the larger event, the Lindner Family Tennis Center underwent a 5.4 acre expansion adding six new courts, a new entrance and ticket office, retail plaza and family restrooms.
Miss Ohio pedals into town amidst fanfare
Miss Ohio Ellen Bryan pedaled into Mason this summer amidst fanfare and smiles. The pageant contestant visited Mason in September on the third stop on a 45-city bike tour across Ohio to raise funds for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals of Ohio.
Disgraced Mason teacher heads to prison
A Warren County judge rejected the insanity plea of a former Mason teacher accused of having sex with students and sentenced her to four years in prison. Stacy Schuler, 33, was found guilty of 16 felony counts of sexual battery and three misdemeanor counts of providing alcohol to minors following a four-day bench trial in October. Schuler resigned from her job in February as a health and physical education teacher and trainer with Mason Schools. She will be eligible for judicial release after six months.
Huckabee comments propel Mason to center of state Issue 2 debate
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s comments at a pancake breakfast in Mason in October propelled the city to the forefront of the state debate on Issue 2, a ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, which would have limited the ability of public workers to negotiate for wages, working conditions and pension benefits. Huckabee galvanized hundreds of supporters of Issue 2 by jokingly urging them to stop opponents from voting. The comments drew national attention with MasonBuzz’s coverage and audio clip of the comments featured on such popular liberal blogs as Politico, the Huffington Post and Mother Jones, as well as aired on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews and The Ed Schultz Show. Voters rejected Issue 2 at the polls in November.
Mason bands take national stage
Mason High School bands took the national stage not once, but twice this year. In March, the school’s symphony and symphonic bands performed on one of music’s most grand stages, New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The 124 performers in Mason’s band performed as part of “The Best of the Midwest” concert in an evening time slot usually set aside for college and professional bands. Then, in November, the school’s marching band was chosen as just one of 12 bands of 92 to advance to the Grand National finals, where they finished as the top-placing Ohio band and tenth in the nation. The competition, held at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, is considered to the “Super Bowl” of competitions for high school marching bands.
Mason seats three on City Council, names new mayor
Mason city voters returned two former council veterans and voted in one newcomer to Mason’s City Council in November. Incoming council members Tom Grossmann, Victor Kidd and Barbara Berry-Spaeth were elected to four-year terms on city council. Grossmann and Kidd previously served on city council while it is a first term for Berry-Spaeth. Incumbent Mike Gilb, a lawyer and former state representative for a northern area of Ohio, lost his seat in the race. The other two seats replaced council members Christine Shimrock, who chose not to seek a second term, and Tony Bradburn, who was forced to leave due to term limits. Council also tapped David Nichols, who’s served as vice mayor for the past two years, as mayor in a December organizational meeting.
Mason woman follows dream on prime-time TV
Danielle Withers, 27, of Mason, is realizing her dreams of becoming a professional singer after appearing on the third season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off” this fall. The weekly series hosted by Nick Lachey follows 16 a cappella groups from across the country as they compete for a Sony Music recording contract and $200,000 cash prize. Withers and her group, Afro-Blue, made it to the top final four groups before being voted off. But for Withers, a 2002 Mason grad and Homecoming Queen, the dream has just begun — she moved to Los Angeles in November to pursue the professional opportunities generated by her appearance on the reality show.
Mason Schools receives statewide honors, awards
It’s been a banner year for Mason Schools. The 11,000-student district, which consistently ranks among the top 10 of Ohio’s 614 districts, racked up a number of awards and honors this year for academic growth and achievement, financial record-keeping and instituting a new child sexual abuse curriculum.The district kicked off the year in March by landing on the College Board’s AP Achievement List for gains in advanced placement course access and student performance — an achievement it repeated again in December. In August, the district reported that it had returned to the state’s top academic ranking of “Excellent With Distinction.” The district also ranked fifth in the state this year for more year-to-year academic growth, according to a numeric ranking of Ohio school districts compiled by a nonprofit consulting company. The district ended the year as one of five Ohio school districts to be recognized with the 2011 SOAR Award for Significant Progress.