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From the capital: Top 10 Kudos of 2003

The Indianapolis Star

It’s easy to forget amid all the discouraging reports that 2003 contained a great deal of good news, including stories of courage, generosity, grace in the face of adversity, and honest attempts to confront lingering social problems. Here are our picks for the Top 10 Kudos of the Year, focusing on state and local events:
1. Soldiers from Indiana on the front lines: Thousands of National Guard, reserve and regular military personnel from Indiana have been serving this year in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Many have spent months, if not the entire year, away from their families. The war in Iraq claimed the lives of 19 warriors from Indiana.
2. Judy O’Bannon’s grace and strength amid sorrow: Indiana’s first lady was a source of inspiration for all of Indiana when her husband, Gov. Frank O’Bannon, died in September. Who can forget her poignant decision to attend Joe Kernan’s swearing-in ceremony as governor? Or the sight of her stopping on the Statehouse steps, camera in hand, to snap a photo of the crowd at her husband’s memorial service?
In a time of great sorrow for Indiana, Judy O’Bannon was a pillar of strength.
3. Legislature approves economic development plan: Despite tight financial constraints, the General Assembly passed a major economic development plan in the spring. The plan emphasized the life sciences, education and cooperation between entrepreneurs and research universities.
Indiana still has a long way to go to rebuild its economy, but the legislation is a hopeful step forward.
4. A clean race for mayor: Democratic incumbent Bart Peterson and Republican challenger Greg Jordan stuck to issues, and avoided personal attacks, in their contest for the Indianapolis mayor’s office.
A cynic might note that Jordan’s reward for staying clean was a lopsided loss on election night. But Jordan, running against a popular incumbent, was at a heavy disadvantage from the beginning and likely would have lost by a wide margin no matter the tone of his message.
5. Blue ribbon schools: Three schools in Indianapolis were among only nine in Indiana to receive the national Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence award. St. Jude School and Roncalli High, along with three other Catholic schools elsewhere in Indiana, earned the distinction.
Most noteworthy, however, is the recognition of Indianapolis Public School 27, the first time in nearly two decades an IPS school has been named a blue-ribbon winner.
The school has a high poverty rate: 91 percent of the 279 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. But excuses aren’t allowed at School 27.
‘It’s our job to get kids at grade level and where they’re supposed to be academically,’ Principal Doris Thompson said in October.
6. Small high schools: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $11.3 million to Indianapolis area high schools to promote smaller classes and smaller schools. IPS, which received $5.2 million, is using part of the grant to convert five high schools into schools-within-schools.
7. Mentors, tutors and other volunteers: They go about their work quietly, but thousands of Hoosiers regularly contribute to their communities by volunteering for a variety of tasks. From soup kitchens to after-school programs, volunteers are making a difference in a city with a tremendous number of needs.
8. Lance Armstrong’s triumph: OK, he’s not a Hoosier. But it’s unlikely the cycling Texan could have come close to winning his fifth straight Tour de France this year without the help he received in 1996 at the Indiana University Medical Center. Before he could conquer the Alps, Armstrong had to beat testicular cancer, which had spread to his brain and abdomen. Even during his treatment at IU, Armstrong maintained a grueling training schedule. He’s been the king of France ever since.
9. The stand against hatred: It could have been an outrage. But when a group of neo-Nazis came to Indianapolis in August to protest against Hispanic immigrants, hundreds of ordinary people attended their own rally to embrace the community’s diversity.
The result was a unifying, fun event that drowned out the shouts of hate coming from a handful of extremists.
10. The return of sportsmanship: Their seasons ended badly for the Colts and Pacers in the first half of 2003. Peyton Manning and the ‘idiot kicker’ were feuding in public after an embarrassing loss in the playoffs. Ron Artest kept getting kicked out of games, and the Pacers were tossed from the playoffs in the first round.
The fall has brought redemption. The Colts won a division title and secured a home-field playoff game. Place-kicker Mike Vanderjagt hasn’t missed in a record-setting season.
More important, the team is winning without displaying any of the over-the-top antics produced by other teams. Don’t expect Marvin Harrison to pull a pen out of his sock or a cell phone from the goal post next time he makes it to the end zone. He’s been there before, and expects to visit again soon.
The Pacers, meanwhile, have the best record in the Eastern Conference, and Artest has for the most part played hard and behaved well.