Tragedy and loss, politics and activism, celebrity and scandal turned the attention of the world often to the Triangle in 2015, and The News & Observer reported it all.
Over the last three days of the year, we’re counting down and revisiting our best-read staff stories of 2015, as measured by digital page views. Today, stories 15 through 11:
By Bruce Siceloff, June 10
The story: The state Division of Motor Vehicles this summer began allowing most drivers to renew a license online every other time it expires. That means drivers ages 18 to 65, whose licenses are good for eight years, need visit a DMV office only once every 16 years. (For other drivers, licenses are good for five years.) The DMV also began rolling out a more durable version of the license, with three versions of the driver’s photo — a large one in color, a smaller, laser-etched black-and-white version and a color ghost image.
The rest of the story: Online renewal became available statewide in October. If your license expires soon, you’ll want to know this: Fees for license renewal and many other DMV services will rise Friday with the new year. For one thing, the fee for standard Class C driver licenses will increase by $1 for each year issued, making an 8-year license $40 and a five-year license $25; standard ID cards will be $13.
The DMV will close its online services site at 9 p.m. Thursday to upload the new fee schedule, and reopen it at 12:01 a.m. Friday, so plan ahead. You may renew your license if it expires within six months. The DMV is at ncdot.gov/dmv.
By Taylor Knopf, March 13
The story: After more than 30 years of performances by the high-stepping Tennessee Walking Horse, the state Department of Agriculture decided that the N.C. State Fair would discontinue the show. A protest during the fair in October 2014 influenced the decision, and a petition with 19,700 signatures demanded that the State Fair ban the performance category for the breed.
Protesters say the training for this type of show is inhumane. They say that the high step is achieved only by inducing pain, and that some trainers use chemicals to create sores on the horses’ ankles, attach devices to irritate the sores and stick sharp nails into the sensitive area of the hooves.
The rest of the story: North Carolina’s fair was one of the last state fairs that offered the show, and a nationwide push to end competitive shows that feature the high-step prance continues, Taylor Knopf reports. A federal ban was proposed again this year in the House and Senate; it has considerable bipartisan support in both chambers but has not reached the floor.
By Dan Kane, March 1
The story: Cheryl Thomas, a former graduate-school admissions director at UNC-Chapel Hill, said she was asked several times by UNC athletics officials or administrators to admit athletes to graduate school who hadn’t met requirements — missing application deadlines, earning insufficient grades or failing to take an entrance exam. These students had athletic eligibility remaining but had finished their undergraduate degrees, and needed to stay in school to compete for UNC. The story focused on the experience of Michael Waddell, a football cornerback and kick returner who flunked out after using his graduate school enrollment to play a fourth year at UNC.
The rest of the story: UNC officials have been mostly mum about Thomas’ allegations, citing federal student privacy laws in many cases. Thomas also gave her story and documentation to the NCAA, which could punish UNC as part of a broader investigation into the scandal involving UNC athletes and academics. But Thomas’ information was not mentioned in the NCAA’s initial notice of allegations, sent to UNC in May. That process continues.
By Luke DeCock, Feb. 16
The story: After legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith died Feb. 7, Aaron Kirschenfeld, an alumnus of UNC’s fiercest rival, mused in a blog post that Duke should pay tribute with a Blue Devil-themed “Dean” T-shirt when the Devils and Tar Heels played in Durham on Feb. 18.
When his post went viral, and UNC alums Ryan Cocca and Rohan Smith offered the help of their apparel company, Thrill City, the project was born. Thrill City would produce the shirts and handle logistics and out-of-area shipping; Kirschenfeld would deliver shirts to Duke fans on game day; and the profits would go to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Carrboro, one of the Smith family’s designated charities.
The rest of the story: More than 2,000 “Duke for Dean Memorial Tees” were sold, Kirschenfeld said last week, and after costs were covered, the Inter-Faith Council got $21,500. (Duke won the game, 92-90 in overtime.)
It has been an eventful year for Kirschenfeld — he got married (to a UNC grad) and earned his law degree from UNC, where he works as a law librarian. And of course, there was the T-shirt experience, and the many stories he heard of families with split loyalties honoring Smith. “The day of the game, giving out the T-shirt and sitting for hours and hours listening to the stories, was incredible,” he said. “It was something that really touched a lot of people.” The shirts are no longer available, so if you want one, check eBay.
By Lynn Bonner and Craig Jarvis, Aug. 26
The story: House and Senate leaders finally reached a compromise on teacher and state employee pay and moved closer to a deal on overall state spending. They agreed to give state employees and teachers $750 bonuses this year; the House had wanted a 2 percent across-the-board raise, and the Senate had proposed targeted raises for positions that are hard to fill. The $750 bonus represents 1.75 percent of the average state employee salary.
Some details were still pending, such as funding for teacher assistants, to be decided by budget subcommittees.
The rest of the story: The final $21.74 billion budget deal, passed three weeks later, kept the $750 bonuses in lieu of raises and boosted starting teacher pay to $35,000. It did not cut funding for teacher assistants, but banned school districts from using that money for other purposes; some districts had been using it to help pay for full-time teachers.
Eric Frederick is The News & Observer’s digital managing editor.
Frederick: 919-829-8956. Twitter: @Eric_Frederick
Our 15 best-read stories of 2015
10 through 6: Coming Wednesday
5 through 1: Coming Thursday