Christmas spirit is alive in the Catawba Valley, with the holiday just three days away.
Inside The O-N-E and at observernewsonline.com today:
* Hundreds of Catawba County children sent their letters to Santa, and The O-N-E shares many of them with you today. Among the most popular requests this year are video game systems, iPods, iPads, skateboards and dolls. Find a sampling of Santa letters today in â€śDear Santa: What I Want For Christmasâ€ť inside The O-N-E and Outlook, and visit the local news tab at observernewsonline.com for a comprehensive wish list from county children.
Mildred “Mickey” Queen Allen, 86, of Catawba, died Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011 at Iredell Memorial Hospital in Statesville. The Allen family has entrusted the funeral arrangements to Willis-Reynolds Funeral Home & Crematory in Newton.
Each year, Jeanette Ringley turns the Peoples Bank on â€śAâ€ť street into a winter wonderland.
Ringley, Peoples' business center manager, transforms the bank with her collection of Christmas decorations.
Wooden cutouts of Christmas carolers line the entrance walkway to a main lobby and banking area filled inch to inch with Christmas trees, snowmen, a life-size Santa and detailed holiday miniatures. Blue, green, red and white lights are draped across the ceiling and walls, shining on wreaths and a fully-decorated Christmas tree in the center of the room.
The holiday season became just a little brighter this week for three area families thanks to almost 70 locally owned and operated businesses and The Observer News Enterprise's shop-local Hometown Christmas program.
"Santa Claus came just a few days early for a few lucky families," said The O-N-E Publisher Michael Willard, "and he came early for the businesses that welcomed customers who spent holiday dollars inside the locally owned shops, restaurants and businesses that are so important to this region's economy."
Catawba County plans to provide more than $30 million total to its three school systems in the next four years for each to build a new elementary school.
The money for the schools comes mostly from county tax allocations and partly from N.C. Education Lottery funds.
The county set up a system in 2003 to reserve a portion of the tax rate each year for school improvements and construction, said Rodney Miller, the county finance director. In 2007, the county increased that allocation to also include lottery money, Miller said.
Catawba County children want high-tech gifts for Christmas this year.
Many also desire traditional presents that have filled the floors around American Christmas trees for decades.
Hundreds of county children recently wrote letters to Santa Claus, and The Observer News Enterprise intercepted those letters on their way to the "big man" in the North Pole. Dozens of those letters are available inside The O-N-E and Outlook today in "Dear Santa: What I Want For Christmas."
It is crunch time for construction crews at the new Newton-Conover Middle School and The Observer News Enterprise takes an inside look at the projects progress. Read more about the school in the Wednesday print and online editions of The O-N-E.
Be sure to visit The O-N-E Facebook page for an exclusive photo gallery of the school-in-progress, www.facebook.com/pages/The-Observer-News-Enterprise/73539327933.
Playing Hickory for the second time around, it was a much different result for the Newton-Conover girls basketball team.
Shynese Whitener scored 22 points and four Lady Red Devils reached double-digits, delivering the Lady Red Tornadoes their first loss of the season in a 57-52 win on Tuesday in Newton.
Kadesha Gibbs added 11 points for Newton-Conover (6-2), while Taylor Petty and Dashia Tipps added 10 points each.
Danasia Witherspoon led Hickory (9-1) with 19 points.
St. Stephens 51, Bandys 39
Chris Hefner scored 11 points and Kerigan Farley added 10 points to lead the Indians (8-3) to a non-conference victory against the Trojans.
St. Stephens turned a one-point lead in the first quarter into a 32-22 lead at halftime. That distance carried through the rest of the game, pacing the Indians to their second win over the Trojans.
Hayden Deal led Bandys (0-9) with 12 points.
Bandys 80, St. Stephens 26
CHARLOTTE â€” A quick glimpse at the numbers suggests the Panthers should focus on upgrading their defense next offseason.
But that's not necessarily the team's thinking as it begins to look ahead to 2012.
Although the Panthers rank 23rd in the NFL in total defense this year â€” as opposed to fifth on offense â€” general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera feel the defense is much improved over the last month.
The Panthers (5-9) have held three of their last four opponents to fewer than 20 points entering Sunday's game against Tampa Bay (4-10).