9 to watch in 2009

As a new year begins today, The Herald spotlights people, decisions and trends likely to capture headlines in the coming year. Our annual list sticks to items of local importance -- and the choices are listed in no particular order.

Will housing get its groove back?

The housing meltdown wasn't as severe here as in other places. But construction slowed by as much as 50 percent. Economists predict the market could start to turn around by the end of this year.

Can Rock Hill schools boost student achievement?

The school system has been penalized for the past two years under the No Child Left Behind law's most stringent sanctions for failing to hit all of its student achievement targets. The district hit 29 of its 37 targets during the 2007-2008 school year.

School officials say they are revamping the way classes are taught and are adding a host of new programs.

Who's in line for a state football title?

Local high school football teams excelled, with South Pointe going 15-0 and winning a state title. Chester and Northwestern played for a championship, too. The area has always produced some good teams, but not in bunches like this.

South Pointe, Rock Hill and Northwestern are expected to be good again next fall.

Will the 'Obama effect' last?

President-elect Barack Obama inspired a generation of young people to get involved in politics, many for the first time. A number of local candidates ran campaigns that echoed Obama's calls for change.

Will these people stay involved now that the election is over?

What will the 2009 Carolina Panthers look like?

Let's worry about this season first. The Panthers open the NFL postseason Jan. 10 at home.

But big questions loom. Defensive end Julius Peppers and left tackle Jordan Gross are set to become free agents.

The team offered Peppers a deal that would make him the NFL's highest-paid defensive lineman, but he hasn't responded. Combined, the two deals could exceed $150 million.

What's next for the airport?

Clearly, 2008 was not a great year for the Rock Hill/York County Airport. A zoning dispute provoked neighbors to rally against a potential runway lengthening.

Decisions could be made this year on whether to move forward with an expansion. A citizens study group is reviewing options and will soon release a report. Neighbors will be watching.

Is this goodbye for the Charlotte Knights?

The question has persisted for years. But this could be the final season for the Charlotte Knights in Fort Mill -- unless York County leaders and the team can reach an agreement.

If the Knights want to continue playing here, county leaders want a long-term deal. The county already is studying other uses for the site -- possibly an agricultural center or horse show complex.

Can Winthrop basketball bounce back?

The past two months have been a nightmare for the Eagles (1-10), who have won four straight and eight of the past 10 Big South Conference titles.

Fans are restless, and some are wondering about second-year coach Randy Peele. The Eagles hope the Big South will be the cure, because the program hasn't had a losing season since 1997-98.

Who wants to be mayor?

Few are talking about it yet, but Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols faces another re-election campaign this fall. Echols enters as a heavy favorite, but a challenger could at least provoke an interesting debate.

One key issue is manpower at the police department. The city is about to add more officers, and a tax increase could be used to pay for them.

-- Matt Garfield • mgarfield@heraldonline.com