Darin's Point of No Return

One of my favorite exercises of every December is to sift through each issue of that year and put together this relatively brief year-in-review column.

Well, I already found two things to chew on from that opening paragraph. First, my use of “favorite” and “exercise” in the same sentence was probably a first. Second, I went into this project this year with a ton of trepidation over re-living 2020 in any way, shape or form.

Obviously, we will see a lot about a certain virus in this recap. It was a major and inescapable part of the last nine months for our community — and, honestly, nearly every community on this spinning ball in which we live. To ignore that would be to ignore something that has touched just about every aspect of life. But there is also some good mixed in with the year that might have been somewhat lost or forgotten with everything else we’ve had to deal with since March.

I mean... we’ve basically been locked inside, hiding behind masks

and/or kept away from our loved ones

for the last nine months. Stuff is going to slip by from time to time, right?

Hopefully, looking back at 2020 in an abbreviated form will cause a few smiles, maybe a laugh or two and some appreciation for all that has still been accomplished here in our little slice of Heaven by the shore over the past year. Or, it will make you angry. Either way, I’ll laugh a little, and at the end of the day, that’s what truly matters, right?

Right.

January often rolls in with a hangover, a lot of promises about self-improvement and a full slate of college football games to watch. This year saw residents and officials debating a proposed Skipjack Wind Farm off the coast. We’ll hear more about that one. Millsboro was touting a new Grotto sports bar coming to town, Artesian made an offer of $3.6 million on the Frankford water plant and revelers enjoyed the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s Fire & Ice extravaganza, both inland and at the beach. Fenwick officials turned down a mutual police assistance agreement with Ocean View and South Bethany, and those two towns eventually re-worded things and went full-steam ahead. On a personal note, after being all-but-certain the Baltimore Ravens were going to cruise through the playoffs, I ended up shipping crabs to a friend in Tennessee due to a lost bet. I hope one pinched him.

February was a little longer this time around because it was a leap year (and, why wouldn’t 2020 be as long as possible?), and Frankford officials went ahead and agreed to sell that water plant to Artesian. Voters passed a major capital referendum to build a new Sussex Central High School on the third try, and we all cried a little inside when we discovered the popular barbecue restaurant, Em-ings, had closed its doors. Students celebrated “I Love to Read Month” with a plethora of cool events, and the Millsboro Police Department accepted seven quilts from the Millsboro Art League to donate to domestic violence victims in yet another kind-hearted effort by that department and community. Personally, I got drilled in the face by a dodge ball during a Ball 4 All event, and it was a precursor to what was coming for all of us in March.

Speaking of March, Delaware health officials were urging caution for residents, but advising people not to panic over the COVID-19 pandemic that was touching much of the world on March 3. As of that announcement, there had been zero deaths in Delaware attributed to the virus. Delmarva Power was issued approval to run a power line under Whites Creek, and things began to escalate with the virus as the month continued. The first three cases were confirmed in Sussex County, Gov. John Carney issued a dine-in ban for our restaurants and beaches were closed. On the positive side, we saw once again how people jump right in to help: Our schools offered free bag lunches to students who needed meals after the schools were shuddered, and Mountaire and Hocker’s combined on several efforts to make chicken available to families who were feeling the crunch of protein and supply shortages. On the personal side of things, we were all faced with the biggest challenge mankind has faced outside of war and famine — scarcity of toilet paper. Taco Night went on a brief hiatus for millions of sacrificing Americans.

April showers bring ... checkpoints by the Delaware State Police to make sure out-of-staters weren’t coming in with their cooties. Millsboro just kept on growing, with an approval of a preliminary site plan for a Texas Roadhouse restaurant, and John Reddington took his oath of office virtually to become the new mayor of Ocean View. The Skipjack project was put on a one-year hold, and Indian River High School began lending Chromebook laptops to students so more people could be exposed to virtual learning. One of my favorite projects started when Indian River School District choral teachers Matt Wattenmaker and Eric Tsavdar began organizing a virtual choir where students could participate from their computers. Personally, I got back into trying to catch quarters that were stacked on my elbow — an underappreciated sport that captures the true essence of athleticism and coolness under pressure. Also, I was bored a lot. Those two things might be connected.

May is a special month around here, with Memorial Day weekend ushering in another busy season. Make that, “Most Mays.” Well, at least the brave souls who gave their lives for our nation were still appreciated, as evidenced by Southern Sussex Rotary continuing to place flags as part of their Flags for Heroes program. It was nice to see that patriotic normalcy and respect. We also saw the Beebe South Coastal Health Campus open its doors in Millville, and South Bethany and Bethany Beach opened their beaches again so people could get a little fresh air and exercise. Unfortunately, two great local events were canceled, with officials calling off the Senior League Softball World Series held in Roxana each August, and Operation SEAs the Day being canceled in September. Officers in Ocean View and South Bethany, with some help from the Delaware State Police, showed us once again that law enforcement doesn’t stop in a pandemic — busting two adults and a teen in a local drug raid. Personally, I got the urge to try on the old bathing suit as the temps were heating up. Then I crossed in front of a mirror and went back to sweaters and snow pants.

June annually brings about the Baltimore Orioles falling to pieces after a tease of a start, but that did not happen this year. What did happen was the popular Freeman Stage making a really cool decision to host local acts this year in a safe environment, and members of the Class of 2020 having unorthodox graduation ceremonies, but graduation ceremonies, nonetheless. Protestors gathered in Frankford to speak out on the death of George Floyd in police custody, and local law enforcement joined them in peaceful assembly. Virginia Pepper was given “the key to the city” for her 50 years of working for the Town of Selbyville, and the state entered both Phase I and II of re-opening. Bethany Beach officials tinkered with the parking map to try to limit crowds for social-distancing purposes, then re-tinkered it after hearing from angry businesses. On a personal note, our community pool did not open for the year, causing a bored 5-year-old to drive us crazy to the point where we just started spraying her with a hose every day. That, not surprisingly, was cathartic to us, if nothing else.

July did not bring the big beachtown fireworks displays as years past, but that didn’t stop residents and visitors, alike, from filling the air themselves. Like, all night long. Drove me bonkers. Anyway... Indian River School District Superintendent Mark Steele retired, and the Skipjack project was axed in regards to an interconnection facility happening at Fenwick Island State Park. It then came out that they were considering alternate locations in Bethany Beach and Cedar Neck. Connie Pryor won a seat on the school board, and Bethany officials made masks mandatory downtown. On a very sad note, a Virginia woman who was last seen in Salt Pond went missing, and was later presumed dead by authorities. Personally, I was catching 14 quarters off my elbow and researching on YouTube to see if I could make it a career — because, you know, all the really good research comes from YouTube.

August saw me get another year older, which stinks. Loudly. We also got a little visit from Tropical Storm Isaias, so... yay? Rodney Layfield became the new president of the Indian River School District Board of Education after the retirement of Charles Bireley, and former Fenwick Island Police Chief William Boyden was indicted for allegedly falsifying records of his firearms certifications. The school district announced they would be going to a hybrid model this year, which is probably the best they could have done under the circumstances. On the personal side of things, Susan Lyons also turned a year older. And that made me smile.

September historically brings a wrap to the busy season, and this year it brought some important changes to a few of our local police departments. John Devlin was named the new chief of the Fenwick Island Police Department, and the Frankford Police Department welcomed Anthony Valenti to the force as a part-time officer, helping ease some of the burden on Police Chief Larry Corrigan. Bar-seating re-opened throughout the state, and a Maryland man passed away in the ocean off the coast of Bethany Beach after lifeguard hours had completed for the day. I took my daughter to her first day of kindergarten, and was a nervous wreck for the rest of the... yeah, I’m still a nervous wreck.

October brings out ghosts and goblins and all kinds of unsavory, spooky creatures, and this year it also brought about the term “tar balls” as a weird oil spill appeared on local beaches. The somewhat-controversial Fenwick Shores hotel got a liquor license for their indoor bar, and Millville approved the Peninsula Village community inside Millville By the Sea. Comcast announced it was expanding into South Bethany and Bethany Beach, stirring up cable company discussions throughout our community. Again. Local organizations and communities still offered some trick-or-treating opportunities for the kids, which was nice to see them enjoy a little normalcy. Personally, I charged my daughter a standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups tax. And Tootsie Rolls. And Butterfingers. She learned about how our economic system really works, so, really, you guys should be celebrating me instead of making that face you’re making right now. That face! Stop it!

November brings us a time to remember all we are thankful for, and I was reminded once again how thankful I am for people in this community like Richard and Rebecca Mais when they announced they would be closing their popular McCabe’s Gourmet Market at the end of this year. That physical place will be filled by wonderful replacements in Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli and Big Fish Market, but Richard and Rebecca will not be forgotten for all they’ve done over the years. Gov. Carney announced more restrictions as the virus picked up steam again, and an industrial accident at the water tower of Sussex Shores Water Company took the lives of two young men. On the bright side, Sgt. Barry Wheatley was named officer of the year for the Millsboro Police Department, beach nourishment began in Bethany Beach and South Bethany and ground was broken for the new Howard T. Ennis School. I ate too much for Thanksgiving, then got another plate and ate too much again. I washed it all down with a few pieces of candy I had stashed away from Halloween, and entered the “sweatpants” stage of the year I find myself in each and every winter.

December. The final stage in a year that felt like two years in one. We saw Indian River School District students go to full-remote status surrounding the holidays, and Fenwick Shores opened its doors. The first vaccines hit Delaware, and the John M. Clayton school got a brand new, all-inclusive playground that affords opportunities to all students, no matter their physical limitations. Christmas came, many of us celebrated the “Reason for the Season” and we affirmed once again that a virus can not steal our faith or hope. The Indian River soccer team won the state championship, and that’s how I’m going to leave this year in review. Thank you, Indians, for letting us rally around you and your wonderful accomplishment.

Executive Editor

Darin is a native of Washington, D.C, and studied journalism at Temple University. He is a combat-veteran Marine, and has worked as a reporter and editor throughout the country. He is married and has one daughter, who doubles as his harshest critic.