News that defined Johnson County this year — Here are the Post’s most read stories of 2021

Post most read stories 2021

As another big news year comes to a close, the Post has compiled a list of its most read stories in 2021. Here's a look at what Johnson Countians paid the most attention to this year.

It was (once again) a busy news year in Johnson County.

As in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news in Johnson County.

Updates about the county’s vaccine rollout were some of our most read stories in the first half of the year, as our readers were hungry for information about where and how to get their shots.

And those stories were supplanted later in the year by news of the rise of the Delta variant, which made us at times feel like we were reliving parts of 2020 all over again.

Other big stories the Post covered this year included much-watched local elections for municipal offices and school board seats that, in our increasingly divisive political environment, took on an unusually partisan tone.

The high political stakes coupled with schools’ response to the ongoing pandemic brought a new level of scrutiny to local districts’ decisions, a trend reflected in our readership for those stories.

And for some “good news.” This was also the year two homegrown stars hit new levels of global stardom and brought pride to our community.

In their separate pursuits, Jason Sudeikis and Paul Rudd — both Shawnee Mission West graduates — hit home runs this year, putting Johnson County in the national spotlight like never before. And our readers responded.

As this year comes to an end, here is the Post’s look back on 2021 in Johnson County through some of our most read stories.

Vaccine rollout

Johnson County vaccine
The beginning of the year was met with a bit of vaccine mania as Johnson Countians awaited eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. File photo.

Much like the rest of the country, Johnson County experienced a bit of vaccine mania at the beginning of the year as state and local official coordinated the rollout of COVID-19 shots.

The start of Johnson County’s rollout had some hiccups with seniors left lined up outside in freezing temperatures at a mass vaccination site in Shawnee on one morning in January.

But the county’s system soon got ironed out, and Johnson County quickly became the most vaccinated county in the Kansas City metro region, a status it still maintains today.

Some of the Post’s most read stories about vaccination rollout this year:

Johnson County seniors line up outside in freezing weather to receive COVID-19 vaccine (1/26)

AdventHealth Shawnee Mission will vaccinate 2,000 seniors Saturday — how to get future vaccination alerts (2/5)

8 Johnson County pharmacies to offer limited number of COVID-19 vaccines for seniors (2/10)

Select Hen House, Price Chopper pharmacies in Johnson County to start COVID-19 vaccines Monday (2/15)

AdventHealth Shawnee Mission to run weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinics — how to try to get a spot (2/18)

Johnson County will stop getting Moderna vaccine — what that means for residents needing their second dose (2/26)

Johnson County expands Phase 2 vaccinations this week — here’s who’s next and who must still wait (3/8)

Here’s how to find a COVID-19 vaccine in Johnson County now that all adults are eligible (3/29)

Persistent pandemic

Testing clinic
Although vaccinations are available to nearly every Johnson Countian, the pandemic continued in 2021 as Delta and Omicron variants made their way to the county. File photo.

Even as all adults in Johnson County were able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, there were concerns about resiliency against new variants.

It wasn’t until late in the summer that Johnson County saw its first confirmed case of the Delta variant, prompting a new wave of cases and mitigation measures — like mask rules — put in place in schools.

Two Johnson County cities, Prairie Village and Roeland Park, even briefly brought back mask rules inside their municipal boundaries.

Then, a few days before Christmas, the first reported COVID-19 Omicron variant case was announced in Johnson County.

Cases have continued to rise leading up to the of the year, the fourth peak of cases since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Some of the Post’s most read stories about the Delta and Omicron variants:

Johnson County vaccine FAQ: Do the vaccines work against COVID-19 variants? (4/9)

COVID-19 Update: Johnson County finds more variant cases as community spread increases (5/5)

Delta variant becoming ‘dominant strain’ of COVID-19 in Johnson County — here’s what that could mean (7/7)

‘Fairly concerning’ — Johnson County COVID-19 numbers spike as part of larger trend driven by Delta variant (7/16)

Johnson County reports first confirmed case of COVID-19 omicron variant (12/22)

Johnson County COVID-19 hospitalizations keep climbing, and officials say that’s still due to Delta, not Omicron (12/23)

Schools under scrutiny

SM South student wears a mask
Johnson County public school districts faced scrutiny for several issues this year, most notably the decisions on universal masking. Above, a Shawnee Mission South ceramics student in class wears a mask. File photo.

Johnson County school districts faced an unusual amount of scrutiny in 2021.

As students returned for in-person learning this August without a countywide mask mandate in place, most public school districts in Johnson County enacted their own universal mask rules.

That spurred opposition from parents and political groups staunchly against such rules, with one group in particular mounting a fall campaign that called for students to have the choice to wear masks at school.

In turn, national (and, some would say, contrived) controversies over critical race theory and diversity pushed their way into Johnson County school districts.

These issues and more made for contentious school board races across the county.

In the end, candidates and incumbents who supported mask rules and districts’ diversity efforts swept to victory in Shawnee Mission and USD 232, while critics of districts’ mask rules won two of three seats in Blue Valley.

Some of the Post’s most read stories about school scrutiny:

Johnson County public schools wills till require masks after county’s order lifted (5/3)

In open letter, nearly 200 doctors urge Blue Valley district to require ‘universal masking’ in schools (8/2)

Christine White, Johnson County pediatrician, withdraws from Blue Valley school board race (8/27)

Judge calls USD 232 school board candidate ‘not credible,’ raised questions about residency in court case (9/16)

Shawnee Mission weighs policy change after some parents raise concerns about book’s descriptions of sex (10/12)

Johnson County school board elections hinged on masks, critical race theory — see results in your district (11/2)

New campaign reports show just how expensive some hotly contested races for JoCo school boards were this year (12/15)

Local elections

Overland Park mayor
With Carl Gerlach retiring after 16 years in office, the contest for Overland Park mayor gained a lot of attention during this year’s local elections. Ultimately, City Council President Curt Skoog (left) bested business executive Mike Czinege for the city’s top job. File photo.

School boards weren’t the only elections in the spotlight this year.

As it always does, the Post dedicated time to municipal elections across northeast Johnson County in 2021.

And there were plenty of noteworthy local elections this year.

The city of Overland Park elected a new mayor for the first time in 16 years as Carl Gerlach retired. That city also had half it city council seats on the ballot, making for an interesting campaign.

There were also multiple city council seats up for grabs in Lenexa, Merriam, Mission, Prairie Village and Shawnee, and several seats vied for on the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees.

We hosted candidate forums for both primary and general elections and created election primers for our readers to research their choices before going to the polls.

In fact, Election Day, Nov. 2, and the day after turned out to be the busiest two-day stretch of the year for us in terms of readers’ coming to our site.

Here’s the Post’s most read stories about local, non-school board elections:

Overland Park mayor candidates differ on use of party labels in contest that’s been historically nonpartisan (9/27)

Overland Park mayor candidates differ in stances on COVID-19 and vaccines — see what each says (10/28)

See where the Overland Park mayoral candidates got their campaign donations (11/1)

Overland Park City Council shuffled following Election Night — see who won and lost (11/2)

Mission, Merriam, Lenexa, Prairie Village, Shawnee and JCCC — how other JoCo elections went (11/3)

Johnson County certifies final election results from Nov. 2 — no close races flip (11/9)

Wild weather

OPFD tree in house
Inclement weather tied to climate change was prominent in Johnson County this year. Earlier this month, a high wind advisory and thunderstorms left some residents with trees in houses, like the one above. Photo via Overland Park Fire Department Twitter.

From beginning to end, inclement weather in 2021 challenged Johnson County — and led more of our readers to comment about the local effects of climate change.

It started with blackouts in February, caused by a historic cold snap that crippled much of the central U.S. and left many Johnson Countians without power for days.

The summer saw several heavy downpours — something not totally out of the ordinary in Johnson County — that caused flooding across the region. Oppressive heatwaves also took their toll.

Then, this December, something that is unusual: a line of winter thunderstorms rolled through Johnson County, downing trees and causing more power outages just as residents had put out their Christmas decorations.

Some of the Post’s most read stories about bad weather and its effects:

Evergy rolling blackouts could impact Johnson County as utility contends with bitter cold (2/15)

Tornado spotted in Johnson County, but not all residents were alerted — here’s why (3/16)

Climate change is making the Kansas City area’s hot, humid summers even worse — how can our bodies adjust? (8/12)

Thunderstorms drop 7+ inches in parts of Johnson County — check out rainfall totals in your area (8/13)

Johnson County under high wind warning Wednesday — ‘Power outages are expected’ (12/14)

Powerful thunderstorms down trees, knock out power to thousands in JoCo (12/16)

Yes, you smelled smoke in Johnson County after Wednesday’s storms — here’s why (12/16)

What’s in a name?

Negro Creek
Johnson County’s Negro Creek is one of the places that sparked a name change conversation this year. File photo.

A conversation about race and history that began for many in 2020 with social justice protests following the murder or George Floyd continued in Johnson County into 2021.

That conversation ultimately encompassed discussions about names — of places, school mascots and even Johnson County itself.

This year, we learned more about the fraught history behind the name of Negro Creek, which runs through Overland Park and Leawood, putting impetus behind efforts to drop the name or at least bring more context to it.

In 2021, we also finally saw Shawnee Mission North officially retire its Indians mascot and the school community select a new moniker: the Bison.

And for a brief time towards the end of the year, public officials were asked to consider the import of having our county named after a slave owner and one-time supporter of the Confederacy.

All of these local conversations, mirrored a larger cultural debate that is still ongoing in the U.S. today.

Here’s some of the Post’s most read stories about name changes:

Four Shawnee Mission schools will need to find new mascots after district adopts new policy (1/26)

Researches uncover harrowing story that could be linked to Negro Creek, building momentum for name change (3/9)

How about the SM North Bison? School’s long-time INdians mascot officially replaced (5/5)

Overland Park begins process to rename Negro Creek while remembering its history (5/6)

SM North is now ‘Home of the Bison,’ but school’s former Indians mascot isn’t totally gone yet (8/16)

Shawnee Mission North unveils new Bison logo — here’s what it looks like (9/29)

Johnson County is named after a man who owned slaves. A new proposal could change that. (11/5)

Charter Commission member withdraws Johnson County name change proposal but still wants to have ‘important discussion’ (11/8)

Hometown stars go global

Paul Rudd
Paul Rudd, a Shawnee Mission West alumnus, was named People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2021. File photo.

Before 2021, we all knew Jason Sudeikis and Paul Rudd were pretty cool. Now, more people around the U.S. (and the world) are in on the secret.

These two most famous of Johnson County natives saw their level of celebrity go to a new level this year.

Sudeikis’ hit Apple TV+ show “Ted Lasso” garnered him a ream of awards and plaudits and made many ask a version of the question, “Is everyone from Kansas this nice?”

Likewise, Paul Rudd — a star already in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in comedic Hollywood circles — earned a very unexpected notch in his belt: People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”

Even he seemed surprised.

So, is Johnson County … sexy?

In 2021, at least, we can say we were.

Here’s the Post’s most read stories about locally-bred celebrities:

‘Ted Lasso’ reps city of Merriam in tweet — and city responds, ‘Com back and visit anytime!’ (7/12)

Ted Lasso recommends Overland Park Taco Via to USMNT as stop for sustenance in KC (7/13)

‘Ted Lasso’ scores big at 2021 Emmys, including win for OP-native Jason Sudeikis for Best Actor (9/20)

Overland Park proclaims Jason Sudeikis Day to honor homegrown star and ‘Ted Lasso’ creator (10/18)

Johnson County’s own Paul Rudd named People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ (11/10)

Paul Rudd gives shout out to SM West teacher Mrs. Shipley while hosting SNL (12/20)

Other big stories we covered

Stories like a group of tenants marching through Mission Hills protesting a neglectful landlord also gained a lot of attention this year. Above, the protestors marching. File photo.

Here are some other local headlines that caught readers’ attention in 2021:

Abandoned factory outside Overland Park attracts teens, worries parents — will it finally be torn down? (2/24)

SM East students walk out in support of assistant principal Susan Leonard, who did not get school’s top job (5/14)

KC renters march down landlord’s Mission Hills street, decrying ‘unhealthy’ living conditions like mold and pests (8/20) ​​

Elderly residents at Prairie Village’s Kenilworth Apartments feel pushed out by renovation plan — ‘I hate that I have to move’ (9/20)

Shawnee Tribe, Fairway announce plan to investigate history of Shawnee Indian Mission (10/1)

Stink bug sightings in Johnson County are up again this fall — here’s how to get rid of them in your home (10/6)

Nonprofit wants to convert old Deffenbaugh mansion in Shawnee into mental health facility (11/4)