Union Democrat staff

Within a month, we went from the bottom to the top.

In late January, a vandal did nearly $90,000 in damage to Sonora's Odd Fellows Cemetery, upending and breaking numerous century-old marble tombstones.

But just two weeks later more than 130 volunteers, many of them high school students, came out for a cemetery cleanup organized by the Odd Fellows. If anything could restore our faith in mankind, this community effort was it.

Outrage and indignation translated quickly into hard work, as the

volunteers cleaned grave sites, propped up tombstones, cleared brush

and washed away graffiti. "A phenomenal day," said Odd Fellow Del

Jackson, thanking all who helped the aging and shorthanded fraternity

restore its 155-year-old cemetery.

Sonora High football players, the Summerville volleyball team and

leadership class students joined scores of older volunteers in hefting

rakes and shovels on the springlike Saturday. It was our community at

its finest.

Fittingly, this bravura effort leads off the midwinter edition of

Bravos & Barbs - without the barbs. With the return of rain, snow

and clouds, we're keeping this edition sunny.

Our full helping of Bravos:

• For the Mother Lode League Champion Summerville High Bears boys

basketball team, which reeled off 13 straight wins on the way to the

title and a high seed in the Sac-Joaquin Division IV playoffs.

• For the Sonora 49er Rotary Club, which on Feb. 6 hosted its 25th

annual Frank Salel Super Bowl Breakfast.The hugely popular Mother Lode

Fairgrounds event attracted hundreds of omelet-eating football fans and

raised more than $10,000 for its scholarship fund.

• For Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, who kicked off her freshman term

in the Legislature by introducing a proposed constitutional amendment

that makes a lot of sense: switching California to a two-year budget

cycle that allows for more long-term financial planning and takes some

of the politically charged urgency out of a budgeting process that now

seems to run 24/7.

• For the 20-5 Calaveras Redskins girls basketball team, now

leading in the Mother Lode League and threatening to win its first

league title since 2002 and make a spirited run at the section title.

• For Sonora High junior Jonathon Bermea, who earlier this month

won Tuolumne County's Poetry Out Loud competition and will advance to

the statewide contest. Kudos also go to other readers and to the

sponsoring Central Sierra Arts Council.

• For Calaveras County's Mountain Oaks Charter School and for

Summerville High, whose Academic Decathlon teams won county

competitions and will advance to the state level.

• For Assemblyman Paul Fong, a Cupertino Democrat leading the

legislative charge to cancel California's February presidential

primary. The move was aimed at giving California more clout in choosing

candidates, but because a stampede of states joined us on Super

Tuesday, we were barely noticed in 2008. Combining the presidential

vote with the state's traditional June primary not only makes sense,

but would save financially strapped state government about $85 million.

• For the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, which has made its

own move to save on elections by urging the state to allow counties to

conduct certain special elections by mail. At issue would be countywide

special votes, for which polling places are now required. Switching to

all-mail for such elections, according to County Clerk Debi Russell,

would bring a 30 percent savings and - as more than 60 percent of

voters already vote by mail in general elections - inconvenience few.