Saturday, April 12, 2008

TOP STORY > >Schools regroup after disruptions

By JOAN McCOY AND
THERESA KOMOR
Leader staff writers

Dan Ebbs, principal at Sylvan Hills High School, which suffered extensive damage from the April 3 tornado, hopes to have the school repaired in three weeks.

“Things are going well. We’re getting in all academics and the time for them,” Ebbs said. “It has taken a lot of cooperation, coordination and support of a lot of people to pull this off — the city of Sherwood, the police, the school.”

Underclassmen are attending the high school, while seniors are at the Bill Harmon Recreation Center, where breakfast and lunch are served for the students.

“But we have a senior-pass policy where some of the students can leave for lunch,” said Ebbs.

There are enough classrooms, though a few classes have had to double up wherever possible. The school is concentrating on the core curriculum, the courses that seniors need to graduate this May. Electives are on hold, for now.

“For those students repeating acourse or needing to pick one up, work is brought to and from the middle school, which is working out well,” Ebbs said.

“I hope that we’ll be back in three weeks. Our fingers are crossed,” the principal said.

The wind and rain that blew through the Beebe area at noon Thursday came so hard and fast that water ran under the doors at three of the school buildings and stood above the bottoms of low-hung windows on the primary building.

“I have never seen a rain like that before,” said Hal Crisco, the assistant superintendent in charge of the grounds and transportation.

By the time the storm hit, all the students had been moved to the two tornado shelters on campus, Crisco said. The city’s tornado sirens didn’t sound because White County was never under a tornado warning. But Crisco said his office was monitoring the weather on the Internet as well as being in contact with the police department and it was clear that a bad storm was headed their way.

Crisco said water ran over the bridges on the campus and under the doors at the 11-12-grade high school and junior high but the problem was worse at the intermediate building where debris from the hard rain stopped up grates and the water that was supposed to be drained away ran inside and filled the hallways one-inch deep.

Although plans are in the works for a tornado shelter at the McRae school that is now Beebe Middle School, Crisco said the fifth and sixth grade students at that facility took shelter in the hallways.

Crisco said the students and staff spent about 20 minutes in the shelters.

Although the public is allowed to use the shelter at the high school when classes are out, Police Chief Wayne Ballew said no one but students and staff were allowed in when school is in session. During the storms last Thursday night, about 300 area residents used the high school shelter, Ballew said.

Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson, who owns Warehouse Furniture on Dewitt Henry Drive, said the ditches on his side of the street were overflowing and water came through the doors into his business. And like everyone else, he vacuumed it up. But the rain over the past weeks also has been helpful in a way, he said, because it has shown where runoff is a problem.

“You could say we’ve been using it to our advantage,” the mayor said. “We’ve been cutting streets and putting in tiles since this rain started.”

The city has spent thousands on the work that the mayor said he believes will relieve some flooding problems in the future.

In Cabot, which has been known in the past for flooding problems, Public Works Director Jerrel Maxwell says the water ran off quickly with no reports of any homes flooding.

“It has all run down now,” Maxwell said Friday morning. But we were like every other city. We had a lot of water.”

The police department, in the basement of city hall, flooded as it occasionally does in heavy rain, he said.

TOP STORY > >Landfill hearing Monday

By ALIYA FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

After three public presentations in Jacksonville, the owner of the trash dump at the city’s entrance will again face residents’ questions at a meeting in the Jacksonville Community Center at 6 p.m. Monday.

Joey Price, who owns 50 acres of land near the landfill, said he thinks Waste Management is acting responsibly by appearing in public to respond to Jacksonville residents’ concerns with a bigger landfill. He has talked to his neighbors to let them know about the expansion.

“It is very important to have a good attendance at this meeting to let them know that Jacksonville cares about our community,” Price said in an email he sent to his neighbors. “Waste Management plans to attend the ADEQ public meeting,” David Conrad, director of landfill operations at Two Pine, said. “We look forward to any and every opportunity where we can interact with people wanting to know more about our landfill.”

The Arkansas Departmentof Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will hold the informal public meeting Monday night in Jacksonville on the application for an expansion of the Waste Management-owned Two Pine Landfill.

In February, ADEQ held a public-comment period on the draft permit to expand the landfill by approximately 144 acres at the intersection of Hwy. 167/67 and I-440.

The Monday meeting is not considered part of the public-comment period.

ADEQ and Waste Management reps will discuss the permit application that asks the state to approve a dump nearly three times the size of the current one. If approved, Two Pine will become a 240-acre site capable of holding 34.4 million acres of trash for 24 years.

The expanded dump would be within 1.5 miles of the community center in the 100-year flood plain.

“This expansion will be detrimental to the future growth of Jacksonville,” Price wrote in email he sent to Jacksonville residents.

The landfill will approach Dupree Park and homes on the south side of Jacksonville. The landfill is also near Indianhead Lakes in Sherwood and North Lake subdivisions in Jacksonville and the Rixie area south of Jacksonville.

During the public-comment period, neighbors of the existing trash dump told ADEQ that a bigger dump would depreciate real estate values.

New homes planned for construction will be within 500 feet of the expanded dump.

At last month’s city council meeting, Alderman Bob Stroud said Dupree Park would flood even more than it does now if the landfill is allowed to grow.

Waste Management contends that flood channels have been approved by FEMA and that rainwater is directed to storm-water basins and analyzed by a third-party source before it is discharged into Brushy Creek and Bayou Meto.

At the upcoming Monday meeting, staff members from the ADEQ’s Solid Waste Management Division are scheduled to discuss the proposed permit and answer questions.

“After the agency issues a final permit decision in the matter, any persons who commented on the proposed permit during the public participation process will have legal standing to file an appeal of the permit decision, ” according to an ADEQ press release on the meeting.

Doug Szenher, ADEQ spokesperson, said only “persons who had previously commented on the draft permit during a designated comment period which expired in February would have legal standing to appeal,” Szehner said.

“It is our understanding that this additional public meeting will provide citizens with yet another opportunity to learn about our state-of-the-art landfill, including its many safeguards and the landfill gas to energy system,” Conrad said. “It will also allow the public to learn more about our work with Audubon to improve and restore wetlands areas.”

Conrad spoke Thursday to 12 members of the Jacksonville chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) about the planned expansion.

“It went real well,” president Jeanie Tillman said, noting that she was impressed with Conrad’s presentation on the landfill.

She said she approached Conrad after seeing his presentation before the Jacksonville City Council meeting last month.

It was the second time Conrad was before the city council in an informal presentation of Waste Management’s plan.

Friday, April 11, 2008

TOP STORY > >No new schools without tax hike

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Construction of a Jackson-ville middle school and a new elementary school at Little Rock Air Force Base depends upon Pulaski County Special School District having the money to pay for them at a time when the district is losing money and seems to lack the resolve to promote, or even submit to voters, a millage increase proposal.

An unscientific telephone survey conducted in-house by the district’s public-relations firm showed only lukewarm support for a millage increase.

While both schools are on the district’s 10-year school facilities master plan, construction is contingent upon approval of a property tax increase. The district had suggested a 7.7-mill, $200 million increase to pay for all items on the master facilities plan, while some Jacksonville community members say a 2-mill increase would take care of local schools and be easier to pass.

Any millage increase must pass district-wide.
Consensus of board members at a millage workshop Tuesday afternoon was that the district ought to reconsider the matter in a year.

Lack of a millage increase would also push back construction of the new Sylvan Hills middle school and the new Maumelle high school, according to Larry O’Briant, the district’s chief financial officer. Lack of new revenues from a millage increase is just one of the financial challenges facing the district and school construction, O’Briant said Friday.

Others include:

Continually declining enrollment, resulting in less funding. Last year the district lost 302 students, O’Briant said, costing PCSSD about $1.6 million in state minimum foundation aid. That’s the money that follows to the student to a district at a rate of about $5,800 each.

This year, the district lost another 135 students, meaning a decrease of about $750,000 in state aid next year.

Possible achievement of unitary status. That could cost the district its $15 million a year share of state desegregation money, phased out over a seven-year period.

Also, if and when Jacksonville detaches to form its own district, that’s about $30 million a year that would go to the new district instead of PCSSD, but that PCSSD could be left paying the note on about $40 million worth of new Jacksonville schools.

“These three factors have really put the district walking on uncharted waters,” O’Briant said. “I didn’t realize that Jacksonville was as close to detaching. These unknowns have put us in a conservative, cautious mode.”

The survey—really more like a focus group—was just to feel the pulse of patrons on a millage.

“We did 154 calls, primarily in Maumelle and Sherwood and Chanel Valley on April 2,” said Craig Douglass, the district’s public-relations consultant.

The question was: “In order to maintain public school buildings and education programs, the Pulaski County Special School District is considering asking for a millage increase. Would you favor or oppose increasing the property tax millage to support the public schools in your area?”

Of the 154 responses, 34 percent strongly favored, 30 percent strongly opposed, and the remainder somewhat favorable, somewhat opposed or undecided, according to Douglass.

Douglass said that after about 14 negative responses in the first 14 calls to Jacksonville residents, they stopped making surveys in Jacksonville.

“To me, 159 phone calls isn’t a real sample,” said school board member Danny Gilliland. “They called 14 in Jacksonville and stopped.” I live in the area, my kids go to school there and I’m not getting that same negative feeling from there,” he said.

“That question didn’t give voters any information,” said state Representative Will Bond, president of the Jacksonville World Class Education Association.

It was the association that kept pressure on the school board to finally put some Jacksonville schools on the facilities master plan.

He said the board’s ambivalence about the millage-increase vote is among the things that have led to “a level of frustration.”

“We don’t feel from the administration the sense of urgency there should be,” Bond said. “Kids only go through the system once, you can’t turn back the clock on educational opportunities.”

One young Jacksonville mother of two said area residents would be disinclined to vote for a millage increase because they don’t trust PCSSD.

TOP STORY > >When the tornado hit

By THERESA KOMOR
Leader staff writer

There’s a sharp right curve on Jacksonville Cato Road in Gravel Ridge that marks the area surrounding the devastation left behind by the April 3 tornado. Road crews are still working to clear the downed trees along the road.

The road continues down a bit before you see a house in the middle of piles of branches and huge tree roots.

It is the home of Ray “Festus” Nebling and his wife, Margie. He said it was around 10 p.m. when they were both in bed, and they heard a boom and then the wind.

Once it was quiet again, he ventured outside to look.

“I had a tree over one end of my house, a tree laying over my barn, a tree laying over the bed of my pickup, and a lot of trees across my driveway. We were sewed in,” said Nebling. “The tornado was bouncing, taking the tops off of trees and moving them 10 to 12 feet.

“Everyone is OK. No one was hurt. Thank God,” Nebling said.

The past week has beenhectic for him as he tried to get things ready for the next storm system that headed this way on Thursday.

The frustration, he said, comes from people stopping and wanting all the fallen trees for firewood. Some people don’t ask, they just take, he said.

Right away, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and members of the Hardriders Biker Church were there to help cut up and clean away the downed trees.

The experience was a little different for Caroline Dunlap of Hidden Creek Road in Gravel Ridge. She wasn’t home at the time of the tornado, and was alerted by her security system company.

“When I got home, the police were right outside, and they advised me not to go into the area, but to wait until daylight because there were power lines and trees down everywhere,” Dunlap said.

The next day, she went back to her house and found that part of the roof was missing and both front windows were blown out.

“It’s not so bad for me. One of my neighbor’s roof is completely gone, and another neighbor lost an entire wall of his house,” she said.

Mason Collier of Loop Road in north Pulaski County was watching TV, saw his neighborhood under the tornado warning, and then the electricity went off. He and his wife then heard the sirens, grabbed their dogs and got in the master closet.

“I heard dead silence. Then, I heard what sounded like a 747 and heard what sounded like cracking bamboo. It was the roof of my house coming off. Then silence again,” said Collier. When he came out of his house, he found his roof across the street.

“But, it was weird. Everything inside the house was OK. When it rained, the ceilings got wet and fell in afterwards,” he said. Still, the tornado twisted the house and will have to be rebuilt.

“I have to say, I was very impressed. Almost immediately, people from Home Depot were there with chain saws, tarps, nails, gloves and pitched right in,” said Collier.

First Baptist Church, the city of Sherwood, the mayor, councilmen and FEMA have all been out to pitch in with the cleanup.

“We came out of it. Nobody got hurt, thank God,” Collier said.

TOP STORY > >PCSSD balks at forming new district

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Residents seeking endorsement of a stand-alone Jacksonville school district by the PCSSD school board next week will find the administration offering a substitute resolution that stops far short of endorsement.

Having learned of the substitute resolution that would block formation of a new district, Jacksonville attorney Ben Rice has amended his original proposal in hopes of overcoming the board’s objections.

His amended proposal still calls for endorsement of the stand-alone district, but contingent upon PCSSD being declared unitary — desegregated — in student assignment.

Pulaski County Special School District Board president Charlie Wood called a special meeting for Tuesday to consider the proposal in response to Rice’s petition.

On Tuesday, Wood told the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce that he thought the Jacksonville district proposal had the support of four or five of the district’s seven board members.

Detachment of students from the Jacksonville area could take about 30 percent of the students from PCSSD—and 30 percent of the state minimum foundation aid—based on enrollment — which is currently about $100 million a year.

PCSSD was the plaintiff in a successful 2003 lawsuit that prevented an election that could have authorized the Jacksonville district. A PCSSD resolution in favor of a standalone district would not only reinforce Jacksonville’s case for its own district, but would show the court that the board no longer opposed the idea, according to Rice.
Rice’s original and amended resolutions each conclude in part:

“Be it resolved by the PCSSD board of directors that the Arkansas State Board of Education is hereby authorized and directed to take such steps as might be necessary to allow the creation of a new school district in the Jacksonville area, by detachment from the PCSSD.”

The proposed new school district includes all areas in the attendance zones of Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School.

In 2003, U.S. District Judge Wilson blocked a vote by residents in those zones on the issue, ruling that Jacksonville and PCSSD were still constrained by the 2000 desegregation agreement.

Wilson subsequently deferred ruling on petitions from North Little Rock and PCSSD for unitary status, which could end federal oversight and open the door for a Jacksonville district, until the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals in St. Louis rules on an appeal of Little Rock’s declaration of unitary status.

RESOLUTION PREMATURE

Toward that end, Super-intendent James Sharpe directed PCSSD attorney Sam Jones to draw up a substitute resolution.
That resolution denies Rice’s petition, reading in part:

“Therefore it is the considered opinion of the PCSSD board of directors that the resolution submitted by the Jacksonville patrons is premature, cannot be currently reconciled with (legislation) and that the PCSSD as a whole is served by continuing to follow, monitor and participate in the process resolution outline in the act as amended under the leadership of the attorney general’s office which may or may not result in the creation of a new Jacksonville school district, depending upon resolution and agreement of all other matters, contingencies and requirements set forth and explained in the act as amended.”

Jones confirmed Thursday that the resolution he drafted in no way endorsed the idea of a stand-alone Jacksonville district.

CONTINGENCY

Rice sent what he calls a “counter, counter resolution” Thursday contingent upon achieving unitary status or being resolved by the judge.

In addition to authorizing and directing the state board of education to take the necessary steps to allow the creation of a Jacksonville school district, as the original resolution did, adds this:

“This resolution is contingent upon the following conditions being met:

“1. That PCSSD achieve unitary status in the ongoing desegregation lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court, so that PCSSD is no longer subject to the supervision of that court; or approval by the presiding judge in that lawsuit to conduct a detachment election in the area described in this resolution; or a declaration by the state of Arkansas that the Jacksonville area have its own school district; or that all other legal requirements are met for detachment of the described Jacksonville-North Pulaski High School attendance areas into a separate school district, independent of PCSSD.

“2. Upon creation of a Jacksonville area school district, there would be an allocation of assets and liabilities between the separate school districts, according to current law.”

EDITORIAL >>The fall continues

Many there are who rejoice over the misfortunes of Tommy Robinson, of which there seems to be an unending string and, as far as we can tell, all self-inflicted. We prefer to mourn rather than celebrate because we remember the encouraging beginning of his mercurial career — when he was an energetic young chief of police at Jacksonville.

As an innovative but lock-’em-up kind of cop (he wanted to ban handguns), Robinson caught the eye of another rising politician, Bill Clinton, who made him director of Arkansas public safety in 1979. Almost instantly he was in conflict with others in the government, but he parlayed that job into a successful race for Pulaski County sheriff. A spectacular two terms at the courthouse, where he warred with state prison officials, federal judges, the prosecuting attorney and nearly every county official, propelled him to Congress as representative of the Second District in 1984.

You know the rest: his spectacular 998 overdrafts at the House bank, his switch to the Republican Party in 1989, his nasty but hapless race for governor against fellow Republican Sheffield Nelson in 1990, his disastrous race for Congress in east Arkansas in 2002, and his preposterously unsuccessful experiment as a farmer and businessman.

Finally, Robinson was found guilty this week of criminal contempt by still another of a long line of United States district judges and magistrates before whom he has been hauled over the years. He is to serve a 60-day sentence for violating judicial orders to stop interfering with his and his wife’s bankruptcy proceedings. Robinson did not refrain — Tommy Robinson has never been known to refrain — so he is finally about to go to jail again. Robinson has experienced the comforts of jail cells more often than anyone in public life we know. He did a little jail time for contempt when he was sheriff and again a while back for beating up one of his creditors at a barbecue joint at Brinkley near the liquor store that he and his wife own.

Tommy Robinson is not an evil man, but he has — what shall we call them? — two weaknesses. He is simply heedless — profligate — with money. As sheriff, he would spend his entire year’s budget in a matter of months and the quorum court would have to keep bailing him out. His record 998 hot checks on the House bank in that scandal that cost so many congressmen their careers speak for themselves. His reckless handling of his business affairs put him in his present straits, although he maintains that unscrupulous business partners did him in.

The other failing is a rigid belief, either paranoid or messianic, in his own correctness and destiny. He will do what he wants to do, regardless of the law or the conventions of the marketplace or civil behavior, because he knows that he alone is right. They have provided us with a sorrowful public life that will not go quietly into the good night.

EDITORIAL >>Pit bulls lose another one

We take any incursion upon our civil liberties very seriously, so we do not consider the legal dispute over the ban of pit bull terriers in Jacksonville, Sherwood, Lonoke and Beebe to be a joking matter.

Nevertheless, we think Judge Leon Holmes got it right this week when he declined to stop the cities from enforcing the municipal rules until he actually tries a lawsuit challenging the city laws, probably this fall. We expect the same outcome at the trial.

An organization representing dog owners and four pet owners challenged the bans in federal court and claim that Jacksonville and the other cities violated the Fifth Amendment, the 14th Amendment and the commerce clause of the U. S. Constitution when they adopted ordinances banning pit bull terriers, a particularly aggressive pet whose attacks have caused injuries and deaths.

The lawsuit raises intriguing issues. Does a ban against one kind of pet violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against depriving a person of his property without due process or the 14th Amendment, which says that government’s laws must apply equally to everyone? For good measure, the plaintiffs threw in the commerce clause, which prevents states and localities from interfering with interstate commerce – i.e., the acquisition of animals from other states.

Some would say that protecting the ownership rights of pit-bull owners carries the tension between public safety and personal freedom – an abiding national concern nowadays – to a ridiculous extreme, but the litigation of extremes forms the bedrock of our common law.

Precedents for such municipal public safety laws, however, are ample and ancient.

When we agree to live in close proximity in a self-governing community, we surrender a few property rights: among others, what we can do with our garbage, how we maintain our property, how much noise we can make, the farm animals that we can raise. So we yield small personal preferences to the safety and peace of mind of neighbors and children.

Pit bulls, we understand, are by and large fine pets and superb sentinels, but they deserve the liberty of the countryside and we the safety of their absence.

SPORTS >>Cats’ bats come to life in victory over Panthers

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

CONWAY — As eager as Jay Fitch is for the weather to let up a little and allow his team to get in some games, he’s probably wishing it had just kept raining on Wednesday.

The Cabot Panthers were never in a 12-2, five-inning loss at Conway, and fell to 2-3 in the 7A-Central Conference. Conway scored three in the first and five in the second, pounding out 18 hits over just four innings against three Panther hurlers.

“I started considering just playing us out of position,” Fitch said. “They hit it well, but it seemed like they hit it right in the holes. But my hat’s off to them. They’ve apparently had some games where they haven’t hit the ball well. I don’t know how.”

Wednesday was not one of those games. The Wampus Cats greeted Cabot starter Tyler Erickson with three singles and a double in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Though Erickson escaped further damage by striking out the final two batters of the inning, he got off to another rocky start in the second. Two doubles and a single ended his day, but reliever Sean Clarkson didn’t fare much better against the aggressive Cat bats, and Conway led 8-0 after two.

Cabot made a small dent in the deficit when Jackson Chism led off the third with a singleand came in on a throwing error by the Conway second baseman. But Conway went back to work in the bottom of the inning, scoring three more runs on seven singles. Josh Brown came on in relief of Clarkson and was aided by catcher Ben Wainright’s perfect throw to third to catch a would-be stealer. But that was an all-too-rare highlight for the Panthers, who trailed 12-1 after Conway added another run in the fourth.

Cabot got off to a good start in the fifth in trying to extend the game beyond a 10-run mercy rule, getting another leadoff single by Chism. Trey Rosel was safe on an error.

Matt Evans hit a hard grounder, but right at the Conway shortstop for a tailor-made double play. It brought home Chism to make it 12-2, but Cabot couldn’t push across another run in falling to 10-6 overall. Conway improved to 12-6, 2-1 in conference play.

Fitch wouldn’t blame rust on his team’s performance.

“It’s the same for everybody,” he said. “It’s been raining in Conway, too. And we played well in Russellville a couple of days ago and hit the ball real well.”

Cabot walloped the Cyclones, 14-0, and Sam Bates got back in the rotation for the first time this year, pitching well.

“He did a great job,” Fitch said of Bates, who got a late start to baseball season due to the Panthers’ deep run in the state basketball tournament. “It’s good to get him going. If he’s not my No. 1, he’ll be my two. Matt Evans will be the other.”

Pitching has been an issue through the early part of the conference season, as Cabot has endured big losses to North Little Rock, Bryant and Conway.

“We threw our seniors tonight [in relievers Clarkson and Brown], and they threw strikes,” Fitch said. “Our pitching’s not just going to dominate you. We have to throw strikes and keep you off balanced. But Conway’s too well coached to get off balanced.

I haven’t seen anybody hit the ball like that all year.”

Cabot finished with four hits — two singles by Chism, a single by Drew Burks and a double by Wainright.

SPORTS >>Weather still wreaking havoc

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Mother Nature’s cruel joke on spring sports in the central Arkansas area continued throughout the week. Monday soccer matches went as planned, but the remainder of the week was a complete wash, literally.

It all started Tuesday when the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils lost in a rain-shortened softball game to Marion. Across the road at Dupree, the Red Devils were facing a 6-2 deficit to West Memphis in the bottom of the fourth inning when the remainder of that game was postponed due to stormy weather. The doubleheader is slated to be finished on May 5.

Beebe baseball and softball went the week without playing either of their scheduled games for Thursday, and Tuesday’s scheduled baseball game between Cabot and Conway had to be moved back a day. That game was actually made up in Conway on Wednesday, where the Wampus Cats took a run-ruled win over the Panthers, dropping Cabot to 2-3 in 7A-Central Conference play.

Late-week games had even less of a chance. More stormy activity in the central Arkansas area on Thursday afternoon cancelled games across the board. Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke baseball teams all gave up scheduled games, including conference matchups for the Panthers and Jackrabbits.

As for softball, the Jacksonville rematch with Marion, along with the Beebe/Nettleton game and the Blytheville/NP matchup were all called off due to the bad weather.

North Pulaski and Jacksonville both had home soccer games that had to be cancelled, and Cabot’s game at Central was also scratched.

Friday’s slate of games were also cancelled.

SPORTS >>Fast, fearless West holding on to dream

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

A high school senior who maxes out at five feet, seven inches and 127 pounds has a couple of choices on the soccer field.
Run from the action or head straight for it.

North Pulaski standout forward Greg West has always taken option 2.

That’s what you do when you not only love your sport but have played it at such a high level over the years that most of your fears have been vanquished.

The Alabama-Huntsville signee is a strikingly confident fellow, but then, dominating the sport in the area for the past 11 years breeds confidence, maybe even a certain healthy cockiness.

“[UAH head coach Carlos Petersen] told me that guys in college are going to hit me as soon as I step on the field just to let me know who’s the boss,” said West, with a smile that suggests he’s eager to let them try. “But I plan on hitting them right back — let them know I’m the boss as well.”

Big talk from a little guy, but that’s precisely what Petersen noticed about West when he first spotted him at an elite soccer camp at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently.

“He doesn’t really attract your attention at first,” said Petersen, who is trying to rebuild his program to mid-1990s form, when the Chargers won 31 and lost only three over a two-year span. They last had a winning season in 1999. “Except you notice, ‘Hey, he just scored. Hey, he just scored again.’ He did that all weekend [at the camp]. He consistently put the ball in the back of the net.

“He just has a goal-scoring mindset. It’s not just his speed. He’s aggressive and won’t back off taking a shot.”

That speed and aggressiveness has West nearing both a school and a state single-season record for goal scoring. Single goals in each of his past three games have put his total for the year at 23 and has slowed his assault. And with so many games being cancelled due to weather, the odds of breaking Conrad Marshall’s school record of 32 or the state record of 36 have grown a bit longer.

But West, who doesn’t try to pretend the records don’t matter to him, still thinks it’s doable.

“I think we’ve got seven games left if we can make it through the first round of state, which, hopefully, we can,” he said.

That would mean, that to break the state record, he’d need to score two goals a game, an average he has maintained throughout most of the season.

That is certainly not to suggest that West is all about personal glory. North Pulaski head coach Tony Buzzitta said West, the only four-year senior on the team and the only senior with any playing experience, has developed into a complete team leader, noting that in a four-goal output against Monticello earlier, he was still trying to get his teammates involved by feeding them passes and trying to help them develop.

“Greg has always had raw talent and ball handling skills,” Buzzitta said. “Where he’s really improved is his speed and his teamwork aspect. When he was younger, it was his ball and he didn’t want to give it to anybody.

“He’s learned that to get the ball, you have to give it up sometimes. He’s been getting assists and talking to the younger guys, telling them what to do with the ball. Even with the defense. He knows how to dribble by a defender, so he can explain to defensive players, if a guy’s coming at you like this, you do this.”

West had chosen not to play Classic Soccer until this year, opting instead to compete in the recreation league with his friends from around the area.

“He loves the game for the game,” Buzzitta said. “He always had the skills to play Classic, but he wanted to play with his friends.”

But Buzzitta talked him into playing Classic Soccer this year and the experience has paid big dividends in terms of improving his game. West notes that he had scored 21 total goals his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons at North Pulaski, and has already surpassed that this season.

A self-taught player, West said Classic Soccer has been invaluable in learning more about the game. The competition, he said, is so much better, a fact he doesn’t shy away from, despite having mostly dominated the game since he began playing at age seven.

West got a taste for superior competition in a sports-ambassador soccer competition in Holland last July. There, he played against a defender who had just signed a professional contract in a German league.

“That was a very good learning experience,” he said. “I’m going against guys that are 6-3, two-hundred-and-something pounds. It helped me learn to use my body more, to use my speed and quickness to adjust.”

It is that speed and quickness and ability to adjust that makes him so good, Buzzitta insists.

“He’s very, very fast with good ball control skills,” Buzzitta said. “Give him a little bit of space and he’ll take it. He can beat one or two people off the dribble.”

As for his size, Buzzitta thinks West would not benefit too much from trying to bulk up. He’s built for speed, he said, and bulk might just slow him down. West said he will try to gain 10 pounds of muscle, but insists that people should not mistake his wiry frame for lack of strength.

“I’m strong, but it just doesn’t look like it,” he said. “I can go against anybody and adjust my body to get to the ball.”

He pauses, before adding with a grin, “I’m not really big, but I’m really fast.”

Joining a UAH team loaded with youngsters, West figures to get plenty of playing time in Huntsville next fall. Petersen said the team has just four forwards.

“We wouldn’t be bringing Greg in on a scholarship if we didn’t plan to play him,” he said. “We’re hoping he either wins a starting position, or gets significant playing time coming off the bench.”

West, typically, expresses no fear at playing at the next level … only eagerness and anticipation. He figures the sooner he can get his college career started, the sooner he can start reaching for that next goal — Major League Soccer. It’s been a dream since the sixth grade.

“I’m going to work and work and give everything I can,” West said. “I’m going to try to be a leader of the team. With four years college experience, [coach Petersen] said he’s pretty sure I could go to the next level.

“I figure, if I can adjust to the college level as a freshman, and hopefully be a leading goal scorer, I’m pretty sure I can go from a senior in college to a rookie in the MLS.”

SPORTS >>Rain-ruled at Dupree

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

It counts as a loss, but the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils never got to complete their turn at bat in the bottom of the sixth inning on Tuesday at Dupree Park during a 2-0 decision to Marion.

Moderate rain throughout the game made conditions less than desirable for both teams, and turned the field from soggy but manageable in the first inning into a virtual quarter-acre mud puddle by the time the umpires called the game for approaching lightning.

The rain was peppery when it first hit the Lady Devils’ field moments into the second inning, but increased steadily as the game went on.

Marion scored runs in the second and fourth innings. Lady Patriots pitcher Chance Brown also led a strong defensive front for the visitors, giving up only one hit through five innings, along with three walks.

Brown’s contributions extended to the plate as well. She drove in both of the Lady Patriots’ runs in the contest, and recorded one of the two Marion hits.

Junior third baseman Paula Burr was the only Lady Red Devil to get a hit off of Brown, reaching on a bunt single in the bottom of the fifth inning. She advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Alexis Oakley, but a fly out to shallow center left her stranded.

Bailee Herlacher was the only other Lady Red Devil to get into scoring position during the game. Brown started the bottom of the third inning with strikeouts on Oakley and Taylor Norsworthy before walking Herlacher. The sophomore standout stole second and reached third on a throwing error by the Marion catcher.

Jacksonville sophomore pitcher Jessica Lanier had a solid game on Tuesday. Lanier gave up only two hits and two walks through six innings. She struggled to find the strike zone early, but settled down by the third inning.

The first Marion score derived from a Jacksonville error in the second. Amber Harrison reached on a throwing error, eventually coming around to score. An error also contributed to the second Marion run in the fourth. A run-scoring sacrifice fly followed a walk and an error.

One of the few highlights for the Lady Devils came when catcher Raven Pickett gunned down Kristen Stokes trying to steal second.

Herlacher reached on a walk to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning before the rumble of thunder edged closer to Dupree, and officials waved it off before Jennifer Bock had the chance to make her third trip to the plate.

Burr was 1 of 2 with a single to lead Jacksonville.

Lanier walked two and gave up two hits while striking out four. Brown took the win for Marion with one hit allowed, along with four walks and eight strikeouts.

Thursday’s rematch at Marion was cancelled due to rain.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

TOP STORY > > New contract in works for base housing

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Details must be worked out, but in place of failed developer American Eagle Communities, the award-winning Hunt-Pinnacle Group apparently will complete the military housing privatization projects at Little Rock Air Force Base and three other Air Force bases, the Air Force announced Monday.

Hunt-Pinnacle, American Eagle and the Air Force all signed a letter of intent last week laying out the parameters of the remaining negotiations, although technically the Air Force is not a party to the negotiations.

Hunt-Pinnacle, which won the 2007 Air Force Professional Housing Management Association Award for best installation team for its work at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, has built and manages tens of thousands of such units for the military.

That’s good news for the airmen, dependents and the unpaid contractors and suppliers left in the lurch when the Carabetta Group and Shaw Infrastructure, doing business as American Eagle Communities, walked away last year from their contracts to build and remodel several thousand homes on Little Rock AFB, Moody, Patrick and Hanscom Air Force bases.

“I was at Scott Air Force Base when (Hunt-Pinnacle) was working there,” said Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz on Tuesday. “They have a good reputation, and I’m satisfied that they will do a good job for us.” The general is commander of Little Rock Air Force Base.

American Eagle Communities completed only about 25 of the 1,200 new and remodeled housing units it contracted to build, own and manage at Little Rock AFB and failed similarly at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, Hanscom in Maryland and Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.

At the end of three years, Carabetta was two years behind on the Little Rock AFB contract, according to the Air Force.

Hunt Pinnacle—that’s the Hunt Development Group of El Paso, Texas, and Pinnacle Management of Seattle — last week signed a letter of intent with American Eagle Communities, outlining the issues yet to be resolved in the sale of the contract en route to concluding the deal.

The Air Force will not decide whether the Carabetta organization can bid on future government contracts until negotiations are settled and a new developer is in place to build and manage housing at four Air Force bases where Carabetta failed to fulfill its contracts, according to the general.

Schatz said last week he hoped negotiations would be concluded by October and construction and remodeling could begin in the spring of 2009.

Pinnacle has completed five privatized military-family housing projects totaling 11,485 units with development costs in excess of $1.6 billion within the past five years. Pinnacle is the largest third-party fee-management company, managing a $12.5 billion portfolio of properties in 42 states, including 22,000 military family homes.

The Hunt Development Group is 60 years old, according to information on its Web site. It has completed 170 projects for the Department of Defense, including 10 military-housing privatization projects and is working on 14 others.

It has constructed or rehabilitated 69,000 units of military housing.

TOP STORY > > City saves $1M in annexation loss

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

A million dollars that Jacksonville had earmarked for Gravel Ridge could now be used to straighten out a dangerous curve on West Main, the mayor said Thursday night.

Mayor Tommy Swaim tossed the idea out to the council after Alderman Gary Fletcher voiced concern about the 90-degree curve near Emma Street.

“Just this week four cars slid off the roadway at that curve, including a police vehicle,” Fletcher said, addressing Public Works Director Jim Oakley.

“I’d like to see us at least put down some rumble strips to warn drivers to slow down around the curve,” Fletcher said.

Swaim said the city has been looking at various ways to make the curve less dangerous. “It will be straightened out as development happens in that area,” he said.

But in the meantime, the mayor said the city would look into adding the rumble strips to the road.

The million dollars the mayor referred to was a combination of money the city had and money the city will save by not having to provide services, explained City Administrator Jay Whisker.

Whisker said Jacksonville first thought of annexing Gravel Ridge back in 1976, but at that time did not have the money to provide required services. “We had it now and that was one reason we tried to annex the area,” Whisker explained.

Fletcher also said that since Gravel Ridge went into Sherwood, that Jacksonville sewer and water departments, which have been investing heavily in infrastructure on the western side of the city, anticipating that Gravel Ridge would hook into Jacksonville’s system, could now turn its attention inward.

“Keeping our infrastructure in good shape will keep our rates low,” he said.

The fire department, which received approval last month to purchase a new ambulance, had planned to keep the older model to make sure it had enough ambulances to cover Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge. Now the department has options.

The council, as a whole, said the recent annexation vote went as they expected. “It may be a blessing in disguise,” said Alderman Marshall Smith.

Alderman Bob Stroud took time to thank those aldermen who spent time knocking on doors in Gravel Ridge, talking to the residents and asking them to vote. Those he thanked included aldermen Kenny Elliott, Bill Howard, Gary Fletcher, Kevin McCleary and Smith.

In other council business:

The mayor introduced the new city planner, David Joe “Chip” McCulley, 28. “Our city engineer position has been open for about 18 months,” the mayor said. “That’s still open, but we did hire a city planner.”

McCulley will be responsible for most of the work that City Administrator Jay Whisker did when he was the city engineer.

Swaim also introduced the new police chief, giving the new hire a scare by saying, “and here’s a person that will have a real short stint in his job.”

Instead of introducing Gary Sipes, the new police chief, the mayor introduced Kenny Boyd, who was serving as the police department’s interim chief.

Sipes, 51, the new chief, will start on the job Monday.

The council agreed to spend almost $32,000 to purchase four backup power generators for the fire department.

The mayor reminded the council that the citywide cleanup was set for 9 a.m. Saturday beginning at the chamber of commerce, and that an informational meeting on the proposed Two Pine Landfill expansion will be 6 p.m. Monday.

Aldermen reappointed Joan Zumwalt to the sewer commission.

Her term will expire April 2013.

TOP STORY > > Bold ideas proposed for schools

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Throwing political correctness to the wind, as he promised, the president of the Pulaski County Special School District board said Tuesday that he’d like to see good teachers rewarded and poor teachers fired; that he’d like to see extra consideration based on poverty instead of race and that while he doesn’t think a separate Jacksonville school district is a good idea, he’s committed to voting for it if that’s what the community wants.

Charlie Wood, speaking to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon, represents Sherwood on the school board.

As president, Wood has set next Tuesday for a special meeting to consider a resolution for the school board to endorse a stand-alone school district for Jacksonville. Proponents would like to have that endorsement for U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson to consider when he takes up PCSSD’s petition for unitary status.

It took Wood only about 30 min utes to get crossways with the teachers’ union, some teachers, with the supporters of the district’s 25-year old desegregation imbroglio and with those who support a stand-alone Jacksonville district as well as those who don’t.

Reminding those in attendance that he spoke only for himself, he said that treating Mills University School as a magnet school for high-achieving students siphoned off many of the brightest students from Jacksonville and Sherwood schools and left them unable to provide many advanced-placement classes for their own students.

Wood said he favored grading teachers on a traditional A-F scale, giving sizable bonuses or pay increases to “A” teachers, smaller ones to “B” teachers, help to “C” teachers, warnings to “D” teachers and pink slips to “F” teachers.

He acknowledged it would be hard to do, without ever naming the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers or even saying the word “union.”

Wood said new facilites were needed throughout the state, not just at PCSSD schools. He suggested that a tax increase might be a way to pay for better facilities.

One big problem with PCSSD is that it is composed of five or six separate communities, which instead of pulling together, often compete with each other for the scarce resources—usually money to do things.

He said places like Cabot, Benton and Bryant have a committed community pulling together.

“It’s past time to make programs based on race,” said Wood. “It’s almost an insult to blacks.”

Wood added that it was time to get out of the desegregation agreement.

TOP STORY > > Students will go to damaged building

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Against all odds, underclassmen will return to classes Thursday at the same Sylvan Hills High School building torn asunder by last week’s storms, according to James Warren, executive director for support services for the Pulaski County Special School District.

That’s weeks earlier than expected.

The seniors, meanwhile, will attend classes at the Harmon Recreation Center, Warren said.

The latest estimate places storm damage to the school and the athletic field at $750,000, Warren said, including an all-new electrical system for the athletic field.

Until Tuesday morning, the district had expected to press Woody’s Sherwood Forest and the North Little Rock Forest Assembly of God into service as makeshift classroom buildings to accommodate the 920 students.

But at 10 a.m., Superintendent James Sharpe and senior administrators including Beverly Ruthven, Bill Barnes and Warren met with High School Principal Danny Epps, his assistant principals Gene Adams and Beverlyn Marmon, formulated a plan to allow the lower three grades to return to the building Thursday.

Preparing the building, which is still without the use of seven classrooms and its athletic facilities, required long hours and “total cooperation,” Warren said.

People were working under lights, competing tradesmen were working together to restore services and make repairs and all were working at once, Warren said.

“We have temporary roofs over the entire building. Even the auditorium is in the dry,” he said.

Some classes will double up and classes will be held in the cafeteria, too, he said.

Thirty-three rain-soaked computers are now junk, but the district will replace those.

The district will save a lot of money by avoiding the costs of transporting students to three new buildings, feeding them there, moving materials and other costs.

Meanwhile, there is no soccer or track practice and the school play will be moved to the North Pulaski High School auditorium, he said.

Warren said it was possible that the seniors would be able to return to the building in about a month. He added that he didn’t know what the ruling would be on make-up days for the four days of missed school.

Dr. Tony Thurman, Cabot school superintendent, said the district suffered minimal damage to its schools. “No classes have been disrupted by storm damage,” he said Tuesday.

“District construction, maintenance and custodial crews worked on Friday to repair damage and remove debris that may have caused problems for students on Monday. They still have minor areas to repair and replace, but they do not cause safety or logistical concerns for faculty, staff or students,” he added.

The National Weather Service released a survey on Sunday of a tornado that went from North Little Rock into Sherwood and damaged numerous structures at a cost of millions of dollars. Among the casualties was a tornado siren.

The twister, one of 10 to rip through central Arkansas on Thursday night, rated EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of tornado severity, meaning it had winds of 111 to 135 mph.

The weather service said the tornado began near the intersection of Camp Robinson Road and Donovan Briley Boulevard. It passed through the southeast corner of Camp Robinson and then moved on to the North Little Rock airport, where it damaged numerous aircraft.

The tornado also struck in Sherwood, Gravel Ridge and north Pulaski County. On the way, it damaged numerous homes, did roof damage to Sylvan Hills High School and damaged the Sherwood Sports Complex, where the tornado siren was blown down.

Leader staff writer Heather Hartsell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

TOP STORY > > Students will go to

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Against all odds, underclassmen will return to classes Thursday at the same Sylvan Hills High School building torn asunder by last week’s storms, according to James Warren, executive director for support services for the Pulaski County Special School District.

That’s weeks earlier than expected.

The seniors, meanwhile, will attend classes at the Harmon Recreation Center, Warren said.

The latest estimate places storm damage to the school and the athletic field at $750,000, Warren said, including an all-new electrical system for the athletic field.

Until Tuesday morning, the district had expected to press Woody’s Sherwood Forest and the North Little Rock Forest Assembly of God into service as makeshift classroom buildings to accommodate the 920 students.

But at 10 a.m., Superintendent James Sharpe and senior administrators including Beverly Ruthven, Bill Barnes and Warren met with High School Principal Danny Epps, his assistant principals Gene Adams and Beverlyn Marmon, formulated a plan to allow the lower three grades to return to the building Thursday.

Preparing the building, which is still without the use of seven classrooms and its athletic facilities, required long hours and “total cooperation,” Warren said.

People were working under lights, competing tradesmen were working together to restore services and make repairs and all were working at once, Warren said.

“We have temporary roofs over the entire building. Even the auditorium is in the dry,” he said.

Some classes will double up and classes will be held in the cafeteria, too, he said.

Thirty-three rain-soaked computers are now junk, but the district will replace those.

The district will save a lot of money by avoiding the costs of transporting students to three new buildings, feeding them there, moving materials and other costs.

Meanwhile, there is no soccer or track practice and the school play will be moved to the North Pulaski High School auditorium, he said.

Warren said it was possible that the seniors would be able to return to the building in about a month. He added that he didn’t know what the ruling would be on make-up days for the four days of missed school.

Dr. Tony Thurman, Cabot school superintendent, said the district suffered minimal damage to its schools. “No classes have been disrupted by storm damage,” he said Tuesday.

“District construction, maintenance and custodial crews worked on Friday to repair damage and remove debris that may have caused problems for students on Monday. They still have minor areas to repair and replace, but they do not cause safety or logistical concerns for faculty, staff or students,” he added.

The National Weather Service released a survey on Sunday of a tornado that went from North Little Rock into Sherwood and damaged numerous structures at a cost of millions of dollars. Among the casualties was a tornado siren.

The twister, one of 10 to rip through central Arkansas on Thursday night, rated EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of tornado severity, meaning it had winds of 111 to 135 mph.

The weather service said the tornado began near the intersection of Camp Robinson Road and Donovan Briley Boulevard. It passed through the southeast corner of Camp Robinson and then moved on to the North Little Rock airport, where it damaged numerous aircraft.

The tornado also struck in Sherwood, Gravel Ridge and north Pulaski County. On the way, it damaged numerous homes, did roof damage to Sylvan Hills High School and damaged the Sherwood Sports Complex, where the tornado siren was blown down.

Leader staff writer Heather Hartsell and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

TOP STORY > > Volunteers help clean up

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Offering a helping hand, volunteers came out Saturday with chainsaws roaring and hammers pounding to areas of Cabot damaged by Thursday night’s tornado.

A small command post was set up at the former Bancroft building parking lot to direct volunteers to where they were needed in the city.

“We are very blessed to have all the volunteers to come out and help the city,” said Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams. He said the largest expense for the city on Saturday was buying pizzas to feed the volunteers.

The damaged was caused by what has now been identified as an EF-2 tornado that came from the southwest in the direction of the Hwy. 5 interchange and took a hit-and-miss trail 100 to 200 feet wide across the central part of the city knocking down trees, buildings and fences and ripping off roofs from Mags Trucking on Hwy. 367 to the end of Confederate Drive in the Shiloh subdivision on Hwy. 38.

“It was like the tail was just whipping around,” said Jerrel Maxwell, the city’s head of public works. “I don’t think it ever touched down. If it had we would have really had trouble.”

No damage estimate is yet available, but the mayor is trying to get the city declared a disaster area so that residents and the city will be eligible for disaster aid.

The city contracted Matt Dennis, owner of Dennis Hauling and Scrap-ping, to clean up steel and metal debris lying in the streets.

Dennis is not charging the city for the work. In exchange, his family and crew is taking the twisted metal that litters the streets and yards along Richie Road to scrap metal dealers for recycling.

Dennis said on Richie Road, Stacy Street and Kilgore Street, he has hauled 15 trailer loads of debris.

Members of the Cabot Fire Department assisted in the cleanup efforts on Sharon Cove by using cutting torches and reciprocating saws to cut the metal remains of a mini-storage building unit that was blown against a house into smaller manageable pieces.

Another group helping those in the city was the Faith Missionary Baptist Church Disaster Relief Team at 300 Bill Foster Hwy.

That unit was out Friday and Saturday assisting families needing help with storm recovery.

Doyne Plummer, volunteer coordinator, said the team was formed a couple of years ago to offer help to church members and to the community in times of need.

Plummer said the office of emergency management, the mayor’s office and the police and fire departments know the group because of their help in the past.

The command center directed some of the volunteers to assist with the team.

“Our objective is to have the unit with six to eight men available at all times. We have 100 volunteers and about 50 men available. We would go further out in the state, if we had available lodging,” Plummer said.

The disaster team’s trailer is stocked with ladders, ropes, plastic wrap, fire extinguishers, helmets, safety goggles and chainsaws.

On Saturday afternoon, a group of 10 worked on the team’s third job.

The crew cut a tree near a curve on Hwy. 89 across from the high school.

Then, across from the command center, the group cut a tree leaning on a house on Richie Road with six children in it.

Their last job of the day was removing a large fallen oak tree at 2420 Hwy. 367. The tree had landed on three cars, a carport and part of the house.

Barbara Burk, who just moved to Butlerville from Illinois, was taking pictures of the tornado damage when she stopped at the house on 2420 Hwy. 367, where the disaster relief crew was working.

“I saw the guys with ropes around their backs. I thought they could get hurt, so I helped by using my truck to pull the logs off the house. I was glad I could do something,” Burk said.

Leader staff writer Joan McCoy contributed to this report.

TOP STORY > > Wicked storms return to area

It could be deja vu all over again as more vicious storms are in the forecast — for the second time in a week.

Forecasters say a storm system will hit on Thursday afternoon and could drench central Arkansas with four inches of rain and could produce tornadoes similar to last week.

As central Arkansas residents worked under clear skies to clean up from last week’s tornado outbreak and utility workers were restoring power to much of the area, forecasters were warning of another round of severe weather that’s due in a few days.

Stormy weather started on Tuesday, but forecasters at the National Weather Service are warning that the worst day could be Thursday.

“It’s an event we’re very concerned about,” weather service meteorologist John Lewis said. “It could be another big event.”

By Thursday, a storm system moving from the Plains will enter Arkansas with plenty of warmth and moisture in place, making for an unstable atmosphere that’s conducive to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The dismal forecast took shape as the weather service updated its tornado count from Thursday’s storms to 10. The twisters caused millions of dollars in damage and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes.

In all, four tornadoes hit Pulaski County, three struck Saline County, one struck Hot Springs County and one ripped through Lonoke County. A 10th tornado, rated an EF1, swept through parts of Hot Springs and Garland counties, the weather service said.

Gov. Mike Beebe said he’s keeping an eye on the forecast and the high water in the state.

“We’re not looking forward to the forecast this week, which doesn’t look promising,” Beebe said. We’ve got some river levels rising, but they’re not rising to the point obviously where they were before. We’ve also got some receding, which is a good sign.”

Lewis said up to 4 inches of rain could fall before the weather clears again in time for the weekend. The data available suggests the heaviest rain will fall in southern Missouri, though that forecast could change, Lewis said.

Weather service hydrologist Steve Bays said rain in southern Missouri would drain into Arkansas. If the rain falls in the upper reaches of the Black, Spring or White rivers, downstream flooding could be a result, Bays said. Significant rain could cause the Spring River to flood parts of Hardy again or the Black River to cause serious problems in Pocahontas, he said.

On Monday, the Georgetown community in Lonoke County was still cut off by floodwaters, and DeValls Bluff still had high water. The Mississippi River has not yet crested, so the White River continued to slowly rise at St. Charles, Bays said. The White River at Des Arc and Clarendon remained at major stage flooding on Monday. It remains to be seen where the next flood problems will occur.

“We’ve got some concerns,” Bays said. “Until it really shapes up and we see the rainfall, it’s hard to say what the impacts will be.”

Entergy had a high of 45,000 customers without lights after Thursday’s storms, about 20,000 of them in Little Rock.

From the storms of Feb. 5, in which tornadoes destroyed numerous structures from Atkins to Clinton and into northeast Arkansas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday that residents in need of housing are in the process of getting government mobile homes.

Tornadoes killed 13 people in Arkansas on Feb. 5, with 12 of them along the path of just one twister. Nationally, 56 people died in the storms across five states.

TOP STORY > > Wicked storms return to area

It could be deja vu all over again as more vicious storms are in the forecast — for the second time in a week.

Forecasters say a storm system will hit on Thursday afternoon and could drench central Arkansas with four inches of rain and could produce tornadoes similar to last week.

As central Arkansas residents worked under clear skies to clean up from last week’s tornado outbreak and utility workers were restoring power to much of the area, forecasters were warning of another round of severe weather that’s due in a few days.

Stormy weather started on Tuesday, but forecasters at the National Weather Service are warning that the worst day could be Thursday.

“It’s an event we’re very concerned about,” weather service meteorologist John Lewis said. “It could be another big event.”

By Thursday, a storm system moving from the Plains will enter Arkansas with plenty of warmth and moisture in place, making for an unstable atmosphere that’s conducive to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The dismal forecast took shape as the weather service updated its tornado count from Thursday’s storms to 10. The twisters caused millions of dollars in damage and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes.

In all, four tornadoes hit Pulaski County, three struck Saline County, one struck Hot Springs County and one ripped through Lonoke County. A 10th tornado, rated an EF1, swept through parts of Hot Springs and Garland counties, the weather service said.

Gov. Mike Beebe said he’s keeping an eye on the forecast and the high water in the state.

“We’re not looking forward to the forecast this week, which doesn’t look promising,” Beebe said. We’ve got some river levels rising, but they’re not rising to the point obviously where they were before. We’ve also got some receding, which is a good sign.”

Lewis said up to 4 inches of rain could fall before the weather clears again in time for the weekend. The data available suggests the heaviest rain will fall in southern Missouri, though that forecast could change, Lewis said.

Weather service hydrologist Steve Bays said rain in southern Missouri would drain into Arkansas. If the rain falls in the upper reaches of the Black, Spring or White rivers, downstream flooding could be a result, Bays said. Significant rain could cause the Spring River to flood parts of Hardy again or the Black River to cause serious problems in Pocahontas, he said.

On Monday, the Georgetown community in Lonoke County was still cut off by floodwaters, and DeValls Bluff still had high water. The Mississippi River has not yet crested, so the White River continued to slowly rise at St. Charles, Bays said. The White River at Des Arc and Clarendon remained at major stage flooding on Monday. It remains to be seen where the next flood problems will occur.

“We’ve got some concerns,” Bays said. “Until it really shapes up and we see the rainfall, it’s hard to say what the impacts will be.”

Entergy had a high of 45,000 customers without lights after Thursday’s storms, about 20,000 of them in Little Rock.

From the storms of Feb. 5, in which tornadoes destroyed numerous structures from Atkins to Clinton and into northeast
Arkansas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday that residents in need of housing are in the process of getting government mobile homes.

Tornadoes killed 13 people in Arkansas on Feb. 5, with 12 of them along the path of just one twister. Nationally, 56 people died in the storms across five states.

EDITORIAL >>Luck on our side

Many of our neighbors, friends and families have spent the last few days staring in disbelief at what was once a home, a business or even a ballpark. But as tragic as the damage was to Sylvan Hills High School—about $750,000, to the Sherwood sports complex and to the recently built Cabot High School—no one was seriously injured.

Imagine, 10 tornadoes raking across central Arkansas under the darkness of night, destroying a mobile home park in Saline County, homes and businesses in Little Rock and causing damage in Sherwood, Cabot and north Pulaski County—and no one was killed here.

That in itself is something we can all be thankful for.

Yes, neighbors, friends and families are looking for temporary housing, temporary transportation, food, clothing and other necessities, and because we are the people we are, we have been responding even before the storms passed and will continue to do so. We Arkansans will help, without hesitation, to clean up, repair, contribute and just offer a shoulder.

But through it all, let’s count our lucky stars, pay homage to the man upstairs, kiss a blarney stone, whatever it takes to make sure that those same stars are with us when the next system rolls through on Thursday.

Y’all be careful .

EDITORIAL >>Immigration hysteria

Laws written in the heat of anger or suspicion are nearly always repented in sorrow and at long last repealed in shame. That was Arkansas’ experience with Amendment 44, the interposition law that was put on the ballot and ratified in 1956 to stop court-ordered desegregation of the schools. Voters repealed it 34 years later but not until it had cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and untold embarrassment.

The experience will almost surely be repeated if a proposed initiated act seeking to punish Hispanics who reach Arkansas unlawfully gets on the ballot and becomes law. A group calling itself Secure Arkansas filed the proposal with the attorney general, who may require some modifications before petitions can be circulated to put the measure on the general-election ballot.

It would direct state and local officials to stop people who are not legal residents of Arkansas from obtaining public benefits that are provided by the federal, state or local governments. Every person applying for benefits of any kind would have to sign an affidavit under penalty for perjury certifying that they are lawful residents of the United States, which is something like the loyalty affidavit that Arkansas teachers and public employees had to sign to keep their jobs in the early ‘60s before the U. S. Supreme Court struck it down.

“Keeping illegal aliens from getting on public assistance just any time they want to and taking all of our taxpayer funds, that’s really what it’s all about,” the chair of the group explained.

That’s innocent enough, isn’t it? But the explanation distorts the real problem that the growth of undocumented workers and their families presents. They are not overwhelming the public treasury but, if anything, contributing significantly to it. For example, FICA withholdings from illegal workers, from which most of them will never benefit, are fattening the Social Security and Medicare trust funds and postponing the day when both those beleaguered funds will no longer be able to pay full benefits. Immigrants are not driving up the food-stamp rolls (depressed wages are) and government agencies are not reporting large increases in any form of public assistance arising from Hispanic workers.

A study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation concluded that aliens, both legal and illegal, had a net $2.9 billion economic impact on the state in 2004 and generated 23,100 new jobs. Much of that economic activity finds its way into state and local treasuries that support the schools, police and highways. A business study in Oklahoma last month concluded that a punitive Oklahoma law that seeks to drive immigrants from the state is costing the state and its businesses billions of dollars.

The influx of Hispanics who crossed the border illegally has indeed generated problems, not the least of which is the burden on many schools of coping with large numbers of children with language barriers. The proposed act would do nothing to solve that problem unless it were to succeed — it won’t — in driving tens of thousands of them across the state borders.

A greater societal — or economic — issue is the extent to which an expanding pool of eager and hardworking laborers depresses wages. That unquestionably is a reality, although that, too, is rife with myth. A foe of immigrants showed up at a press conference Monday at Little Rock to insist that Mexican laborers were being hired at $3.50 an hour by contractors at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus and costing good white people the jobs. Three-fifty is hardly more than half the state minimum wage. Contractors are fined and punished by the loss of contracts if they pay not just below the minimum wage but the much higher prevailing wage for the area.

Immigration is a responsibility of the national government and it must legislate a national solution. Piecemeal state and local laws move the problems around, distort and compound them, and that is particularly true of private initiatives that are crafted upon premises of fear, hearsay and myth.

SPORTS>>Red Devils nab overtime win over Bombers

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

MOUNTAIN HOME — The Jacksonville Red Devils made the most of their long trip to Mountain Home on Saturday. Allen Kirby scored seven minutes into overtime to lift the Red Devils past the Bombers, 3-2, in 6A-East Conference play. Jacksonville improved to 3-8.

The Lady Devils fell 5-0 to the Mountain Home girls earlier in the day.

Jacksonville led 1-0 after an O.G. (own goal) in the first half when the Mountain Home goalkeeper knocked the ball into his own net. The Red Devils led 2-0 in the second half when Kirby collected the first of his two goals. The Bombers rallied to score two goals over the final 10 minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime.

Red Devils coach Leighton Cannon was not able to attend, giving Lady Red Devils coaches James and Tammy Lennartz double duty for the weekend.

“The boys’ game was phenomenal,” James Lennartz said. “They played with true conviction and heart. You could tell they were hungry for the win. They passed the ball well, and the communication was good. If they play the rest of the season with that much conviction, they should do very well.”

The Lady Red Devils struggled offensively, but junior goalkeeper Megan Sicilia made a number of strong plays defensively on Saturday, Lennartz said, including a difficult save on a penalty kick by the Lady Bombers. Jacksonville fell to 0-8 on the season.

Jacksonville hosted Jonesboro last night after Leader deadlines, and will host Sylvan Hills on Thursday.

SPORTS>>North Pulaski soccer drops pair of games to Sylvan Hills

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The storms of last week may have rendered the Sylvan Hills soccer teams homeless for the remainder of the season, but the Bears and Lady Bears proved that the show will indeed go on with a non-conference sweep of North Pulaski on Monday night at Falcon Stadium.

The Lady Bears scored a pair of first-half goals to claim a 2-0 shutout, while the Bears held off a late charge by NP senior and Alabama-Huntsville signee Greg West to take a 3-1 win.

Sylvan Hills controlled the game offensively in the first half, and most of the second half until the final 15 minutes of play.

A double-team on West limited opportunities for the Falcons, but he was finally able to put his speed to work in the late going. He scored North Pulaski’s only goal of the night during the final six minutes, and had several other strike attempts that simply didn’t fall.

“We got a little offense happy,” Sylvan Hills coach Samuel Persson said. “Because this is a non-conference game, and we were shuttling a lot of players in and out to give everybody a chance to play.

“I think our defensive guys lost a little focus; they were trying to get forward and get in the action a little more. We can chalk that up tolack of focus and also moving players around in there, so they’re not used to playing with each other as much.”

Corner kicks proved to be the Bears’ saving grace on Monday. Sophomore Adam Harris set up Sylvan Hills’ first goal at the 28-minute mark with a corner kick that was sent into the net with a header by junior Daniel Johnson. That gave the Bears a 1-0 advantage at intermission.

Senior Jessie Christian doubled the SH lead at the 13-minute mark of the second half with a straight-ahead shot to make it 2-0.

West’s goal for North Pulaski came at the 26-minute mark, when he faked the SH goalkeeper out of position and found an open net.

West had several other looks, but overshot the net on two occasions, and swept wide left a couple of other times.

The Bears used a family connection for their final goal with 5:37 to go, when Josh Persson set up Philip Persson with a perfect corner kick that Philip easily punched in for the insurance goal.

Coach Samuel Persson said the corner kicks that carried his team to the win were a bit of a surprise considering the limited amount of practice time the Bears have had over the past couple of weeks.

“I can’t say it’s because we’ve been working on them, because we haven’t even been able to practice for a while,” Persson said.

“We’ve had games cancelled, and then the tornado took away our facilities for a while. We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing all season; they just got it right tonight.”

North Pulaski coach Tony Buzzitta said the slow start for his team was too much to overcome on Monday.

“We just started off slow,” Buzzitta said. “We haven’t had a real team practice since before spring break because of the weather.

We didn’t have rhythm with the ball. With a lot of practice, you know where to expect people to go, and now, their timing is off, and we came out flat for the first half.”

The Bears improved to 6-3 on the season. North Pulaski is now 5-5 overall.

Susanna Peters put the Lady Bears out front in the girls contest with a corner-kick assist from Jody Persson at the 20-minute mark of the first half, before standout junior forward Ashley English converted a strike moments later to set the final margin.

“We had opportunities the entire game, we just didn’t put it together,” North Pulaski coach Christy Delao said. “I think we’re having a getting-together problem with our team these days, I don’t know what the deal is.

“That’s what our little pow-wow [after the game] was about. It just wasn’t our game. We couldn’t get it together today.”

The Lady Falcons are now 5-4 overall, and hold a league record of 1-1.

“I was real proud of our girls,” Sylvan Hills coach Jerry Peters said. “They worked really hard on defense, and frustrated their offense all night. And our goalkeeper came up with the big saves and earned the shutout, so I was proud of her effort also.”

The Lady Bears improved to 4-5 on the year.

North Pulaski will host Greene County Tech in a pair of 5A-East Conference matches on Thursday.

SPORTS>>Carpenter headed for finishing line

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

She’s pacing herself for the future. Her high school career is hitting the home stretch. She’s running toward her dream.

There are dozens of clich├ęs to describe Emily Carpenter’s track career, but simply put, the senior Lady Panther is really good.

Carpenter, a three-time All-State selection in both track and cross country from her freshman season on, is now entering the final month of her high school track career, with the outdoor season’s biggest events just around the corner.

From there, she will journey to Beaumont, Tx., to Lamar University, where she will run track and cross country for the Lady Cardinals.

Current Lamar senior Clerc Koenck has brought a lot of recent attention to the program with strong performances in both the Southland Conference and NCAA championships, and Cabot’s top female track prospect since Cory Chastain over a decade earlier hopes to continue that trend upon her arrival in the fall.

Carpenter lives in the nearby community of Culler, and grew up a Carlisle Lady Bison until the start of her junior year, when she made the jump to Cabot High School.

She didn’t particularly like giving up the school she had attended since kindergarten, but track running at a small 2A school can sometimes be a lonely endeavor.

“There’s just more opportunities here,” Carpenter said. “I got tired of going to meets and being the only one there. I needed that support system. You have your coach, and you have your family, but you need a team.”

When coach and mentor John Steward parted company with Carlisle High and went to Vilonia, Carpenter made her move as well.

Carpenter has made big waves in the year she has been at Cabot, and is also part of a larger influx of female track talent in the central Arkansas area.

With all-purpose Searcy star Whitney Jones, Conway cross-country standout Erika Setzler, and Carpenter being just a few of the big names from the area, the stranglehold on track and field by the northwest Arkansas schools over the past two seasons seems to be dwindling.

The key to successful distance running is a strong mind set as well as top physical conditioning, Carpenter said.

“Running is 90 percent mental, especially distance running,” Carpenter said. “If you are mentally stronger than the person beside you in a race — even if your talent level is not what theirs is — you’re going to beat them. All it is is mind games, especially in a two-mile race.

“You’ll be running side by side, and you’re both dying, but that girl will surge on you just a little to see what you have left in your tank. If you don’t go with her, she’s thinking, ‘OK, well I’ve gother beat,’ but if you go with her, she’s like, ‘well, I don’t know if I can get rid of her.’

“That’s what it’s like the whole race. You’re just thinking about what the other person is going to do, and you’ve got to make your move before they make their move, or you’re beat.”

Carpenter has been on various relay teams, and has run in numerous events, but her bread and butter since her freshman year has been the mile- and two-mile runs.

She has earned both indoor and outdoor titles in each of the two events since ninth grade. In addition to her familiar long-distance events this year, Carpenter is adding the 300-meter hurdles to her list of competitive events.

Carpenter said the notion that track and field is not difficult is a big misconception.

“Everybody can jog, not everybody can run,” Carpenter explained. “You go year-long; you don’t get big breaks. It’s not like basketball where you have your season and then you kind of stop and then go into off season. You’re hard-core year round.”

With such rigorous training, Carpenter said the biggest obstacle —besides avoiding injury — is knowing when to push toward a personal peak, so as to avoid sputtering before the biggest events in late spring.

“You start off training pretty hard,” she said. “And then it just gets harder and harder until you peak out for state. If you peak out before state, your body is just exhausted, and you can’t go anymore, no matter how hard you try. You’re not going to get any better. It’s all about timing.”

Carpenter prefers track season training to cross country due to the long and monotonous miles required in cross-country training. She said that the differences between runners who excel at sprint events and those who are adept at long distances like herself are vast.

“Sprinters and distance runners are two completely different people,” Carpenter said. “Sprinters are more outwardly confident; distance runners tend to be more quiet. You always have to be aggressive in shorter events, whereas in distance, it all depends on who you’re running with.”

Leon White, now in his eighth season as the head track coach at Cabot, said the addition of Carpenter last season was a big shot in the arm for his already-solid program.

“Emily has the best work ethic of any girl we have had in a long time,” White said. “There are others that work hard, but she kind of goes beyond sometimes. It had a big impact on the other girls. They saw how hard she was working, and it started having a domino-effect. I think she has had a big effect on our program.”

The stormy spring weather has made training difficult for Carpenter and her fellow Lady Panther runners, but business is about to pick up. Cabot will take part in the Lake Hamilton meet on Friday before hosting its own Cabot invitational on April 17. They will travel the following weekend to Fayetteville for one of the biggest meets of the season.

Carpenter said she believes she is ready for a big finale to her high-school career. She’d like to erase the memory of what she considered a poor performance at the state cross country meet last fall — after recording the fastest time at the 7A-Central Conference meet.

“I don’t want a bad memory of my last race,” Carpenter said. “My last cross-country race wasn’t very good, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me in track. You want to have good memories when you finish up. I’m going to have plenty of good memories, though. In 10 years, I’ll forget all the bad stuff.”

SPORTS>>Bears forced to road

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

It seems that about the only thing that can derail the powerful Sylvan Hills baseball team might be Mother Nature herself.

Last Thursday’s storms did extensive damage to Sylvan Hills High School, and also wrecked most of the Sherwood Parks athletic complex. Kevin McReynolds Field, which serves as the home field for the 15-4 (6-0 in the 6A-East Conference) Bears, was virtually ripped to shreds.

Bill Blackwood Field, home of the football/soccer Bears, did not receive near as much damage, but snapped light poles mean that the Bears and Lady Bears soccer teams will play the remainder of their seasons on the road.

Sylvan Hills athletic director and head baseball coach Denny Tipton said he believed the girls softball field will be useable by the end of the month, but for his own team, he said there is really only one option.

“We’re going to be road warriors,” Tipton said. “We will have to play the rest of our games on the road. Anytime you don’t have a place to practice, it’s a concern how much it will hurt you in the long haul.”

The Bears started the ’08 conference season on a tear, outscoring their 6A-East opponents 78-9 over the first six games.

Sylvan Hills used the practice field at Little Rock Central on Monday to prepare for a critical match-up with co-leading Marion yesterday.

“It’s not very good timing,” Tipton said. “But we’re the top two teams in the conference right now, so it’s a huge pair of games for both teams. Central called and offered their field to practice on. Everyone has been really helpful.

“We’ve had a lot of tragedy with everything that has been thrown at us this year, but we’re going to work harder and not make any excuses.”

Former Bears player Taylor Roark was killed in a car accident earlier this year.
Tipton said that around $8,000 worth of the school’s baseball equipment was damaged during the storm.

The schedule remains tentative, but Tipton said the home game against Jacksonville will be moved to Dupree Park, adding he also hoped to move the scheduled April 21 home game against Searcy to nearby Dupree as well.