Friday, July 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Col. Otey wants separate district

Leader senior staff writer

Col. Gregory Otey endeared himself to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce this week by endorsing the effort to form a standalone Jacksonville school district and also by seeing off former Mayor Tommy Swaim with a couple of well-choreographed audio visual gags.

Speaking at the chamber’s quarterly meeting Tuesday, the Little Rock Air Force Base commander said that when airmen learn of a new posting, they immediately go online to research the area schools before deciding where to buy or rent a home.

Of the re-energized efforts to privatize, build and renovate airbase housing, Otey said, “We’ve got to be sure privatized housing works this time.” The ribbon cutting for the first 10 new homes completed was held later that day. (See picture, p. 7A.)
Otey, who has both of his children in Pulaski County Special School District Schools, commended the work of “Daniel (Gray) and some of the folks here,” to improve existing schools and get a Jacksonville district.

At the end of Otey’s slide presentation — flow charts, faces, aircraft and new projects like the Joint Education Center and the new planned Base Exchange — was a video of an officer calling to congratulate Swaim on his service as Jacksonville mayor.

This was just hours before the mayor was to hand off the job to Gary Fletcher.

“Just wanted to thank you, sir,” said the video officer. “I remember when your dad was mayor.”

Then he covers the phone speaker as he was told it was not Swaim’s father but rather Swaim all that time — 22 years.

Swaim smiled broadly through that and another gag, and the audience laughed appreciatively.

“Was he around when Orville flew?” one asked.

“We are surrounded by a community that cares,” Otey said.

Otey said the 19th Air Mobility Wing has 50 C-130s, 14 of them the new J-model, with another expected next week.

That includes planes currently deployed in the Middle East and around the world. That includes the 41st Airlift Squadron, which is all C-130Js.

Otey said 15 percent of the planes, on average, are deployed every day.

The 314th Airlift Wing, also at the base, has 33 C-130s, and seven of those are C-130Js.

Otey also reminded the chamber that the air base directly or indirectly puts more than half-a-billion dollars into the economy of central Arkansas, much of it in the Jacksonville and Cabot area.

TOP STORY >> Crops damaged by wind, hail

Leader senior staff writer

High winds and ice-cube-sized hailstones Tuesday afternoon beat crops in eastern Lonoke County like a rented mule.

In all, 26,000 acres or more of Lonoke County’s crops were damaged or destroyed in a matter of minutes in a year when farmers already have suffered floods and near-drought conditions, according to Jeff Welch, county extension service chief agent.

Keith Lewis’ cornfield is a 100 percent loss, Welch said. Corn stalks are broken over and ears are gouged by hail.

“The bright spot was going to be the corn,” Welch said. “About 1,600 acres of corn were damaged in this area. For specific growers, it’s a disaster.”

While the Schafer Road/Hwy. 31 intersection was the epicenter of the storm, the area affected was about four miles wide and 10.5 miles long from near Furlow all the way to the airport at Carlisle.

“The damage varies from 10 percent to 100 percent,” Welch said.

Extension agricultural agents will meet with farmers Monday in the most affected area to help them plot a future course.

For instance, the beat-down corn had headed and it could be harvested for silage, but it might be more cost effective to plow the crop over, preserving the expensive nutrients and replanting, soybeans perhaps, Welch said.

The question will be whether the price for the silage would be greater than the cost of refertilizing the fields.

“As far as I know, none of the farmers had hail insurance,” Welch said. “We are going to have some real severe financial losses.”

The beans and leaves were stripped off some soybean plants, leaving only stems poking out of the earth, he said, and if rice was clipped, that crop will have reduced yields.

The Monday meeting will be at 8 a.m. at the Scott Mitchell farm shop on Hwy. 31, Welch said. “About 27 farmers are the real audience.”

“The hidden story is that a lot of people live in that area, many of them elderly, that will have to replace shingles or had car damage.”

At the home of Melvin Schafer and the adjoining, the hail broke windows, gouged the vinyl siding and hammered the fins on the central air conditioner.

A car and a truck had hail damage.

Also throughout the area, farm ponds — not commercial fishponds — “turned over” in the storm, mixing the colder, putrefied matter from the bottom of the ponds and tying up oxygen. In some cases the turnover caused huge fish kills, according to Hugh Thomforde, the extension water specialist.

Typically, this problem occurs only in ponds deeper than six feet, while the average commercial fishpond is about three-and-a-half-feet deep, he said.

TOP STORY >> Council fills seat held by Fletcher

Leader staff writer

Before new Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher could finish his thoughts about filling his vacant council seat, John Ferrell was nominated, seconded and approved by a near unanimous vote on Thursday.

Alderman Terry Sansing abstained, calling the whole affair a slap in the face of the city residents and the new mayor.

“It was unfair to the other five candidates who applied for the position and unfair to the citizens to not have a voice,” Sansing said.

“It was just more of the same back room politics that I thought we were getting rid of,” Sansing added.

There are now two aldermen on the council not voted in by the people.

Ferrell will hold his seat for the next 18 months. Kevin McCleary, who was appointed after the death of Alderman Robert Lewis, is serving an unelected near-four-year-term.

Besides Ferrell, who is a plant manager for Ashland, five other residents from Ward 4 submitted resumes to council members.

Those candidates were Mary Twitty, Beckie Brooks, Marcia Dornblaser, Jerry Meharg and Charlie Brown.

Sansing told the council, “I know a special election will cost us some money, but we have six candidates that would like to be on this council. Let the citizens choose.”

Alderman Bob Stroud, who nominated Ferrell, asked the city attorney about the law in this case.

City Attorney Robert Bamburg responded that the statute says the council shall appoint residents to fill vacant seats. “But the council may also refer any question to the residents,” Bamburg added.

Sansing responded, “The law allows it, but is it morally right?”

“I’ve got nothing against John (Ferrell), and he may turn out to be the best candidate, but I’ve never been in favor of the council filling seats. There needs to be an election.”

Fletcher wanted the council to wait until the first meeting in August, explaining that the city attorney would miss the next meeting and this would give people time to look over the resumes.

Stroud said the council didn’t need the city attorney present to fill the seat and nominated Ferrell. It was seconded by Alderman Marshall Smith, following by Sansing’s discussion of the matter and then the vote.
Sansing also voiced concern that many of the candidates weren’t at the meeting.

“They were told not to come, that it was only up for discussion and that no action would be taken,” the alderman complained.

“It just wasn’t fair. It’s not how a council voted in office by the people should be acting,” Sansing lamented.

Aldermen Reedie Ray and Avis Twitty were absent.

After the vote, Fletcher congratulated Ferrell, who was at the meeting, and told him that arrangements would be made to swear him in before the next council meeting.

According to his resume, Ferrell has lived in Jacksonville since 1973 and worked at Ashland for more than 40 years. His wife, Nola, taught at Arnold Drive Elementary School for 35 years.

“I sincerely feel the varied background of my career path and other public service organizational involvement and my strong desire to serve make me a strong, viable candidate,” Ferrell wrote in his resume.

He sent in his resume six days after Fletcher defeated Alderman Kenny Elliott in a June 2 run-off for mayor.

In other council business:

Fletcher pulled his request to create an education advisory council, saying he wanted to review it and make sure everyone had a voice on the panel. He stated he wanted to add a base representative to the group.

Under the pulled proposal, Fletcher wants the group to include two members from the Jacksonville Education Foundation, two members from the Jacksonville World Class Organization, two members for the Chamber of Commerce education committee, two citizens at large and one city council representative.

The focus of the group is to “serve and focus efforts on the acquisition, creation, examination, exploration, and potential enhancements of a quality education system” for the city.

The council approved a resolution authorizing a “contract of obligation” between the city’s wastewater utility and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Thea Hughes, wastewater utility manager, explained that this was just an update of the contract the city already has with ADEQ. “In lieu of a performance bond, the utility can enter into a contract of obligation, and that contract must be updated every few years,” Hughes explained.

The contract locks the utility into covering the cost for any corrective action, closure or post-closure care of its solid waste disposal or processing facilities.

In his monthly report to the council, Fire Chief John Vanderhoof stated that his department responded to 98 rescue calls, 52 still alarms, 20 general alarms and had 229 ambulance runs in May.

The chief estimated fire loss for May at $7,700 and fire savings, based on the quick response of firefighters at $202,300.

TOP STORY >> Prospects seem grim for better highways

Leader senior staff writer

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as a free road and highway program either.

That’s why state Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie, Jacksonville attorney Mike Wilson and 16 others are serving on the Arkansas Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance to find permanent funding to at least keep the state’s streets, roads and highways repaired and maintained, and if there’s money enough, to build new ones—finish the North Belt Loop, for instance.

Capps, who has a long-standing interest in highway issues, is the chairman.

The state Highway and Transportation Department projects its needs over the next decade at $23 billion, with anticipated revenues of only $4.1 billion. That means they expect to have about one of every six dollars they need.

Highway Department Director Dan Flowers told the group the state needs an additional $200 million a year just to maintain current conditions.

The only news here is that the needs category has increased by $4 billion, while the projected revenues haven’t budged an inch.

And that’s just state highways and interstates. There’s no complete data yet about the costs of maintaining or building city streets and county roads.

All agree more money is needed and while there are variations on a theme, basically that comes down to increasing taxes or fees or taking money from other state programs, such as prisons and education—each of which is generally conceded to need more, not less, funding.

Capps said he expects to have figures on the amount of money that could be raised through various methods when the commission reconvenes July 15 for its third meeting.

Among the tax-or-fee proposals are including a severance tax on lignite, using taxes collected on Internet sales, toll roads, raising property taxes and a hike in the state fuel tax.

Raising additional revenues is difficult in Arkansas, where the state Constitution puts “structural handcuffs” on the state’s ability to raise excise taxes. It requires a three-quarters majority of both houses to raise taxes, according to McKenzie.

McKenzie in the past has promoted regional mobility authorities with the power to levy taxes on fuel or elsewhere upon a vote of the people, the money then being available for roads and highways in the areas that voted for them. For instance, central Arkansas could pass such a tax, and then apply the revenues to roads and highways within its area.

“If folks want good roads, they are going to have to pay more,” McKenzie said. “It an immutable law of economics.”

Wilson said one reason for the financial difficulty was that revenues were flat, but “the costs are almost exponentially rising. Up and up and up. In 20 years they’ve increased 10 times. Cost of asphalt is many times greater than 10 years ago.

“It’s going to have to be some sort of tax,” Wilson said. “There’s no way around it. A motor fuel tax, property tax, they’re all distasteful and unpopular. We could (divert to highways) all sales taxes on tires and tire parts and cars, but that would be way short of what they need and it makes a hole in general revenues.”

“Virtually all the money locally comes from the tax on the number of gallons, not the price” at the pump, Capps said. Thus, when gas prices go up and people drive less and buy less fuel, less money is available for highways.

“Every state is going through this very same thing,” Capps said. “It’s a national issue but we have to address ours at the state level.”

He said the commission also must look into the future. Raising gas and diesel taxes would be a temporary fix if in the future vehicles run on electricity or are hybrids, for instance.

“We have been underfunding for decades,” McKenzie said. “Highways are being funded by an inelastic tax. The thing that goes up with inflation is cost of building and maintaining roadways, particularly last four of five years, cost has spiked with the run up (in price) of oil, steel, asphalt and concrete.”

There is worldwide competition for those resources, he said.

“Purchasing power’s going down. There’s been no federal increase since 1993. The state had a modest one.”

“Build roads and you have to maintain them forever,” McKenzie said. “It’s the same for cities and counties. We need to equitably fund city, county and state roads, now and in the future.”

“The stimulus (highway money) is like taking an aspirin,” said Wilson. “When it wears off, the headache comes back. We have to be innovative and creative. We can’t print money or raise gas-taxes 40 cents a gallon.”

TOP STORY >> Job titles tell duties of officials

Leader staff writer

The new Jacksonville mayor and the human resource director will meet Monday afternoon to better define the job descriptions for the city engineer and the city planner.

Human resource director Jill Ross said this was the first time Jacksonville had both positions filled. The city planner was hired when Jacksonville had no city engineer, but the city used the guidelines of the city engineer’s job description to guide the city planner.

Both positions became filled when Gary Fletcher took over the Jacksonville mayor’s office Tuesday evening.

His campaign manager, Jim Durham, became the city’s director of administration, which moved then-administrator Jay Whisker to the city engineer position, which he once held.

Chip McCulley, who was hired when Whisker left the city engineer post for a job in the private sector, stays on as the city planner.

The finances for the job rearrangements were worked on at the June 24 city council meeting, when aldermen reallocated money set aside for the vacant economic development director’s position and reauthorized the city engineer position.

When all was said and done, Durham had a salary of $73,500, Whisker makes $72,765 and McCulley continues to make $63,000.

But, as one resident asked recently, what do they do? And are taxpayers getting their money’s worth.

Fletcher has said that there is plenty for all to do and has said Whisker will focus on annexation and growth issues, while McCulley will work closely with code enforcement and condemnation issues.

Sherwood also has a city engineer and a city planner, although the city planner is not an employee but on contract.

According to the job descriptions, provided by the human resource director, the director of administration directs and coordinates administration of the city in the absence of the mayor in accordance with policies determined by the city council.

The director of administration oversees the public works department and may be called upon to appoint department heads and staff, interpret policy and provide direction, assist in preparing the annual budget and helps plan for the future development of urban and non-urban areas.

He also supervises activities of departments performing functions such as collection and disbursement of taxes, law enforcement, maintenance of pubic health, construction of public works and purchase office supplies and equipment.

The city engineer, according to the job description, directs and administers the city’s physical and social development, which involves the preparation, installation and adjustment of plans of the city’s improvement and construction of public works.

Duties of the city engineer are carried out with wide latitude, judgment and discretion.

The city engineer advises the mayor, the city council and planning commission on matters relating to planning and development that include public-works improvement programs and projects. He oversees the planning, design, construction and estimating of city public-works projects.

Ross said when McCulley was hired, the city used the city engineer guidelines, but didn’t require the candidate to have an engineering degree.

TOP STORY >> War hero gets more recognition

Leader staff writer

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Parnell G. Fisher is humble about his accomplishments, but he concedes that “the Silver Star doesn’t come routinely.”

Fisher, a 32-year resident of Jacksonville, was awarded the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross for his gallantry in action during the Vietnam War.

The Silver Star is the third-highest military decoration that can be awarded to any member of the armed forces.

Notable recipients include former President Lyndon B. Johnson, 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Arkansas’ own former governor Sid McMath.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to those in the Air Force who distinguish themselves while in flight.

Fisher used a hand-drawn diagram to describe the events that earned him his medals.

On Dec. 18, 1966, Fisher and his team were dispatched to drop flares over Vung Tau to illuminate the sky “so the U.S. troops on the ground could see their targets.”

Fisher served as the load master on that C-130 flight and “would manually eject the flares instead of using those machine ejectors, which were really too slow.”

Then he says he heard one of the flares’ timers go off prematurely in the back of the plane. The timer flew off and hit the flight engineer in the head, knocking him out.

Fisher says he knew that he had “10 seconds to find and eject the flare from the plane before it would ignite into a 22,000-candle-power flame. That thing is hot! That thing will burn underwater. One will light up this whole neighborhood.”

“Ten seconds, if you count, is not a long time,” he continued, “especially when you’re working in the dark like we were… I had to find the flare, get it out and let it go. But it didn’t quite work that way.

“Right when I got it out the door, the chute deployed and the slip stream takes it back and it gets caught underneath the edge of the door. Now the flare itself is underneath the rear stabilizer and it’s ignited,” he said.

So Fisher leapt into action. “I went for my knife… and I’m hanging out of the plane, trying to cut the shroud lines attaching the chute to the flare,” he explained.

“I had to get past the big eight-foot canopy of the chute to get to the lines… it took a while to cut all of them, but I did,” Fisher said.

“I think anyone under those circumstances would have done the same thing. It needed to be done, and it needed to be done quickly,” Fisher said.

His wife, Vermond, said that until recently, “he never really talked about it.”

He met his wife in Hampton, Va. They married in 1959 and have lived in Jacksonville since he retired from the Air Force in 1977.

Fisher was born in Benton. He says he spent exactly “22 years, six months and 22 days in the military,” calling it “short compared to what most guys serve.”

Though he received his medals for his heroics more than 40 years ago, he says he has received much more attention in recent years.

Fisher is finally willing to share his accomplishments with others. He recently took out all of his medals and certificates from storage to have them framed and hung in Jacksonville’s Museum of Military History.

Fisher speaks more freely about his heroics now because he says he gets asked more questions.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to think about it, it’s just that, although I’m told it’s really a feat to be proud of, I just felt I’d be bragging if I talked about it,” he said.

Each year, the Los Angeles City Council honors one distinguished veteran on Memorial Day.

Fisher’s sister, Margaret, who works for the city council, nominated him to be this year’s honoree. He was selected even though he lives in Arkansas.

He was so private about his war record, in fact, that his own sister had never heard the specifics of his actions until she heard him speak this year at the Puente Hills Memorial Day ceremony in California.

When speaking of his sudden recognition across the country, Fisher remain modest about his accomplishments.

“It was nothing to write home about,” he insists.

The Fishers plan to devote a wall in their home to Parnell’s collection of wartime trophies.

Though Fisher is now retired from the military, he remains active at Little Rock Air Force Base, where he’s the shop supervisor and lead technician at the Automotive Skills Development Center, which repairs vehicles for airmen.

EDITORIAL >> Lottery scam will cost us

The most dangerous thing about state-sponsored gambling is that its underlying attitude of “easy come, easy go” is infectious.

The Arkansas Lottery Commission and its supervising lawmakers proved that again this week when they authorized the state lottery director to hire two friends from South Carolina at a combined salary of $450,000 a year.
Lottery proceeds, they reasoned, are free money and there will be plenty of it, so why not?

Ernie Passailaigue, the director whom Arkansas hired away from the South Carolina lottery last month, advised lawmakers who were hearing complaints from voters and some of the media about the high salaries for lottery officials that they should pay no attention to their constituents. The average Arkansan just does not know enough facts about the lottery to understand why the high salaries are necessary, he said. When people are buying scratch-off and Powerball tickets, all the criticism and suspicion will subside, he assured them. The Legislative Oversight Committee, with only one member voting no, gave Passailaigue authority to hire the two South Carolinians at the pay he suggested, which is far more than the handsome salaries they are getting back in the Palmetto state, and to authorize him to hire a staff of 75.

Passailaigue is probably right that four or five months from now people caught up in the euphoria of striking it rich will not care much about his $324,000 salary and the $225,000 he plans to pay the assistant directors for internal operations and for marketing, who have been doing those jobs for him in South Carolina.

That is why we should consider it now in the unfiltered light of reason. It smells to the heavens.

Let us recapitulate how we got here. After Gov. Beebe signed the lottery enabling legislation this spring and the governor and the presiding lawmakers appointed the nine commissioners to run it, everyone got to talking about speeding the process so that people could be betting as soon as possible. Every day lottery that tickets are not being sold scores of students will be missing out on going to college, they said.

Since Passailaigue, a longtime South Carolina politician, had advised them on writing the lottery law, why not hire him? He had lost out on getting the lottery job in North Carolina in 2006 and he was looking. He said he could hit the ground running and would come for a $100,000 raise. So Arkansas has the third highest paid lottery director in America, behind Tennessee and

Georgia. California, New York, Illinois, Florida? Their lottery chiefs don’t come close.

But the new director said if he was going to start the lottery quickly he would need the most knowledgeable people, so he suggested his two top assistants in South Carolina. The Lottery Commission considered them a steal at $225,000 each.

Passailaigue had already hired Arkansas Lottery Commission Chairman Ray Thornton’s former public relations aide for $105,000. So the lottery now has, or soon will have, a staff of four at a payroll of nearly $900,000 plus health and pension benefits, and it has 71 to go.

Are they worth it? We can’t say for sure, but running a lottery requires no genius. You don’t have to understand the curved space-time continuum or even be able to solve a quadratic equation. Scientific Games Corp., which will get one or both game contracts after the bids are in, will do all the product development and the other hard stuff. Scientific Games and G-Tech Corp. run virtually all the lotteries in America.

Arkansas’ top three lottery officials will each earn more than all but six lottery officials in the western hemisphere. All the high salaries are in the South. The big rich states keep it in perspective and put lottery officials in the same pay ranges as other government administrators.

Whoever runs them, lotteries tend to get up and running in four to six months, which is when Passailaigue says he will get it done. North Carolina did it in three months and two days, and they didn’t have Ernie Passailaigue.

Thornton, Passailaigue and Rep. Robbie Wills of Conway, the speaker of the House and chief sponsor of the lottery law, all said it was important to get key officials and pay them well so that the state will not be losing millions of dollars a day that could be spent on scholarships.

But what is the rush? Arkansas has tens of millions of dollars in unspent scholarship funds already because the money has gone unclaimed. The legislature lowered the grade-point requirements for getting and keeping scholarships starting this fall, but no one who qualifies for and needs a scholarship will have to stay home during the next year because lottery tickets aren’t for sale by Oct. 29.

The commission and the lawmakers also approved Passailaigue’s request that Arkansas immediately join Powerball, the big multi-state game with the huge jackpots. States always have to join the big multi-state games, either Powerball or Mega Millions, because the promise of unearthly wealth is what gets people, especially the poor, coming back every payday to invest in kingdom on earth.

That is what people want to bet on, true, but they made it sound like an economic boon to the state. In truth, however much Arkansas people bet on Powerball half of it will be sucked out of the state for national prizes. Arkansas will get to keep half of it, which will be distributed, part for scholarships and the rest to the vendors, administration and the state treasury to help defray the costs of state government.

Economic bonanza? Hardly.

SPORTS >> Let us be your one-stop source for Lingerie Football League action

Leader sports editor

Ask any sports editor at a community newspaper what the biggest time of year is, and he won’t hesitate. (If he tells you summer, because that’s the only practical time to take a vacation in this business, you should start looking for a new sports editor immediately.)

What every sports editor will answer is high school football season. Friday nights from early September to early November and beyond are dedicated to one thing almost exclusively: the boys on the gridiron.

Which is why it pains me so to realize that I won’t be covering high school football this fall. Why? Well, I just visited the Lingerie Football League Web site and I’m back to tell you – some five and a half hours later – that the LFL has scheduled its games for Friday nights, beginning Sept. 4.

It was not an easy decision for me because nothing stirs me like the panoply of prep football – the crisp nights festooned with a dewy sliver of moon, the drum line of the band, the players stampeding through the “Beat the Buffs” banner to the thunderous ovation of the fans, the cheerleaders’ desperate rush to the sidelines ahead of the players that puts one in mind of the running of the bulls in the streets of Pamplona, the game itself, the late nights at the office trying to find the perfect lede to capture the action.

Alas, I will miss all of that this fall. Fear not. Intrepid sportswriter and high school football maven Jason King (whose midweek predictions last fall proved correct a stunning 18 percent of the time) drew the short straw and will continue to provide our readers with prep coverage in each of our Saturday editions throughout the fall.

Meanwhile, our promise to you: Simply the most comprehensive coverage of lingerie football in Arkansas.

When the Dallas Desire and the Denver Dream hook up in October, we’ll be there. When the Bliss (Chicago) battle the Temptation (Los Angeles) or the Seduction (San Diego) visit the Euphoria (New England), we’ll provide the insight and analysis.

Our coverage will consist primarily of photos, though the accompanying story will provide such critical details as who started the hair pulling brawl, whether those green garters the Miami Caliente sport beneath their teal shorts is gauche and, space permitting, the final score.

Mostly it will be pictures, though.

Please don’t think this is prurient in the least. Our interest is twofold: We love football and we abhor chauvinism.

You thought we wouldn’t cover an athletic event simply because, instead of middle-aged men in long pants and jerseys, it is young women in shorts and halter-tops?

You don’t know us very well.

I have learned this much from my visit this morning (and early afternoon) to the LFL Web site: The game will consist of seven girls in halters and shorts competing against seven other girls in halters and shorts on a 50-yard field.

Scoring is the same as in men’s football, though there is no kicking, and extra points must be converted via a run or pass.

Interestingly, the Web site goes out of its way to identify the end zones as being eight yards deep. I’m not sure how that tidbit adds to my understanding of the game, or even how deep an NFL end zone is, but so be it.

Anyway, it will be full-contact, and the girls will wear padded protection but not to the point that it distracts those viewers tuning in just to see skimpily attired young women. And as much as we’d like to think otherwise, there are bound to be such people.

But not us. We’re there for the love of the game.

I just see one potential problem with the new league. Given man’s basically piggish behavior, will we be able to distinguish the teams to the point that all-important rivalries are allowed to form, or will we view them all as an amorphous mass of young pretty women in shorts and halter tops?

To that end, I propose, as one of the top LFL journalists in the field today, that the league form two distinct conferences — one devoted to scantily clad purveyors of prurience and the other to properly attired purveyors of purity.

The Prude Conference would be made up of teams whose uniforms consisted of long, preferably flannel dresses with high collars and ruffled sleeves. I’m thinking of the Pittsburgh Puritans, for instance, or the Chicago Chaste. Or perhaps the Scranton Scolders.

Anyway, those are just some ideas for a later date. Let’s see how the first season plays out and we can tweak it from there.

Tune in to these sports pages this fall for all the action.

SPORTS >> Chevy Boys’ power surge beats Benton

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet finally solved the mystery of Benton knuckleballer Jayce Mitchell on Friday afternoon, and not a second too soon.

The soft-throwing reliever set down the first seven Chevy Boys he faced before Gwatney broke through for three runs in the seventh. That proved the difference in a 7-4 win for the Chevy Boys, who improved to 2-0 in pool play at the Gwatney Fourth of July Classic.

Patrick Castleberry and A.J. Allen kept up the Gwatney home run barrage. Each knocked one out on Friday. Castleberry belted a slam and Seth Tomboli added a long ball on Thursday night in a win over Little Rock Blue, bringing the team’s total to four through the first two games of the tourney.

Gwatney carried a 7-2 lead into the seventh but a sudden spate of wildness following a brilliant outing by starter and winner Clayton Fenton nearly cost them. Fenton had walked no one, but hit the first batter he faced in the seventh. Tommy Sanders walked both batters he faced in relief and Jared Toney came in and walked in a run. But with the tying run at the plate, Toney retired the next three batters. The final out of the game was recorded when first baseman Jason Regnas made a long stretch and a back-handed, short-hop scoop of shortstop Terrell Brown’s throw.

Benton grabbed the early lead with a pair of singles and a double steal in the first. But Gwatney erupted for three runs in the second. Tomboli reached on an error on the center fielder, Sanders singled and Allen followed with a three-run no-doubter blast over the scoreboard in left-center.

Castleberry led off the third with a home run to make it 4-1. That appeared to be more than enough for Fenton, whose curve ball had Benton batters lunging all afternoon. After allowing the two singles in the first, Fenton gave up only two more hits through the sixth. Benton closed the gap with an unearned run in the sixth.

But Mitchell’s knuckleball had completely stymied the Gwatney bats from the fourth inning on. Brown became the first base runner to reach base off Mitchell when he drew a leadoff walk in the seventh. Brown stole second and third and scored on Castleberry’s single. That gave Castleberry eight RBI in his past two games.

Toney lined a single to right, then moved to second on a wild pitch. Tomboli brought them both home with a single to left.

Fenton went six innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs. He fanned six and hit a batter.

Gwatney finished with eight hits, two each by Castleberry and Tyler Wisdom.

Gwatney finishes pool play today at 4:30, when it takes on Sylvan Hills Optimist Club.

SPORTS >> 8-run 6th dooms Bruins

Leader sportswriter

Not even three home runs could keep Sylvan Hills out in front in the first round of the Gwatney Fourth of July Classic.

Ty Van Schoyck’s grand slam in the top of the sixth inning gave the senior Optimist Bruins their only lead of the game at 8-5, but an eight-run rally in the bottom of the inning allowed Benton McClendon’s Appliances to prevail 13-8 on Thursday at Shireman Field in Dupree Park.

Hunter Miller took the loss after and up-and-down day on the mound for Sylvan Hills. Miller gave up five hits through the first five innings, but began to feel the heat in the bottom of the sixth when Benton got to him for five more hits and an 11-8 lead.

Head coach Mike Bromley brought in reliever Justin Cook, but a passed ball resulted in two more runs coming across to extend Benton’s lead to five and set the final margin.

The Bruins fell behind 5-1 before Geno Jameson began their comeback with a solo home run in the fifth.

Van Schoyck’s slam over the wall in left capped off a six-run sixth that gave Optimist Club an 8-5 lead. Earlier in the inning, Austin Spears had cut Benton’s lead to one with a two-run shot to left. Walks to Mike Maddox and James Pepin and a single by

Ryan Dillon loaded the bases and set up Van Schoyck.

The Bruins went scoreless through three innings until Jameson set up the first SH run when he reached on a passed ball strikeout in the top of the fourth.

Austin Spears drove him in two batters later with a double to make it 4-1. It was only the second hit of the game for the Bruins at that point, following a leadoff double by Van Schoyck in the top of the first inning.

Miller’s pitching was solid in the early going, but a pair of errors gave Benton a 1-0 lead in the first. He recovered to send Benton three up, three down in the bottom of the second before McClendon’s scored three runs off three hits and three walks in the bottom of the third.

Van Schoyck was 2 of 4 with a grand slam, a double and four RBI. Austin Spears was 2 of 4 with a home run, and double and two RBI. For Benton, Austin Pheiffer and Riley Hobbs were each 2 of 4.

The Bruins played Little Rock Blue yesterday in the second round of pool play in a game played after Leader deadlines. They take on Gwatney today at 4:30 before the tournament concludes with bracket play Sunday.

SPORTS >> Castleberry slams Little Rock Blue

Leader sports editor

Gwatney Chevrolet didn’t have to hit too many balls hard to score their runs in an 11-3 win over Little Rock Blue on Thursday evening at Dupree Park.

And of those balls that were tagged, most of them came off the bat of catcher Patrick Castleberry. The Jacksonville High junior-to-be belted a grand slam and two doubles, scored three times and drove in six more in the opening round of pool play at the Gwatney Chevrolet Fourth of July Classic.

Ten walks and a hit batter and a two-run home run by Seth Tomboli provided most of the remainder of Gwatney’s offense and pitcher Michael Harmon did the rest. Harmon struggled at times with his control, walking four and hitting three, but allowed only two hits — back-to-back singles in the fifth.

Gwatney got the early lead when Terrell Brown walked leading off the game, stole second and eventually came home on Castleberry’s sacrifice fly. Tomboli, Daniel Thurman and Jason Regnas walked to begin the second inning before Tommy Sanders beat out a slow roller down the third base line to make it 2-0. Brown then lifted a shallow pop up behind short that was caught on the edge of the outfield grass. But the shortstop fell down on the play, allowing Thurman to race home from third.

The big blow of the game came two batters later after Devon McClure was hit with a pitch to load the bases once more. Castleberry lifted a 1-0 offering high into night sky. The towering shot came down well beyond the scoreboard in left center and the grand slam staked Gwatney to a7-0 lead.

Harmon set down the first six Blue batters he faced, recording four of his 10 strikeouts over that span. He ran into trouble of his own making in the third, hitting the first batter, and then making an errant throw on a bouncer hit back to the mound. A ground out made it 7-1.

Gwatney added a run in the fourth and Castleberry missed out on another RBI opportunity when Brown was picked off first.

Castleberry laced a double down the line in left, and then scored on a pair of wild pitches.

Harmon walked the first three Blue hitters in the fourth, but escaped damage with a pair of strikeouts — one on a 3-2 count — and a foul pop to first. None of the first 20 batters Harmon faced hit the ball out of the infield and only six put the ball in play.

But after a one-out walk in the fifth, Blue got solid consecutive singles to load the bases. Blue scored on a slow bouncer that Gwatney third baseman Jared Toney made a nifty play on when he charged, short-hopped the ball and threw across as the runner from third came in. A wild pitch made it 8-3.

In the top of the sixth, Gwatney got three more. Brown reached on an error and Castleberry doubled him home with a long drive to the fence in straightaway center field. With two outs, Tomboli made it 11-3 with a two-run line drive home run to left.

Harmon finished it off with a 1-2-3 sixth.

Gwatney finished with only seven hits — three by Castleberry and one each by Tomboli, Regnas, A.J. Allen and Sanders.

The tournament concludes pool play today before advancing to the semifinals and championship games on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Ken and Lu

On the whole, we don’t begrudge anyone, the deserving or the undeserving, a well- paying new job in these parlous economic times. We only trust that it was not achieved at our — that is, the public’s — expense.

Yesterday brought news that two of Arkansas’ top school administrators had landed new jobs in the private sector. It was not clear that it was a step up financially for either man, each of whom was making a quarter of a million dollars a year, but the posts were clearly lucrative and far less demanding than their old jobs laboring for the Arkansas taxpayers.

Lu Hardin, the embattled former president of the University of Central Arkansas, whose public tenure is still the subject of a criminal investigation, today becomes president of Palm Beach Atlantic University in Palm Beach, Fla. It describes itself as a Christian college dedicated to teaching the liberal arts from a “Christ-based” vantage point. The chairman of the Board of Trustees described its new president as “ a person of great character and ability as well as a man of great faith.”

Ken James, who a month ago had announced his resignation effective July 1 as director of the state Department of Education, becomes the chief operating officer of America’s Choice, a private company that has enjoyed some $24 million in contracts with the Department of Education since James became the director.

There is no evidence and indeed no suspicion as far as we know that the consulting contracts and James’ new job were linked in any way. But the circumstance on its face is troubling, which is why the revolving door is often prohibited by law. Not in Arkansas, unless it is demonstrated convincingly that a new job is somehow contingent upon the business that the public administrator and the company have conducted in the past.

In the analogy above, Hardin would be the undeserving and James the deserving candidate for promotion or an easier style of living. Lu Hardin had his formidable qualities — raising money, championing higher athletic goals, promoting the school (and, even more formidably, himself), but his lies, deceptions, greed and overweening ambition cost the university dearly. It will take the school years to overcome his legacy. But the modest religious school in Palm Beach apparently knew what it was getting.

Hardin’s old friend and boss, Rush Harding III, the chairman of UCA’s board of trustees, said he told the search team in Florida everything that Hardin had done, the evil as well as the positive. The good regents there thought his beneficial qualities were exactly what the school needed. (It is a struggling NCAA Division II school athletically and it may have loftier ambitions for the Palm Beach Sailfish. Hardin got the UCA Bears into Division I, although it took lots of money and some tricky and perhaps illegal accounting to get it done.)

James, on the other hand, has distinguished himself as superintendent of Little Rock schools and as the state’s chief school officer. He has fewer detractors than almost anyone in high office in Arkansas. He was an architect of the late school financial reforms that resolved the longstanding Lakeview school equity case. The governor, lawmakers, school administrators and union representatives all sing his praises as a leader of uncommon intelligence and ability. Who could begrudge him a time to relax in the comfort of a corner of the private sector where competition barely exists?

But the sour taste of this arrangement is inescapable. When James announced he was leaving as director of the Education Department to explore other careers, which he did not identify, his reticence had a reason. It would have the appearance of quid pro quo. For four years, America’s Choice has gotten a contract from the department in the neighborhood of $6 million a year to supply consulting and training for school districts that are in distress owing to their financial condition and low student achievement. Even if there was not an employment deal — and we are quite confident there was not — it does not look good to the public that the official has served.

This has been a common occurrence in Arkansas government. State utility and in-surance commissioners and attorneys leave their state positions to take good jobs for the industries that they have been oh so gingerly regulating. Term-limited legislators take jobs lobbying for industries and trade groups that they have favored with their votes on legislation. Progressive states have imposed a prohibition of one to three years on the revolving door to eliminate the temptation and the appearance of back scratching.

It would have imposed a hardship on Ken James, but his sterling reputation would have been intact.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> New mayor in town

Gary Fletcher was sworn in as mayor of Jacksonville on Tuesday, and he’s set himself an ambitious agenda for the next 16 months before he must face the voters again in November 2010.

As he finishes the uncompleted term of outgoing Mayor Tommy Swaim, who stepped down yesterday, Fletcher wants better schools for Jacksonville and has made a strong case for separating from the Pulaski County Special School District.

He has gone before the school board and sought an agreement on drawing up boundary lines for the proposed north Pulaski County school district. He believes local control of the schools would provide better educational opportunities for all students.

Parents, especially, have despaired over the quality and lack of discipline in the schools, as well as the dilapidated conditions that make it even more difficult for students to learn.

The school board has agreed to build a new middle school, thanks in no small part to Fletcher’s hectoring, as well as pressure from local groups that have tired of the board’s foot-dragging.

Much work remains to be done: Attracting middle-class families once again who flocked here in the 1970s by bringing in more jobs and creating better housing and more parks for young and old. Fletcher says he’s rolled up his sleeves and wants to work for Jacksonville 24/7. This is a job he’s pursued for nearly a quarter of a century, and he wants to do at least as well as his predecessor.

If Fletcher succeeds on the education front and works toward revitalizing Jacksonville, including the Sunnyside Addition, and reducing crime, his first short term could be the start of a more ambitious program that he could complete in a full second term. The community wishes him well.

TOP STORY >> Fourth of July celebrations on tap

There will be something for everyone this Fourth of July weekend.

The Jacksonville High School stadium on Friday is where the city celebrates “With Liberty and Justice for All,” the 2009 Patriotic Spectacular honoring our country’s finest men and women.

The entertainment starts at 6:30 p.m. with country, opera, Christian and contemporary music. A Kids Fun Area will be open at 7 to 8:15 p.m. with Radio Disney, face painting, inflatables and more. The dramatic musical, “With Liberty and Justice for All,” will begin at 8:15 p.m. on the main stage with talent from church choirs, youth choirs, dancers and actors.

The Patriotic Youth Choir will sing and re-enact from Indian and pioneer days.

Jacksonville’s new mayor, Gary Fletcher, will be Abe Lincoln. Many other city officials also have roles in the musical and re-enactments.

Community Hero awards will also be given to American Idol Kris Allen, civic employees and other professionals. The evening will end with a spectacular fireworks display by lawyer Hubert Alexander.

The Jacksonville High School Band Booster Club will sell concessions. Admission is free. The Advertising and Promotion commission, churches, businesses and civic clubs, sponsor the event.

Sherwood will have its Fourth of July celebration starting at 6 p.m. Saturday at Sherwood Forest. There will be music and entertainment, presentation of colors, and hot dogs and drinks while they last. It’s free and open to the public. Fireworks start at 9 p.m.

Ward is expecting about 5,000 spectators for its annual Fourth of July fireworks display. But the festivities begin before dark with a parade at 4 p.m. followed by the opening ceremony complete with an honor guard at 5 p.m.

The activities include a tractor pull and car show. Hamburgers and hotdogs will be served. Legacy, a band from Cabot, will perform.

In Cabot, the celebration is on Friday at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church at Hwy. 89 South and Hwy. 321. A patriotic program is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., followed by fireworks at 9 p.m.

In the community of Floyd, on Hwy. 31 between Beebe and Romance, the Fourth of July festivities start at 10 a.m., with a parade that includes horses and floats, and lasts until the end of the fireworks at the ballpark off Hwy. 305 that start at dark.

In between are ball games, horseshoe games, sack races and egg toss games.

Food is available from concession stands that are open all day. But families may also bring their own grills and cook or bring picnic lunches to the ballpark where the annual daylong celebration has been held since the early 1980s.

The celebration at Beebe City Hall starts at 6:30 p.m. with a performance by Elvis impersonator Tony Witt. Fireworks start at dusk.

Zion Hills Baptist Church invites the community to its 14th annual Church and Community Picnic at 6 p.m. Sunday.

There will be basketball, volleyball, horseshoe toss and many other outdoor activities if weather permits. Hamburgers and hotdogs will be served, along with popcorn, homemade desserts and ice pops. There will also be a designated activity area for children.

The church is located on Zion Hill Road near Hwy. 89 and Hwy. 107, approximately seven miles west of Cabot.

For more information, contact that church office at 501-988-4989. Bring your lawn chairs and sunscreen, and invite friends.

TOP STORY >> Ward library now fisherman friendly

Leader staff writer

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission recently supplied the Ward Library with eight new Shakespeare fishing rods and reels for the public to check out.

Fishermen in Ward who need to borrow a fishing pole for the day need look no further than their local public library.

The Game and Fish Commission has supplied the library with eight rods and reels for patrons to check out.

Librarian Vanessa Ford said, “They have to have a library card to check out a pole. To get a library card you have to have a bill with your name and address and a photo ID.”

Fishermen need to supply the line and hooks. The fishing poles will have barcodes attached for check out. The fishing gear will be ready for anglers to borrow starting Monday.

She added that children younger than 18 years old are required to have a parent sign for them to receive a library card.

Children have to be at least 10 years old to be in the library without an adult or parent present.

The program is geared toward families. “They will be able to check out two per family for three days,” Ford said.

She said Ward resident James Davidson, a technician with the Game and Fish Commission, stopped in the library and asked about setting up the free fishing gear loan program.

She said a Game and Fish Commission employee will stop by the library periodically to maintain the rods and reels.

The Ward Public Library is located at 405 Hickory St., Suite 100 across from the city gym.

Not too far from the library is Busby Lake. The lake is located across the railroad tracks from the Hwy. 367 and Hwy. 319.

For more information about the new program contact the library at 941-3220.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TOP STORY >> Council won’t buy property

Leader staff writer

There’s an old rock home on a small lot at 101 Lakeshore Drive which Tommy Dupree wants the city to buy so the Reed’s Bridge Historical Society can convert it to a visitors and interpretive center for the Civil War battlefield.

Over the past 10 years, the city has helped expand the battlefield site by purchasing more than $215,000 worth of property for the society, but this purchase fell on deaf ears last Wednesday.

Dupree asked the council to fund the $42,000 purchase, but no alderman made a motion and the request died. It was the third time in about four months that Dupree has approached the council about this property.

“The house is solid and in good shape,” Dupree told the council.

He said he walked through the home with Fire Chief John Vanderhoof, who restores old homes, and they thought the building could be converted to a visitor’s center for about $40,000 to $45,000.

“The floors are good and solid and so are the trusses. It won’t take a lot to fix it up. Most of the repair and conversion work would be self-help,” Dupree said.

“We’ve got the lumber and the manpower and can get some funding and grants for the work, but there’s just no money out there for acquisition of property,” he added.

“This will be about the only way we’ll be able to have a center on the site, and it would make development of the area go faster,” Dupree said.

But Alderman Bob Stroud disagreed, saying the home was termite infested, and offered to walk through the property with Dupree to show him the problems.

“For $42,000, it isn’t going to happen. I want you to go forward, but not with this,” the alderman said.

Alderman Terry Sansing also had problems spending the money.

“Times are tough. Tax income is slowing down and money is tight. We can find better use for these funds than buying this structure,” Sansing said, reminding Dupree that the council had been very “generous with city money on park purchases.”

“We’ve contributed about $215,000 over the past 10 years,” Sansing said. “And your group has done a good job at getting additional funding and help, but we just need to put this money to better use.”

The property owner originally wanted $56,000 for the property based on appraisals he had done. The city appraised the lot at $33,000, and former Mayor Tommy Swaim talked the owner down to $42,000.

In other council business:

The city council saluted Mayor Swaim for his 22.5 years of service and invited him back to Thursday’s meeting to receive his special retirement clock.

Aldermen shifted funds in the 2009 budget to allow for personnel changes planned by incoming Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Fletcher plans to make Jim Durham the city administrator and move Jay Whisker, the current city administrator, to the city engineer position, a post he previously held, and keep Chip McCulley as city planner.

To do so financially, the council shifted $100,000 it had budgeted for an unfilled economic development position to cover the expenses of bringing Durham on board, and reauthorized the city engineer’s position.

The city administrator will be paid $73,500, the city engineer’s salary will be $72,765 and the city planner will get $63,000.

The council approved the final plat of the Odell Residential Development, which will consist of four homes on 0.86 acres near North James Street.

Aldermen appointed Paul Payne to the Residential Housing Facilities Board. His term will expire in 2012.

TOP STORY >> Prostitutes swept off Hwy. 161

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department arrested seven people Monday on prostitution-related charges along Hwy. 161 south of Jacksonville.

“We’ve had several calls from people who live out there, telling us where they were working and what they were doing,” sheriff’s department spokesman John Rehrauer explained.

“We did a saturation sweep to address the problem and we’re pretty happy with the results,“ he said.

“Working together, we can rid the area of this problem,” Sheriff Doc Holladay noted.”

Belinda Myers, 28, of 801 Cotton St. in North Little Rock was arrested in the Prothro Junction area for prostitution, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to pay a fine from the North Little Rock District Court.

Jonna Rogers, 24, 39 Lake view Road, Greers Ferry, was arrested on Hwy. 161 in the Rixie area for prostitution.

Arrested for patronizing a prostitute were Darrell Penn, 58, of 1314 Southeastern Road, Jacksonville; Kelsa Slaughter, 69, of 605 Candlewood Cove, Cabot; Cameron Phillips, 27, of 304 South J.P Wright Loop, Jacksonville, and Morris Williams, 24, of 7800 Downing Circle, North Little Rock. Williams was also arrested for contempt of court.

Laura Wilkerson, 33, of 10111 Lanehart in Little Rock was arrested for promoting prostitution and on a fugitive warrant from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Florida for outstanding grand theft charges.

“These folks have been in the system before,” he said. “They got court dates. We want people to understand that if the problem continues, we’ll be back,” Rehrauer said.

Jacksonville residents have not been complaining to police about prostitution on South Hwy. 161 in the city limits, Capt. Charles Jenkins said.

“We’ve made arrests down there,” Jenkins said, but they are few and far between. “We’re not getting the level of complaints that the county is getting. We have a lot of patrols that go up and down that road,” he said. “Our presence may curtail that activity.”

TOP STORY >> Fletcher is sworn in

Leader staff writer

At 5:04 p.m. Tuesday, Gary Fletcher was sworn in as Jacksonville’s mayor.

Justice of the Peace Bob Johnson swore in Fletcher in front of about 200 friends, family members and well-wishers at the community center.

Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce president Phillip Carlisle told the audience that the swearing-in ceremony for a new mayor was truly historical. “We haven’t done this in 23 years,” Carlisle said.

Fletcher told the crowd he felt a bit guilty becoming mayor. “The apples are ripe and on the trees for me to just pick and hand to you,” he said, complimenting the work of former mayors Tommy Swaim and James Reid. “They have been great.”

He said shadowing Swaim the past week has been like “following a rock star on a farewell tour. Those are big shoes to fill.”

Fletcher said he’s questioned whether he is strong enough to do this job, but has found solace and strengthen in biblical verses and his unwavering belief in God.

The new mayor told the crowd at the community center, “You are more than citizens of Jacksonville. You are my family and I love you. You are the greatest people in the world.”

He added that often when a new mayor comes in lines are drawn. “Lines divide people. I plan on drawing a big old circle so we all get the credit.”

Fletcher will oversee his first city council meeting Thursday and is asking aldermen to create a nine-member education advisory group.

He will be Abe Lincoln in the Patriotic Spectacular at Jan Crow Stadium on Friday.

SPORTS >> Cook tunes up for Scrapp Fox with a victory

Leader sportswriter

If Friday’s modified feature at Beebe Speedway is any sign of what’s to come at this weekend’s Scrapp Fox Memorial, there should be no shortage of excitement.

Curt Cook took his third modified win in the past five races with an aggressive pass on defending track champion Randy Weaver on lap 20 after starting seventh on the grid.

The driver known as Mr. Hollywood methodically worked his way through the field by holding a smooth line on the inside in the early going, but as the laps ran out, so did Cook’s patience. He banged wheels with Weaver in the middle of turn three to take the lead, and managed to keep control of his 601 machine coming out of turn four on the final lap when the four-time modified track champion decided to return the favor.

Weaver earned the top-qualifier spot by winning his heat, and stayed out front early on by holding off a racy Todd Greer. Greer eventually fell into the clutches of veteran Mike Bowers and Tyler ‘Rocketman’ Stevens in the Barker’s 2FAST machine.

While Weaver committed to the high side throughout the 24-lap event, Cook edged past several good cars by out-breaking them on the inside line in the corners. That set up a great battle between the two, and Cook finally caught the leader on lap 14. He got a number of looks inside, but the “Big Show,” as Weaver is known in racing circles, used the momentum of the outside line to stay out front until Cook stuck it hard into turn three to take over first.

The only yellow flag of the night came out on lap two, when Stevens and former state IMCA champion Donnie Stringfellow of Heber Springs, touched in turn two. Stevens continued, but Stringfellow went around to bring out the caution.

Bryant’s Casey Findley qualified third for the feature, but his car did handle as well in the main event. Bowers made his way around the former track champ on lap seven, followed by Cook and Stevens two circuits later.

Weaver claimed second, while Bowers finished third and Stevens fourth. Greer held on to round out the top five, with Findley sixth. Cabot pilots David Payne and Jason Flory finished eighth and 10th respectively. Other local entries included the 458 car of Beebe’s Sammy Chamberlain, who finished 12th, while Jacksonville area driver Cory Dumas finished 13th in the 51F car.

Jacksonville’s Mike McDougale won the hobby stock feature after starting third. McDougale wasted no time claiming the lead, passing points leader Bobby Blankenship and Robert Weston of Cabot on lap one. While McDougale dominated up front, Jeff Porterfield put on a show in his 44P machine. Porterfield started seventh on the grid, but sliced through the field, reaching second-place Weston on lap five. He couldn’t catch McDougale in the closing laps, however, and settled for second in front of third-place Weston.

Bald Knob’s Archie Conway, Jr. took the win in the economy-modified division on Friday. Conway started third and worked his way to the front by lap three of the caution-marred race, with Allen McElroy claiming second and Ryan Moore third.

Jerry Massey finished fourth, while Beebe driver Ryan Redmon narrowed the gap between himself and points leader Robert Woodard with a fifth-place finish. Woodard was collected in one of the many wrecks during the race and limped to an 11th -place finish.

Despite his misfortune on Friday, Woodard stayed at the top of the standings with 1,253 points, ahead of second-place Redmon’s 1078.

Hensley driver Willie Gillam didn’t let a disqualification following the street stock heat slow him down on Friday. Gillam took top-qualifier by winning the only street heat of the night, but his win was disallowed after failing post-race inspection.

Gillam started in the back of the small six-car field, and took the top spot over from Randy Eakin on lap three of the 12-lap feature.

In other divisions, Derek Goshien took the win in mini-stocks in the B5 machine over Greg Jackson and Paul Shackleford, while track staffer Shorty Wofford won the second powder-puff race of the season.

Heat qualifying for the seventh-annual Scrapp Fox Memorial will begin on Thursday, with the 35-lap, $2,000-to-win feature this Friday.

SPORTS >> Gwatney juniors, seniors endure tough weekend

Leader sports editor

It was a long, mostly dismal weekend for Gwatney Chevrolet American Legion. The senior Chevy Boys were routed twice by Searcy in games in which they led or were tied in the late innings.

The junior team went 1-2, taking 13-3 and 19-1 shellackings at the hands of Searcy and routing North Little Rock 12-4 on Saturday in a game in which shortstop Jacob Abrahamson turned a triple play.

The junior Chevy Boys led 3-1 in the fourth inning on Friday at Searcy, but surrendered six runs in the fourth and five in the fifth in a 13-3 loss.

Devon McClure and Chris McClendon had RBI singles for Gwatney.

But the junior boys bounced back to trounce North Little Rock on Saturday. After trailing 2-0, Gwatney sent 15 men to the plate in the third and scored nine to put it away. Abrahamson had a single, triple, two runs and two RBI.

The Colts put their first two on in the fourth when magic struck for the Chevy Boys. Abrahamson snagged a hard liner at short, stepped on second and threw to Brandon Russell at first to complete a triple play.

Gwatney added three more runs in the fifth to finish off a 12-4 win. McClure had two hits and two runs and Zach Traylor had a single, two runs and two RBI.

The senior Chevy Boys fell behind 2-0 to Searcy on Friday, but Marshall Shipley’s RBI double in the second and Patrick Castleberry’s RBI single in the fifth tied it.

Searcy, though, erupted for eight in the fifth.

In Sunday’s rematch at Dupree Park, Gwatney fell behind 5-0 in the third, but rallied for six runs in the bottom half of the inning to take a one-run lead. They held on until Searcy tied it with a run in the fifth, then scored three in the sixth and four in the seventh.

Gwatney got doubles from Castleberry, Seth Tomboli, Jared Toney, Michael Harmon and A.J. Allen, and singles by McClure and Daniel Thurman in its six-run third.

Gwatney juniors and seniors hosted Cabot last night in a game played after Leader deadlines. The seniors host the 20th annual American Legion Classic this Thursday through Sunday at Dupree Park.

The juniors begin zone tournament play this weekend at Burns Park.

SPORTS >> Bruins go one up, one down

Leader sportswriter

Two five-inning games met with very different results on Sunday when Conway MBNC visited Kevin McReynolds Field to play the Sylvan Hills Optimist Bruins in an afternoon American Legion junior doubleheader.

The Bruins took a narrow 4-3 win in the opener before Conway busted Game 2 wide open to claim a 12-1 win.

Michael Lock threw a complete-game for the win in Game 1. Lock gave up eight hits and a walk while striking out seven in 104 pitches.

Conway took the initial lead with a pair of runs in the top of the second, but the Bruins responded in the bottom of the frame.

Cleanup hitter Austin Spears led off the inning and was hit by a pitch, and advanced to third on a double to left field by Blake Rasdon.

Brian Chastain drove Spears in with a single to left center, and Jake Dillon singled in Rasdon to tie the game. Cormier then gave Sylvan Hills the lead when he singled to left, driving in Chastain to make it 3-2.

The Bruins added an insurance run in the bottom of the third. Spears doubled to left, and scored three batters later on a single by Chastain.

Conway’s two-hole hitter tried to spark a rally in the top of the fifth inning when he hit a solo home run to lead off the inning, but Lock forced a groundout and two pop ups to right fielder Rasdon to end it.

Chastain was 2 of 2 with two RBI. Spears was 1 of 1 with a double and two runs scored. Rasdon and Dillon also recorded hits for Sylvan Hills.

There wasn’t much for Bruins fans to cheer about in Game 2, with the exception of a solo home-run by Greg Atchinson in the bottom of the fourth inning for Sylvan Hills’ only score of the game.

Four different hurlers tried slowing down the MBNC bats to little avail. Conway put two runners on with singles and scored them both on errors in the top of the second before adding three runs in the third to take a 5-0 lead. It then put the game out of contention with a seven-run spree in the top of the fourth inning.

In all, the Bruins pitching gave up 12 hits. The defense behind also committed five errors, while the SH offense managed only four hits.

The Bruins hosted Maumelle last night for a game played after Leader deadlines. The senior Bruins also played Maumelle last night.

The junior zone tournament begins this weekend.

SPORTS >> Race a go after two-week delay

Leader sportswriter

Mother Nature’s record versus area modified race fans is now a perfect 7-0.

The seventh running of the Scrapp Fox Memorial Modified Championship at Beebe Speed-way was originally slated for June 13-14, but rain throughout the week postponed the two-day, $2,000-to-win modified race until this Friday. It will now be just a one-day event.

The postponement hardly came as a surprise. Rain has forced a delay in the original start date every year in the race’s seven-year history. There were three postponements in 2004 alone.

New promoters Harold and Kevin Mahoney are already well versed on the rain curse. The Mahoneys took over the track late last year just before the Scrapp Fox race, and Harold’s memory of the day before is still vivid.

“We had water up to the flag stand,” said Mahoney. “That was Thursday at noon. I started pumping the water out of there, and we ran it that Friday night.”

With hot, dry weather in the area for several weeks now, the track has gone through its traditional metamorphosis to dry-slick conditions, but the beginning of the season was a struggle from week to week during a rainy spring.

“What happened was at the first of the season, we would have three or four inches of water to pump out every week,” Mahoney said. “The dirt I have here is not solid clay, it has some sand mixed in with it. So if it gets wet too deep, it just breaks up.”

The track held up well last Friday, and even stayed tacky for most of the evening. Mahoney said that even with the added cars this weekend, track conditions should not be a concern.

The qualifying heats will be scored on passing points. Drivers will be put into groups of six or eight, depending on the total number of entries, and each group will run two heats. The second heat will be the invert heat, meaning the cars will line up in reverse order from the first heat. Drivers will be rewarded passing points for every spot they advance.

The drivers with the most passing points will qualify for the A-main, while those that lost passing points or did not acquire enough will be forced to run in a last-chance consolation in order to make the field.

It will be a full slate of action on Friday. Along with the Scrapp Fox race, there will be hobby stocks, factory stocks, mini stocks, as well as a fireworks show. Admission prices will be the same as a regular weekly show.

A strong contingent of drivers is expected, including last year’s winner and four-time defending modified track champion Randy Weaver. North Little Rock driver Mike Bowers is expected, along with Bryant’s Casey Findley and Heber Springs driver Donnie Stringfellow. Local legend Wayne Brooks of Bald Knob is also expected to run in the 7B car.

As far as picks from the promoter himself, Mahoney is predicting last week’s winner, Curt Cook, in the 601 machine.

“That’s tough, but if it gets dry, look for that 601 car,” said Mahoney. “He’s won three here, and I know he’s won two or three at (Conway County Speedway in Plumerville). He slipped by Weaver last week. He planned on it getting drier, and I guess he just had his setup right.”

Racing at Beebe Speedway will begin at 8 p.m.

Monday, June 29, 2009

EDITORIAL >> What lottery really means

If you like gambling — lots of Arkansans clearly do — you hit the jackpot with the gambling amendment last year. The Arkansas lottery will expand the legal options to gamble far beyond what we suspect most voters expected. Only two years ago, Arkansas ranked among the two or three states where gambling was most scarce. In another two years, it will be among the states where it is most plentiful.

That is only a supposition, but see what the new gambling law has wrought in the few weeks of its existence. The speaker of the House of Representatives, who directed the drafting of the lottery enabling law, revealed this week that the law was written in a way that would allow the state lottery to ignore a 132-year-old state law that prohibited certain forms of gambling. Keno, for instance.

It was there all along if you studied pages 52 and 57 of the act, which sprang on the General Assembly in the closing days of the session this spring and was passed by both houses and signed into law within days.

It turns out that Ernie Passailaigue, who was the director of the South Carolina lottery, had privately helped the Arkansas team draft the Arkansas law. He chafed at the restrictions that the conservative South Carolina legislature put on the lottery there. The Palmetto state lawmakers forbade keno, a particularly addictive form of chance where people bet on randomly generated numbers that appear on blowing balls, either on a TV screen or from a computer. You can lose a lot of money on them fast.

As soon as the Arkansas Lottery Commission got set up it offered Passailaigue a chance to run a lottery in Arkansas for a $100,000 raise and the chance to run games that were crimes in South Carolina. He had sought the job in North Carolina when that state started a lottery in 2006, and he leaped at the sweet Arkansas offer.

The Arkansas attorney general said keno was prohibited by law, but he apparently had not read the new lottery law. Speaker Robbie Wills said the drafters first considered keeping the prohibition but then inserted words to make it and some other games prohibited by the old law lawful if the Lottery Commission wants to implement them. It just did not use the word “keno.”

Gov. Beebe said he hoped the lottery agency would not start keno because he did not think people were counting on it when they voted to legalize a lottery. The lottery agency will genuflect to the governor now, but you can be sure that eventually it will authorize every game that the law can be construed to permit. That is the history of lotteries. When lottery participation and revenues sag, the lottery will seek more glamorous games to keep the money coming in.

Passailaigue said he would hold off on keno a while until he hears from enough legislators that they wanted to legalize it. (Southland Racing Corp. will start offering keno soon at its mini-casino at West Memphis.)

Passailaigue also would like to give Arkansans a chance to play Texas Hold ’Em, a form of poker on the web. He foresees the day soon when people can sit in front of monitors in a restaurant or a bar anywhere in Arkansas, little casinos every one, and bet on the numbers every five minutes. Isn’t that what everyone in Arkansas wanted?
Progress on every front.

TOP STORY >> Outdoor pools open for summer

Leader staff writer

Local outdoor pools have opened their doors for the summer, providing much-needed relief for parched area residents.

Splash Zone, located at 201 W. Martin St. in Jacksonville, is open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from noon-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

It costs $4 per person to swim. Twenty-punch passes are available for purchase, saving patrons $20 over 20 visits.

Cabot Municipal Pool, located at 502 Richie Rd., is open seven days a week from 1-6 p.m.

Entry costs $3 per person, and those under four years old or over 60 years old swim for free.

Season passes are $75 per person or $125 per family. Visit the Veterans Park Community Center to purchase passes.

Sherwood boasts three outdoor pools, all under the direction of the Bill Harmon Recreation Center.

Indianhead Pool is located at 33 Deerfield Dr., Fairway Pool at 800 S. Fairway Ave. and Thornhill Pool at 2201 Thornhill Dr. All three pools are closed on Monday, open from 12-6 p.m. on Wednesday, from 1-6 p.m. on Sunday and from 12-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

At all three pools, entry is $4 per person. Family passes are available for $100 for families of five or fewer members.

Beebe City Pool, located at 709 Ballpark Rd., is open from 12:30-5:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 10:30-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The pool is closed on Sunday.

It costs $4 per person to swim. Season passes are available for $45 per person and $125 for families of five or fewer members.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke to build $10M high school

Leader senior staff writer

The Lonoke School Board hired an architect and its usual construction manager Tuesday night in preparation for building an entirely new high school for as much as $10 million.

State and federal funds would help pay for the project.

The board hired Lewis Architects of Little Rock and Marvin Delk Jr. to oversee the process.He served as construction manager for the new Lonoke Middle School and the field house.

The new high school will include 19 classrooms plus three science labs, art room, band room, choir room and four workforce development program rooms as well as administrative spaces for the principal, counselor and health center, according to Superintendent John Tackett.

The Lewis presentation, by Steve Elliot and Clayton Vayden, showed both a one-floor and a two-floor layout, with both attached to the existing front facade of the high school.

Board member Mike Linton questioned whether or not it would be cheaper to preserve the front part of the existing school or to raze it with the rest and start from scratch.
Elliot said it would probably be a little cheaper to build all new, but that some communities are attached to their landmarks.

“It has a lot of historical value so alumni can drive by and reminisce,” Tackett said Tuesday.

The new Lonoke High School, with 61,598 square feet of educational space eligible for state match, could be as cheap as $8.5 million, but the district has as much as $10.2 million available for the project.

The funding includes $4.1 million from the recently sold second-lien bonds, $4.9 million match from state partnership funding and $1.3 million from stimulus money.
Delk said he believed the entire project could be built for $105 per square foot or less.

By comparison, the new high school at Maumelle in the Pulaski County Special School District is budgeted at about $50 million, an estimated $120 a square foot.

In other business, the board agreed to pursue a relationship with the Metropolitan Career-Technical Education Center and to contract with Sub Teach USA to provide substitute teachers next year, including training, record keeping, notifying, all for $3,762.

Tackett told the board that the Army Junior ROTC program is considering the district’s application for a program. He said the application included letters of support from members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation.