Friday, August 07, 2009

TOP STORY >> Beebe to open early childhood center

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe will be the special guest for the dedication of the Beebe Early Childhood Center at 5 p.m. Monday.

The Beebe School District has completed several building projects this summer. The one that is almost certain to garner the most attention is the $10 million Early Childhood Center on South Holly that will house kindergarten and first grade.

Dr. Belinda Shook, school superintendent, said she doesn’t know if the new facility is the best of its kind in the state. But she says it’s bigger and better than she hoped it would be.

The 91,000-square-foot center will house up to 600 students. It has an indoor playground that will be used for physical education, art and music rooms, a 3,000-square-foot tornado shelter, a stage in the cafeteria and a smart board in every classroom. And since it was built for small children, it is painted in primary colors, Shook said.

The state paid $6.3 million for the new facility, leaving the school district to pay $3.7 million by restructuring bonds instead of raising taxes.

Hal Crisco, assistant superintendent for Beebe is over everything that doesn’t pertain to academics: the grounds, buildings, furnishings and buses.

But Thursday afternoon, with just three days left before the teachers start back to work, he was doing more than directing his staff. He was helping unload the tractor trailer rig that had delivered the desks for six new classrooms at the 11th through 12th grades high school.

When time is running short, everyone pitches in, he explained about his temporary shift from administrator to laborer.

The addition, which was started at the beginning of the year, will be ready for students Aug. 19, he said. So will an addition to the field house. Although the district’s middle school for 5th and 6th grades is now on the McRae campus, the Early Childhood Center is the first facility to be built off the main campus.

Beginning this school year, there will be two elementary schools for second, third and fourth grades on the main campus: Beebe Elementary in the old primary and elementary buildings and Badger Elementary in the former intermediate building.

Intermediate school no longer exists.

Although the concept might be a bit confusing, Crisco said the signs are up on the buildings, so that should make it easier.

Traffic patterns will also be different this year, beginning with two-way traffic at all times on Badger Drive which has been one-way for many years. Crisco said maps showing the new traffic patterns will be available during open house Monday evening.

Routine summer maintenance this year included painting the interior of the 11th through 12th grades high school that is now seven years old, installing new carpet in some classrooms and new exterior doors at the middle school and Badger Elementary.

Security systems also have been updated, Crisco said.

TOP STORY >> Halter pushes virtues of lottery

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Even though Sen. Sue Madison wants the Arkansas Legislature to repeal the lottery, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is still looking at it “full steam ahead.”

He spoke at the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon Thursday at Sherwood Forest.

Halter said the call to revisit and repeal the lottery is disrespectful to the state’s voters who approved the lottery. “Two out of three voters aren’t wrong,” he said.

Halter said the lottery went before the people in the general election and was approved by a large margin.

“It passed in every county,” he said. Then it was approved in the state House by a 100-0 vote and in the Senate by a 35-0 vote. The scholarships will start next year.
Original plans called for the lottery to start in January, but it looks like it could be in October.

“That’s an extra $25 million for our scholarships,” Halter said.

“Now just months before we are ready to go, Madison (a Democrat senator from Fayetteville), who sponsored the bill and voted for it, now says, ‘Oops just kidding, let’s not have the lottery,’” Halter said. “That’s disrespecting the voters.”

Despite this bump, Halter strongly believes the lottery will do wonders for the state.

“I’ve been to hundreds of meeting across the state on this issue,” Halter said, “and the first thing everyone says is ‘Thank God for Mississippi.’”

“There is nothing in our water, there is nothing in our DNA that says we have to be 49th,” the lieutenant governor explained.

He said the state was been either 48th or 49th for his entire lifetime, and it is time to take a risk and do something new.

“Yes, the lottery is controversial. Just Google Arkansas lottery or Bill Halter, and you’ll see,” he said, but Halter believes it is worth the risk.

He said the state currently budgets about $48 to $49 million for college scholarships for state students.

“We will triple that amount with the lottery,” he said.

Halter expects the net proceeds from the lottery to be about $100 million and all that will go toward scholarships, plus the state will continue to budget its share in addition to the lottery.

“Let me say, first, middle and last. This is not about the lottery. It’s about the scholarships.”

Halter said the scholarship lottery is a $400 million enterprise. He said he couldn’t think of a business that large that doesn’t hit speed bumps.

“Mistakes will happen. We’ll correct them and move forward,” Halter explained.

He said the state lottery program is modeled somewhat after the Georgia scholarship program. “In the past 10 years, Georgia has provided scholarships for 1 million of its students to attend instate colleges. We can do even better,” Halter said.

How?

The requirements for the Arkansas lottery scholarship are less stringent. In Georgia, a high school student needs to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. For the Arkansas scholarship, the student must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average or score at least a 19 on the ACT college entrance exam.

The lottery scholarships would be available to any Arkansas high school senior who elects to go to an in-state college or university. Nontraditional students will also be able to apply for the scholarships as well as current college students.

The exact amount of the scholarships haven’t been worked out yet, Halter said, but if the lottery brings in the expected $100 million, then scholarships for students attending four-year institutions will be $5,000 a year, and for those attending two-year schools the scholarships will be worth $2,500 per year.

Halter says that comes very close to covering the full in-state-tuition costs. “That’s a big deal, a very big deal,” he said.

“If this lottery is as successful as I think it’s going to be, we’ll be able to go into any school and tell the students if they keep a 2.5 grade-point average you will have an opportunity to go to college,” Halter said.

EDITORIAL >> Clinton diplomacy

We all knew that Bill Clinton possessed masterly diplomatic skills and that his global prestige remained undiminished eight years after leaving the presidency, so it was a surprise only that he made a trip to North Korea to negotiate the freedom of two American journalists imprisoned by the rogue dictator, not that he succeeded.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, beamed like it was the happiest moment of his life Tuesday, when he posed with the unsmiling former president a short while before announcing that he was ordering the two women released from prison, where they had been sentenced to hard labor for 12 years for violating the country’s sovereignty. They had ventured near or across the border while working on a story about refugees for the San Francisco news network started by former Vice President Al Gore.

It may have been the happiest day of the little tyrant’s life. He reportedly has yearned for many years to be visited by the political leader who was for a generation the most admired man on Earth.

There was immediate criticism of the former president by the old regime in Washington. John Bolton, a prominent diplomat in the Bush administration, said Clinton handed the dictator a huge worldwide propaganda victory. All for the freedom of two silly women.

Kim Jong-il’s diplomatic triumph is entirely in his own mind and the minds of craven men like Bolton. The North Korean leader stands in no better relief in the eyes of the world than he did the day before Clinton’s unmarked plane touched down in Pyongyang.

Clinton’s visit reinforces what is supremely different between the two nations, the United States’ undying quest for freedom and justice for every one of its people and the communist regime’s disdain for individual freedom. Prestige, the propaganda wars, nuclear d├ętente and all the other implications of Korean-American relations were secondary to getting the freedom of two innocent citizens who until the moment of their capture were ciphers in the affairs of nations.

Propaganda triumph? Yes, but it wasn’t the Korean’s.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.

TOP STORY >> Stormy weather Hurricane-force winds hit many areas

Leader staff reports

The storm early Wednesday morning was as sudden as it was surprising.

Sirens and emergency telephone calls woke up thousands of area residents who were often too dazed to seek shelter.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

Wednesday’s storms caused thousands to lose power as winds knocked down trees and power lines.

Residents in Beebe and Ward were busy picking up branches and cutting downed trees into sections.

A path of destruction could be seen on Hwy. 31 in Lonoke County between Hwy. 38 and Hwy. 321 Spur.

Carla Horton, who lives on North Hwy. 31 in Lonoke County, said the storm woke her family up during the predawn hours.

“We heard the winds and the storm died down. Then it sounded like a trunk was being drug across the floor,” Horton said.

Horton said a truck bedliner was stored inside a dog pen near their house. It was lifted up over the treetops and tossed into the neighboring field.

Carrol McGee runs a goldfish farm off North Hwy. 31. Two of his buildings received heavy damage from Wednesday morning’s storms. One building had the side peeled away. A shed partially collapsed when the structure’s wooden posts were shifted nearly seven feet. McGee said he was going to rebuild the farm.

McGee was examining the damage and said, “It was a small tornado. Straight (line) winds don’t do this. It picked John Allen’s (McGee’s neighbor) roof off his house. It had to have suction.”

The field near McGee’s farm had metal strewn about. There was a wooden 2-by-4 splintered board stuck deep into the ground.

A tornado or high winds peeled back the white metal roof over the front porch of the Southbend In and Out, about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, dropping it on the store roof, according to store owner William Alami.

“I got a call from ADT at 4:30 a.m. that somebody was playing with the front door,” Alami said.

The store was due to open at 5 a.m., and employees, including store manager Cindy Sutterfield, arrived just before Alami.

“Thank God there was no damage inside,” he said.

The electricity was out and the store closed all day, he said. Alami was waiting to hear from his insurance company. He said that between damage to the roof and loss of business for a day, he was out about $25,000.

“The biggest thing was trees and vehicles and sheds,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman. He said Butlerville, east of Ward, was hit pretty hard.

By Thursday late afternoon, Entergy still reported 63 active outages affecting 616 customers in Lonoke County. Most outages were clustered around Carlisle and lines were down south of there on state South Hwy. 13.

Straight-line winds of near hurricane force knocked down trees across White County early Wednesday. Some fell across Hwy. 16 and Hwy. 64 and at last count, five fell into homes.

Tamara Jenkins, White County Office of Emergency Services director, said Thursday that she is still surveying the damage, which is not extensive but is widespread, reaching from Pangburn in the north where wind speeds were estimated at 75 to 80 miles an hour to beyond Beebe in the south. Hurricane speed starts at 75 miles an hour.

The storm came from the north and took a relatively narrow path to the southwest, which is unusual since most storms travel from the southwest to the northeast, Jenkins said.

John Benick, from Pennsylvania, who was visiting relatives outside Beebe when the storm hit about 4 a.m., said he looked outside when he heard what he presumed was the wind making a high-pitched screaming sound and saw dark clouds that looked like they were almost sitting on the rooftops.

The power went off when the storm hit and was off for 12 hours or more.

Jenkins said Latona, south of Pangburn, was hit the hardest with trees down on several power lines. Because the damage was light, homeowners need not expect any sort of disaster relief, but in the interest of keeping accurate records, she is asking everyone with damage to their homes to call her office. That number is 501-268-4810.

EDITORIAL >> How about a dialogue?

U. S. Representatives Vic Snyder of Little Rock and Mike Ross of Prescott, who represent the polar wings of the Democratic Party in Congress, collided at a town-hall meeting on Wednesday at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which hoped to hold a community forum on the burning health-reform issues that they will have to address when they go back to Washington next month. But it was not a collision of their ideas about how to extend insurance to 47 million Americans who don’t have it, and preserve it for others who find it less and less affordable.

It was, instead, a clash with intolerance and ignorance, and Snyder and Ross found themselves in rare defensive alliance. They were booed and shouted down when they tried to explain the various proposals for overhauling the health-insurance system.

It is happening all across the country as members of Congress take a month-long vacation home to talk to their constituents about the historic issues confronting the lawmakers: health insurance, climate change and economic malaise. A highly organized national campaign turns the town-hall meetings into screaming protests of Democrats and the president. The object is to portray the country as outraged and send the lawmakers back to Washington in a panic to defeat health reform.

The foot soldiers for the campaign to stop health insurance reform seem to have come from the Republican-engineered “Tea Party” protests back in April. The playbook that went out last month said people should spread out in the town hall meetings to make their numbers seem larger, to shout down the congressmen, senators and audience members who seem sympathetic and to cheer each other’s speeches. The Little Rock group followed it to the letter. You can catch the ugly scene on several Internet sites. One national network carried much of it.

One woman gave an Academy Award performance, sobbing as she wailed that she could not believe what had happened to her country. Imagine, a country that would try to find a way to make medical care available and affordable for the working poor as well as the rich, a goal first raised by Teddy Roosevelt a hundred years ago. The United States, by the way, is the last advanced nation in the world to do so, and it may not yet.

What is frightening is that many of the angry people who wave and shout at the meetings and who write raging letters to newspapers and Internet blogs may actually believe the horrors planted by the industry opponents of insurance reform — that buried deep in legislation somewhere are plans to euthanize the elderly, ration medical care and force everyone into a government health system where bureaucrats named by the black president will decide the medical care that everyone gets.

Elderly protesters are sure that the government is going to take away part of their beloved Medicare (a government-run health program, incidentally).

One woman at the Children’s Hospital riot shouted that President Obama was going to trample on the Constitution and install a medical dictatorship even if Congress didn’t approve health legislation and that no one would do anything about it. The protesters said Obama was intent on installing a single-payer insurance system. When Snyder tried to say it was not so, that a single-payer system (which he has always opposed) was nowhere in the works, the crowd drowned him out with jeers.

The conservative Ross, who apparently had never experienced anything like it in his south Arkansas district, put his head in his hands on the table. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who had never before been heard to utter a dispirited word about anyone or anything, said the nasty displays were “un-American.” She apologized later for her words. She believes in free speech for everyone.

The mob scenes are the opposite of free speech. They are an attempt to stifle public debate. Affordable and efficient universal health insurance and how to achieve it need a bold and searching discussion in every congressional district in the land. It is immensely complex and difficult, affects every one of us and posterity, and if the dialogue is not thoughtful and civil, we are lost.

SPORTS >> Bears making do with loss of key players

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills head coach Jim Withrow thinks roster numbers are kind of an overrated, overhyped topic when it comes to football teams.

“The last time I checked, you could only play 11 kids,” said Withrow, who will be starting his third season at the Bear helm this fall.

That doesn’t mean that Withrow isn’t a bit concerned about a low turnout this summer at Sylvan Hills. Two-a-days began with only around 30 players, which is a disturbingly low total for a 5A school. Withrow thinks that number will grow to 40 before the season begins.

“We knew we were going to be in a cycle like this,” he said. “But we didn’t count on (losing) a couple of guys that aren’t playing.”

Withrow lost several key players to eligibility issues and a couple more wanted to play baseball or basketball. While the losses will mean more players having to serve double duty on offense and defense and will put a larger premium on staying healthy, all the news is not bad. Withrow still has a lot of talent and says his first 11 players are pretty darn good.

The low numbers, though, make it difficult to conduct normal practices, Withrow said.

“When there’s four guys in your group, how many drills can you do?” Withrow said. “Everybody’s gotten 30 reps at that drill and it’s taken five minutes. But we’ve run a little more than normal and worked a little more on conditioning.

“But the problem with losing those guys is we’re having to spend a lot of time coaching new positions and we should be way beyond that.”

Graduation and the losses Withrow wasn’t expecting took their biggest toll on the quarterback position and in the secondary.

The Bears lost both the No. 1 and 2 players at one of the cornerback positions and safety remains wide open. Right now, he said, Devonte Britt would likely be the starting safety. There was even talk at one time of using quarterback Jordan Spears at safety or at linebacker.

Not any more, not with the loss of both of his backups.

“Juliean Broner would be the backup today if we played,” Withrow said of his most explosive player, who appears to be fully recovered from a late season ACL injury last year. “We do not want Jordan to get hurt, obviously.”

The plan going into the season was to take better advantage of Spears’ running ability, but that’s out now. The key now will be to protect him and try to keep him healthy, especially through Weeks 2 and 3, when the Bears take on a couple of physical 7A teams in North Little Rock and Cabot.

“If we can get past Week 3, we’ll match up physically with most of the teams in our conference,” Withrow said.

Spears will operate out of the shotgun, with Broner and Hawaii transfer Michael Finney joining him in the backfield. Because the Bears lost a pair of solid tight ends in Devin Shaw and Taylor Pennington, the Bears will have to mix things up for short-yardage situations. That includes the pistol offense, in which the quarterback lines up a couple of yards behind center, as well as some short routes and rollouts.

The Bears will look fairly unconventional and will run some empty sets, some swing routes to tailbacks, some tunnel screens — even a version of the wildcat offense with Broner at quarterback.

“We’re not going to be able to just line up and run it over many people,” Withrow said.

But despite the loss of his tight ends and three offensive linemen, Withrow feels pretty good thus far about his new line. He noted Spears was sacked only one time at an early camp and that Alex Shaw has really stepped up at a tackle position. Withrow added that the group up front probably has an average GPA of 3.5.

“They’re hard workers and outstanding kids,” he said.

Defensively, Withrow is big on Alex Shaw at one of the end positions, along with Nick Brewer at the other end. He’s trying out three players at nose guard, all of whom bring a lot of size to the table.

The linebacking corps will be anchored once again by Michael Robinson and Broner.

So the chore is to nail down the other two linebacking spots and fill the holes in the secondary.

“But you know what?” Withrow said. “We’ve got Broner and (receiver Ahmad) Scott and Brewer and Spears and Robinson and the Britts. I think we’re going to be okay.”

SPORTS >> Khaila Jones comes up short in bid for second straight crown

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Arkansas Team Elite heads into the final day of competition today at the AAU Junior Olympics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Searcy’s Khaila Jones narrowly missed out on her second consecutive national triple jump title on Friday. Jones, who won the midget division triple jump at the Junior Olympics last year, finished second on Friday in the sub-youth division with a leap of 34 feet, 6.75 inches. Darielle McQueen won the event with a jump of 36-10.25.

On Thursday, Team Elite’s ‘A’ team qualified for the finals in the 4x400 young men’s division. The team of Larry Atkinson, Shaquille Brown, Demond Burns, Caleb Cross finished fourth in the semis with a time of 3:16.95 and will run in the finals today.

Also on that team are Taron Dunn, Terrell Heard and Antrell Terry.

Daijah Harris finished 17th in the sub-bantam long jump with a distance of 11 feet, five-and-a-half inches. Kiara Vaughn placed 15th in the 100-meter dash semifinals with a 14.32 on Wednesday, but did not qualify for the finals.

In the boys intermediate 4x800-meter relay on Friday, Team Elite A, made up of Marc Favors, Logan Rosson, Deonte Watson and Winston Avery, finished 10th with a time of 8:45.42.

SPORTS >> Badgers begin rebuilding season

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Fall two-a-days began for the Beebe Badgers last week with three-and-a-half hour morning sessions and two-and-half-hour afternoon workouts.

With the loss of most of their skill players and a big senior class upon graduation in May, the theme has been one of rebuilding for third-year coach John Shannon and staff, but the head Badger is happy with the clay he has to mold.

“Overall we’ve been doing well,” said Shannon, who has led Beebe to back-to-back playoff appearances with a combined 17-6 record since taking over the helm in 2007. “On paper, we actually look better than last year. We’re a little faster than we were last year and a little stronger than we were last year.

“The whole key is going to be what happens whenever those lights come on every Friday night. That’s the unknown right now that we’re trying to figure out. If they go out on the field on Friday nights and work as hard as they have in practice since January, we feel like we’re going to be okay.”

A total of 45 players, 11 of which are seniors, turned out for the first week of practice.

“That’s down just a little from last year, but I feel like the 45 we’ve got want to be here, and they’ve worked hard all summer,” said Shannon. “They’ve all got their 10 mandatory workouts in, so we’re happy with the 45 we’ve got. They’re working hard.”

Shannon said that part of the problem with the numbers being down is a small senior class.

The Badgers have one of the more stringent summer policies in the area with 10 mandatory workouts. Shannon said those workouts have proven beneficial whenever August rolls around every year.

“We’re trying to do a lot of teaching, a lot of fundamental stuff and a lot of conditioning,” said Shannon. “But we feel like with our summer program, if they made 10 workouts, they’re at least in halfway decent shape. It’s just a matter of getting them used to wearing a helmet and being out here six hours a day compared to the summer time when it’s basically two, two-and-a-half hours a day.”

The typical day for the Badgers last week started at 6:15 a.m. with weightlifting for an hour in the weight room before they hit the field just before 7:30. They went until about 9:45, and came back at 1 p.m. for their afternoon practice, which ran until about 3:30 p.m. There will be only two days of two-a-days next week due to teachers meetings and one Saturday practice before scrimmaging at home against Searcy on Aug. 25.

The first three days were helmets-only before going to full pads on Thursday.

“The first day you put those pads on, it really gets fun,” said Shannon. “And that’s how you find out who your football players are – who will hit, who will tackle and who will run the football. So we’re going to do lots of hitting tomorrow. We’ll do a little blood alley in the morning and scrimmage that afternoon.

“We’ll see if some of the kids that we didn’t get a good look at in the spring have grown up over the summer, and if some of these guys that we penciled in as starters are really going to be starters. So tomorrow is really when the fun starts.”

May graduation drained the roster of nine offensive starters and six defensive starters. With a limited amount of seniors this fall, there is a greater chance for an underclassman to earn a starting position this year.

“That’s the great thing about spring football, said Shannon. “We got those young guys back in May, and we felt like some of them stepped up then, and have done well all summer long. We felt good about them. We’re counting on four or five of those young kids to step up this year and play because we’re so inexperienced. They’ve done really well so far. We’re hoping that they really shine when the pads go on.”

With school starting a week earlier this year, Shannon said that it has been a stretch to fit everything in the more limited two-a-days format.

“We’re kind of pressed a little for time,” said Shannon. “It used to be two or two-and-a-half weeks for full two-a-days, now you get about a week-and-a-half, so we’re trying to get everything in now. But right now, I feel like we’re on pace.”

SPORTS >> AAA tackles recruiting; sportsmanship still up to coaches

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Last November I witnessed a pretty solid Beebe Badger team travel to Pulaski Academy and get their helmets handed to them in a 63-21 trouncing in the second round of the 5A playoffs. It would have been one thing had the Badgers hung close for a while and the game just got out of hand late.

But the truth of the matter is, and I mean no disrespect at all to the Badgers, Beebe had almost no chance of winning that game.

I’d add that the score might have been worse, but I’m not sure it could have been. Bruins coach Kevin Kelley apparently is way more interested in watching his offensive genius exhibited on the field than in exhibiting any sense of sportsmanship.

A week later, Leader sportswriter Jason King traveled to Springdale and saw another outstanding team in Lonoke get run off the field early in a 47-7 rout at the hands of Shiloh Christian.

The Jackrabbits, who dominated the 2-4A and lost only to Beebe during the regular season, never had a chance. King at the time noted nearly 80 players on the sidelines for the Saints. Lonoke, in contrast, listed a mere 50 on its roster.

Now, I’m not here to suggest we should mandate parity. It’s not only impossible, it’s not the American way. What I am suggesting is that there is something terribly wrong when one team (Shiloh Christian) is 70 points better than a playoff opponent, which the Saints were in their 84-14 win over Clarksville last fall, or is 40 points better than a 10-1 Lonoke team, or 39 points better than one of the 4A semifinalists – the 11-1 Osceola Seminoles.

Likewise, you cannot mandate sportsmanship. If a coach or a school or a community has their minds set on exalting themselves through dominance on the gridiron, it’s their perverse right, I suppose. In fact, my guess is that many of the better coaches on the losing ends of those lopsided scores have used the experience to hammer home some lessons to their players.

Beebe coach John Shannon suggested after the PA game that his players and coaches had just got a glimpse of what it takes to reach the next level. And I’m guessing he also might have touched on the theme of sportsmanship after that game as well.

What did the PA kids learn? Maybe that winning is easy. Maybe that winning big is better. Let’s hope that’s not the lessons they took away from their PA experience because that won’t serve them well in the real world.

The Arkansas Activities Association took up the matter of private school vs. public school inequality in its board of governors meeting on Tuesday and may have come up with a way to at least put a patina of fairness on the matter. Given the choice of placing all 21 private schools in their own postseason tournament (Proposal 7) or tightening the transfer rules (Proposal 8), the board opted for the latter.

On a side note, I find it interesting that the matter of recruiting is addressed so openly in Proposal 8 and yet when I mentioned it on Fearless Friday about nine months ago, I was immediately banned – no warning, no opportunity for appeal. Makes me think the people running the board over there might have some dogs in this hunt.

Proposal 8, which was adopted after Proposal 7 narrowly failed, mandates that any athlete wishing to play at a school that offers financial assistance must enroll in that school in the first year that it offers classes, usually seventh grade. If an athlete decides to enroll at the school at any point after that, he or she would be banned from athletic competition for 365 days.

Yes, that should help alleviate the problem the board moderators at Fearless Friday don’t want anyone acknowledging: recruitment. And while I think that option is much better than the one of having private schools compete for their own state championship, it won’t resolve the matter perfectly.

The fact is, some private schools simply have built-in advantages. Shiloh Christian has players who aren’t quite good enough to start at 7A Springdale banging on their door. And let’s face it, a second-stringer at Springdale High is likely going to star at 4A Shiloh. You can’t exactly blame that on the Saints.

And let’s give credit where it is due. Pulaski Academy and Shiloh Christian have put their advantages to good use, establishing outstanding feeder programs at the junior high level, where they hammer home the fundamentals of their high-powered offensive systems early. By the time these kids arrive at the high school level, they essentially have three years experience under their belts.

We’ll always have inequality in competition — at all levels. We should all just accept that fact. What the AAA has done is to rein in that inequality to some extent. That’s about all you can ask.

As for the matter of sportsmanship, no legislation can mandate that. That’s up to coaches, administrators and communities to decide what lessons they want to teach their kids.

SPORTS >> Cabot’s Smith earns junior player of year

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

A fourth-place finish at the Mountain Valley Junior Stroke Play tournament in Texarkana on Thursday was enough to secure Cabot’s Hunter Smith the Arkansas State Golf Association’s junior player of the year honor.

Smith finished two spots ahead of fellow Cabot junior golfer Colby Benton in the ASGA junior finale with a 226 over the three-day tournament. That gave him a season total of 720 points to Benton’s 660. Smith entered the event with a 20-point lead over his high school teammate.

“I guess it’s kind of a big deal, but it’s mostly fun for me. I like competing with everyone,” said Smith.

Smith shot a 76 on the first day and slipped to a 77 on Wednesday. But a solid 73 on the final day solidified him as the overall champ for 2009. Benton dug an early hole with a 77 and 78 on the first two days. Benton improved on the final day, but only enough for a 74 to leave him three strokes in back of Smith with a 229.

“I knew I had to have three pretty good rounds of golf to help my chances of winning it,” said the 16-year-old Smith, who finished fifth overall in the ASGA junior standings a year ago. “I felt pretty good about it – I like that course a lot. I had a bad couple of holes that first day, but I felt like I could get it back the next couple of days.”

The Mountain Valley stroke-play win went to Lane Hulse of Fordyce after he scored a tourney-best 69 on day three to give him a three-day total of 219. Dylan Lovell and Nate Smith tied for the runner-up spot with 225 each, while Smith’s 226 was fourth.

The two other golfers in the running for junior player of the year heading into Texarkana, Drew Comer of Fort Smith and Ethan King of Conway — finished 12th and 8th, respectively.

The run to the season crown was no cakewalk for Smith, who went through a swing crisis over the course of the summer. He said the problem was never fully corrected. It just became a matter of adjusting his style to offset the problem.

“My timing was off, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back,” said Smith. “I just figured out how to play with it and keep going.”

Smith took wins in three of the 20 events on the ASGA junior schedule this summer. He started the season in dramatic fashion with a three-hole, sudden-death playoff win over Garth Branstetter of Sulfur Rock in the Greater Little Rock Junior Championship at War Memorial Golf Course on May 3.

His next win came three events later at the Monticello Junior Stroke on June 5-6, this time in more dominant fashion. Smith finished with a two-round total of 137 to give him a nine-stroke victory. He ended the month of June with a win at the Red Apple Country Club in Heber Springs at the Greers Ferry Lake Junior Invitational, finishing 15 strokes ahead of second-place Benton.

Now that the summer is over, best friends Smith and Benton can forget about being adversaries and go back to being teammates on the Cabot Panthers high school golf team.

“We’re best friends; we talk all the time,” said Smith. “He congratulated me after it was all over with. He’s a great player. We’ve got a match Monday in Conway. It’s us and a few other good players, so we should be pretty good this year.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Lottery looks like a lemon

The Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship Advisory Council assembled this week to begin a report on how the proceeds from the Arkansas lottery should be distributed starting in the fall of next year. It will all be spent on scholarships to supplement some $48 million a year that the state spends on college assistance from your taxes, but exactly how will those be determined?

What will be the standards for granting scholarships since the state will have considerably more money than the roughly $100 million that is available for the school year that begins this month? The citizens task force will make only recommendations, which the state higher- education coordinating board can adopt or ignore, and the legislature will fix the size of the individual grants, probably next summer, when more is known about how much the lottery will produce. By then, we will have six or eight months’ experience with Powerball, scratch-off and online gambling.

But the task force’s discussion was notable for the prevalence of common sense and facts, of which there has been precious little in the three months since the state officials appointed the Lottery Commission and it began organizing for the onset of the numbers games this fall. The commission hired the director of the South Carolina lottery, the wonderful prototype that

Arkansas lottery advocates want to follow, to run the Arkansas operation at a salary of $324,000 a year plus emoluments.

Others came on board at six-figure salaries far above the norm for government work.

Ernie Passailaigue, the director, and Ray Thornton, the lottery commission chairman, said the salaries were justified to get world-class experts to Little Rock to start lottery sales quickly. Every day that the state is not selling lottery tickets means hundreds of kids sitting at home who would like to go to college. If you have to spend a couple million dollars extra to compensate experts for getting the lottery running quickly, the millions a day of extra scholarship money justifies it, they said.

It was malarkey, but no one said so. It was plain enough in the advisory council’s discussions. No scholarship will be awarded from lottery proceeds until August 2010. Former State Rep. Jodie Mahony, the wise old veteran that the Capitol sorely misses (he still advises the legislature), reminded the council that all the money that the lottery raises from its startup this fall through the start of school in 2010 is “one-time money” and should not be used to calculate the number and amount of scholarships for that year because the same aggregate amount would not be available the next year. He suggested using those proceeds to help students nearing graduation.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, the father of the Arkansas Lottery, was there to bemoan a slight decline the past year in the college-going rate of Arkansas high school seniors. It is a matter of concern, although Arkansas still ranks better among the states on that score than on most educational indices. Halter has said all along that his primary motivation for putting the lottery before the voters in 2008 was to get far more youngsters to go to college, which he said was the key to the state’s economic advancement.

As we noted last week, it hasn’t had that effect in South Carolina, where unemployment has steadily risen since the lottery began in 2001 so that it now outpaces all the states except Michigan and Oregon.

But at least far more South Carolina kids are going to college as a result of an unusually productive lottery that puts hundreds of millions of dollars into scholarships every year.

Actually, no. In 2000, before the scholarship lottery, 66.3 percent of South Carolina high school graduates went to college. Six years after the lottery began, the rate had fallen to 63.9 percent. Tuition and other college costs skyrocketed during the same period, a market phenomenon that anyone could have predicted.

It is time to recognize that the lottery is not going to send thousands more Arkansas youngsters to college every year who otherwise would have stayed home. It will relieve the burden of college for tens of thousands of families, many of whom need relief very little. The kids of millionaires will now be eligible for the state subsidy. That is not so bad, but does that prospect deserve the hysteria and the rashness surrounding the lottery’s startup?

TOP STORY >> Landlords, city officials agree to work together

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville will soon beef up its grass, trash and condemnation ordinances in order to improve the city’s image.

City officials and nearly 100 landlords discussed ways to improve Jacksonville’s appearance during a meeting Thursday at the Esther Nixon library. The landlords represented most of the renters in the city.

With their support, Mayor Gary Fletcher plans to present a strong abatement ordinance to the council by month’s end.

“Anything the city can do to raise the bar we support individually and as a company,” said Jim Peacock Jr., whose company manages 550 “doors” ranging from 3,000-square-foot homes to 500-square-foot apartments.

“Some folks may think that overgrown grass is not a big thing but it has almost a domino effect, causing other problems including what people think of the city’s image,” Peacock said. “We are all for higher standards.”

Realtor Beckie Brooks, who manages about 10 properties, called the meeting “fantastic and enlightening. The turnout was fantastic and that was important to have so many landlords and city officials at the meeting.”

Realtor Daniel Gray, whose company manages more than 400 units, called the meeting a “great first step.”

City Administrator Jim Durham, who is also a landlord, said the meeting went quite well. “Our landlords are very interested in the city getting cleaned up. A cleaner city can only help them,” Durham said.

Bringing properties up to higher standards and cleaning up the city is not a five-year program according to Fletcher. “We want to see real progress in the next 12 to 14 months.”

The planned abatement ordinance will follow the lines of the very successful one developed by North Little Rock. “It’ll be tougher and shorten the time violators have to clean things up. It’ll be a nuts- and-bolts document,” Durham explained.

He said right now the city can only act if it receives a complaint or if the code enforcement officers see a violation. For example, Durham explained, if someone’s grass is too high the city now sends the owner a letter telling them they have three days to cut the lawn. If the owner doesn’t, then the city goes through a bid process to get a crew to cut the lawn. “The whole process can take up to two weeks and then if the owner lets the grass go, it starts all over,” Durham said.

In the new ordinance, the violator will get only one warning letter for the entire season. Iif the lawn is not cut in three days, the city will cut it on the fourth day and the owner will be fined plus be charged the cost of the city cutting the lawn. That property then goes on a checklist and if the grass gets too high, the city will cut it and fine and charge the owners again.
“The problematic people will get the message real quick,” Durham said.

He said the new ordinance will help change the look of the city quickly, but it will take more code officers, seasonal help and equipment to get the job done.

What Peacock liked about the meeting was the overall tone. “It was very informative and positive,” he said. Peacock liked the fact that so many city officials were at the meeting. “The mayor, the city administrator, the chief of police, the city planner, aldermen. It was clearly in the spirit of everyone coming together to take positive and progressive action for our city,” Peacock said. “That’s the opposite of what I’ve seen in the past.”

Gray said it was great to get all the landlords together in one place. “The meeting was a real good source of information,” he said.

Plans are now for the landlords to develop a strong association with elected officers and become more involved in the city as one voice.

Gray’s only concern with any ordinance is that the city makes sure it notifies the landlord as well as the tenant. “If we don’t know there’s a problem, we can’t take care of it,” adding, “If we know, it will be handled.”

Brooks also thought the meeting was a very good first step and said all the speakers were excellent. But she’s holding back complete judgment until she gets a chance to read the proposed abatement ordinance. “I’m not big on government regulations, but do know we need to do something,” she said.

TOP STORY >> Book show in Jacksonville this weekend

By JONATHAN FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

The 24th annual Arkansas Book and Paper Show will take place this weekend at the Jacksonville Community Center, 105 Municipal Drive. Many rare books, maps and unusual legal documents will be on display.

The book show will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Ed and Jeri Myrick of Conway are the show’s directors, and they expect a big crowd. “We’ve consistently had about 500 people,” Ed Myrick said.

“We’ve got 39 book and paper dealers signed up. We’ve got a couple of postcard vendors, and some old picture and legal documents dealers,” he said.

About half of the show’s vendors come from out of state. “We have one vendor coming from as far away as Colebrook, Conn.,” Jeri Myrick said.

McIntire Rare Coins of Jacksonville, which specializes in rare coins, maps and legal papers, is scheduled to participate in the event.

About a dozen authors from around the state will sell and autograph their books at the show.

The show attracts specialty book dealers from all over the country, Jeri Myrick said.

Jacksonville has been home to the annual book expo for the past five years. Before, the show was held in downtown Little Rock, but the Myricks said that became too expensive and the Jacksonville Community Center has been a pleasant alternative.

Who should attend the event?

“Well, we’ve got investors and collectors,” Ed said. But he promises something for everyone.

Books on history, cooking, travel, war, sports, the outdoors, as well as fiction will be available. He says books on the Civil War are always popular.

The Myricks own Book Traders, a rare and used bookshop in Conway and North Little Rock.

“Our books are modern first editions with fine binding,” Ed Myrick said.

“We’ve got a number of book dealers who specialize in children’s books,” he said.

“We have some of the greatest dealers coming. It’s a fun thing. All kinds of things to see and fun people to talk to. For $5 admission, it’s not bad,” Jeri Myrick said.

But the show is not just for buyers. Attendees interested in selling their collectibles can pay $20 for a table to display their items. With so many dealers on hand, sellers should easily find a buyer.

For more information about the event, visit www.arkansasbooks.com.

TOP STORY >> Soles for Souls helps Beebe students

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Nearly 200 Beebe public school students will have new shoes for the start of the school year with the help of First Baptist Church in Beebe.

The church on 1001 Hwy. 64 West held its second community Soles for Souls shoe program Saturday morning.

Students from pre-K to 12th grade could choose from 546 pairs of shoes on tables set up in the church. The shoes were grouped for boys and girls and divided by shoe sizes.

In of 90 minutes, 191 pairs of shoes were distributed to families in need.

Sandra Eubanks, director of the Soles for Souls shoe program, said the giveaway had been a success considering the rain.

“It is a blessing to see the kids go with smiles on their faces,” Eubanks said.

The shoes were either bought by church members or were donated. Youngsters could choose from a range of athletic shoes brands, styles and colors.

Chairs were arranged for the children to try on the shoes to find the right fit.

They could also pick up a free pair of flip-flops and a teddy bear or a stuffed animal if they wanted.

The event was organized to let a small number of children with their parents choose their shoes at one time. A waiting area was held in the sanctuary.

The program helped families replace shoes their children have outgrown or needed who could not buy new shoes otherwise.

Electa Jiminez, who was at the church Saturday, said, “I think this program is awesome. There are a lot of families who need this.”

Pastor Bob Hall arrived to the church a few hours before the shoe distribution started at 9 a.m. He said, “I had someone in the parking lot at 6:30 in the morning.”

Hall said last year the church gave away 500 pairs of shoes. The church had some shoes left over and decided to have the shoe day once again.

Hall said that during the past year, several families came to the church in need of shoes.

Around 75 church volunteers helped on Friday and Saturday, sorting and arranging shoes, and helping families choose shoes.

Shane Henson is a house framer with a family of four. Henson’s children will have new shoes for school thanks to the Soles for Souls program.

“I love it. It really helps us out. Work has been hit and miss. With the economy nobody is building right now. I have worked one month for the whole summer trying to live off one $400 check every two weeks,” Henson said.

He added, “They have good shoes here that will last.”

Kain Whitehouse, 13, will be attending junior high in a few weeks. He said, “It is a great day. I am stoked to get new shoes.”

Latisha Brewer has a family of five with three girls.

She said, “I think it is a wonderful thing for Beebe. With the economy like it is, it is important to have people in the community who care.”

For Beebe students whose families were unable to make Saturday’s shoe program, the church office will have shoes available for those who need them.

For more information call 501-882-3342.

TOP STORY >> Searcy toddler awaiting lung transplant

By ALIYA FELDMAN
Leader editor

Eighteen-month-old Christine Clemons has already faced more than most people do in a lifetime. She’s had two open-heart surgeries, visits with doctors every two months and is being closely monitored for the time when her only working lung stops functioning.

But 8 o’clock Thursday night her mother had to chase her around the house in an attempt to get her to go to sleep.
Only by seeing Christine’s surgery scar would someone know that her health is compromised. She is slightly small for her age; she weighs 19 pounds. But she is active, full of energy and very happy.

“One of her lungs is not receiving any blood flow at all,” said her mother, Jammie Clemons of Searcy. “Her right lung and heart are handling everything.”

She was born with a hole in her heart. At three days old, she underwent open-heart surgery at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. The congenital heart disease diagnosis came as a surprise to Jammie and her husband, John, because no one in their families has had the same issue. “She’s the first,” Jammie said.

Before surgery, her mother and dad were told there was a 10 percent chance that there could be an error in the way the veins reformed. The result was a rare condition called anomalous pulmonary venous stenosis.

She was in the minority of children who after heart surgery stop receiving blood in their lungs, what her family calls a “plumbing problem.” She had a second surgery at 6 months old, when scar tissue was scraped out of her heart. But that didn’t help the little girl’s condition.

Her mom says she is on a waiting list for a lung transplant but is considered inactive because one of her lungs functions normally. Luckily, she’s not in a life-threatening state. But her parents and other family members who help care for her must monitor her closely.

Part of caring for their daughter means the couple has to travel to St. Louis every four months for a three-day visit with lung specialists there. “They have sent us to St. Louis Children’s Hospital because their specialty is lungs,” Jammie said.

“They don’t know when she’ll need the transplant,” she said. One might be needed in just a few months or it could be several years. “She could get into adulthood before she needs a transplant,” Jammie said.

Until the time comes for their daughter to get a new lung, they have to be conscious of her activity level and how much she’s eating. They watch her to see if she’s low on energy or doesn’t have an appetite, which are signs her lung is failing.

“When she stops being as active as she is, that’s how we know something is going on,” Jammie said.

Christine sees her doctors in Little Rock every two months. She’ll next travel to St. Louis in September. While a lung transplant could cost $500,000, Jammie said the family has insurance which should cover much of the cost. But the doctors’ bills still add up.

Children’s Organ Transplant Association is helping the couple raise money to help them with co-pays and deductibles.

Christine’s parents are also seeking help with their expenses while they stay in St. Louis.

Jammie and John have good jobs. She works for an investment brokerage company and he is an oiler. They also own a film conversion company together. But they have to take time off to care for Christine.

Jammie said Christine’s wonderful spirit has remained despite how much time she’s spent with doctors. “She doesn’t mind the cardiologists,” Jammie said. “But she can’t stand to see her pediatrician.”

She cries when she sees him because of the 6-month series of shots she must get every winter to combat RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). While it’s an illness most children recover from, for Christine, RSV would put her fragile organs in a state of shock.

“The family does things differently,” Jammie said. “We wash our hands a lot. If one of us is sick or a little under the weather, we stay away from her.” They also are cautious in public.

“We taught her to give people five,” Jammie said. “So people don’t touch her on her face. We’re so careful with germs. Any bug could be a serious problem.”

The couple doesn't want to move to St. Louis because they rely on their parents to help care for Christine. “We want to come back to Searcy,” which is why they are seeking financial help, Jammie emphasized. Christine’s grandparents, James and Gayla Ballard, live in Searcy, and Bobby and Thelma Clemons live in Newport.

To access the money raised through COTA, Jammie and John must file expense reports and all of their receipts. They’ve been given $3,200 so far. COTA estimates they will need $75,000 to cover care associated with Christine's condition. COTA,  located in Bloomington, Ind., helps children who need life-saving transplants. 

Volunteers are needed to assist with fund-raising. Individuals and groups interested in more information can contact Pam Smith at 501-593-5650 or Pam.Smith@COTAforChristineC.com.

Donations may be made at any Regions Bank branch using account number 0112271160 or mailed to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, 2501 W. COTA Dr., Bloomington, Ind., 47403. Checks or money orders should be made payable to COTA, with “In Honor of Christine C.” written on the memo line of the check. Credit card donations can be made online at www.COTAforChristineC.com.

SPORTS >> Rhinos drop seventh straight versus Storm

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

First, the good news.

The Arkansas Rhinos’ top-ranked defense held the Nashville Storm to their lowest total of the year, a full touchdown below their average. And the recently revamped Rhino offense turned in its best performance of the season.

But all of that merely translated into the Rhinos’ second loss of the season — their fifth straight to the Storm — in a 33-23 road setback last Saturday.

“We had a great offensive game,” said Rhino owner and offensive coordinator Oscar Malone. “We just did not stop them.

They’re a high-powered team. They just had more big plays than we did.”

The Rhinos, who fell to 3-2, played without three of their starting defensive backs and without linebacker Enrico Williams. Wide out Tim Mason also missed the trip.

“Travel is the biggest problem with the league,” Malone said. “Especially when you have long trips, it’s hard for some of these guys to be able to get away from their families.”

Arkansas played catch up all night long after falling into a 14-0 hole when the Storm, which came into the game averaging more than 40 points a game, scored on their first two possessions.

A 31-yard field goal narrowed the lead to 14-3, but the Storm added another touchdown to extend the lead to 21-3.

The Rhinos, though, got back in it right before the half when Damien Dunning threw the first of his two touchdown passes on the night — this one a 22-yarder to Stewart Franks. The extra point attempt failed, but the Rhinos went into the locker room down by only 12.

But the Storm reclaimed their earlier 18-point cushion with a third-quarter score before the Rhinos struck back. Again it was Franks, who caught a Dunning pass on a slant route and raced 47 yards to make it 27-15 late in the third period.

The Storm went on a long drive, eating up eight minutes of the clock and eventually tacked on a field goal. They added another one late in the game to push the lead to 33-15. The Rhinos scored on the ensuing kickoff when Marcus Yarbrough handed the ball to Matthew Stewart on a reverse and Stewart scampered 91 yards to set the final margin.

Quarterback Jeremiah Crouch, who started the first three games for the Rhinos, is out for the season with a torn tendon in his elbow and Dunning made the most of his new role as starting signal caller. Dunning was 9 of 21 for 247 yards with one interception and two TDs. Seven of those nine completions went to Franks, who turned them into 175 receiving yards, including two touchdowns.

With running back Jerald Marshall not making the trip, Malone turned to Brendan Medcalf, who responded with 25 carries for 137 yards. The Rhinos’ 384 total yards was their biggest offensive output of the season and Malone said he is pleased with the new system he put in place a couple of weeks back. (The Rhinos have gotten away from tight-end formations and have gone to three- and sometimes four-wideout sets.)

“I’m happy with the offense, but we still have some minor issues like a bad snap here, a bad route run there,” Malone said. “I would have loved to have had this offense in when we started back in April with the talent we have now. We might even be undefeated.”

The Rhinos head to Osceola on Saturday to take on the Arkansas Wildcats, a team they beat 13-0 in week two. They return home on Aug. 15 for a rematch with the Storm, a game Malone is looking forward to with great relish.

“That’s going to be a knockdown-dragout fight,” he said. “That will be like a playoff atmosphere. We want all of Jacksonville to come out there and get behind us for that one.”

SPORTS >> Think Kyle Busch ‘stinks’? Find a more creative way to say it

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Kyle Busch’s post-race interview shortly after he finished second in the inaugural Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway on Saturday has sparked yet another round of Shrub-bashing.

Just the fact that Busch, who makes no bones about his disdain for the media, agreed to an interview after losing the lead to winner Brad Keselowski in the closing laps is a sign of progress, but his dismissive attitude when informed he had tied 80s Busch Series standout “Ironman” Jack Ingram for most consecutive top-two finishes was enough to bring out the Shrub haters once again.

It’s the latest in a racing season that has seen countless attacks on the 24-year-old Las Vegas native for his actions both on and off the track. Race fans love having someone to hate, and Busch seems to fit the bill in every possible way.

Busch has never been a favorite since his arrival in what is now the Sprint Cup Series in 2004, but his streak of 21 wins in NASCAR’s top three series last year, paired with his aggressive driving style and lack of enthusiasm when dealing with the media, has now elevated him well above Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as racing’s Public Enemy Number One.

The stuffing hit the fan once and for all after his NNS win at Nashville in early June when he took the trophy, a custom Sam-Bass painted Gibson Les Paul guitar, and smashed it Kurt Cobain-style in victory lane. He claimed he did it with the pre-approval of Bass himself, and that he did it so he could share parts of the trophy with the members of his team, but fans found that explanation far from suitable.

Is he arrogant? Sure he is. Is he a sore loser? Absolutely. Does he leave himself open to scrutiny with some of the things he says? It certainly appears so. But the attacks have become so predictable and boring that they have diluted Busch’s villainous appeal.

Remember how fans harassed Darrell Waltrip back in the early 80s? When his main sponsor was Tide laundry detergent, and his top adversary was Hueytown, Alabama’s own Bobby Allison, fans brought empty boxes of Tide wrapped in toilet paper to the track, exclaiming “Roll, Tide!” Such shenanigans may not be acceptable in today’s politically correct world, but simply logging on the racing message board in your area and declaring that “Kyle Busch is a crybaby punk” leaves a lot to be desired.

Granted, there is a fine line between what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to showing your disapproval of a driver.

Most of us remember the scary scene in Talladega a few years back when fans threw beer bottles onto the track at Jeff Gordon’s car after a controversial win.

I will never condone such juvenile behavior, simply because of the potential for danger it poses. But if you hate Busch, find a more creative way to express that hatred.

But enough of the pages and pages of anti-Kyle rants on thread after thread of message boards. Every time he does something stupid, you can count on seeing the dreaded subject lines: “Kyle Busch, what a jerk!” And then there’s “Kyle Busch is an idiot!” And let’s not forget the most common, if least creative: “Kyle Busch STINKS!”

We get it. You don’t like him. But while I challenge all of you Busch haters to find more creative ways to express your contempt for him, I will also remind you of another driver that was met with the same dislike a couple of decades ago, the beloved Dale Earnhardt.

Think about it. Dale had numerous nicknames, such as Ironhead, the Intimidator, the Man in Black, just as Kyle is called Wild Thing, Shrub, Rowdy, and the list goes on and on. Kyle’s aggressive style resembles Earnhardt’s in many ways, and let’s face it, Dale wasn’t always a friend to the media. Sound familiar?

In no way am I trying to belittle the great legacy of NASCAR’s all-time biggest hero and seven-time champ. I’m simply trying to point out that before he became the face of the sport and a phenomenal rags-to-riches story, Dale Sr. was considered to be Public Enemy Number One by fans in the late 80s.

I just wanted to clarify that. The last thing I want is to wake up in the morning, check all of the area racing boards and read, “Jason King STINKS!”

SPORTS >> Smith, two Bentons in hunt for player of the year honors

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Heading into the final event of the junior golf season, Cabot’s Hunter Smith and Colby Benton hold their fates in their own hands in the battle for Arkansas State Golf Association junior player-of-the-year honors.

Smith entered the Hot Springs Junior Stroke Play tournament last week holding a 20-point lead over Benton. The two tied for fourth after shooting a two-day total of 147. But Fort Smith’s Drew Comer, who began the tourney 180 points behind Smith, won the event, while Conway’s Ethan King, who started 190 points in back of Smith, finished second. The points-standings had not been updated on the ASGA Web site as of Tuesday.

All four are participating in the ASGA Mountain Valley Junior Stroke Play, which began yesterday and will conclude on Thursday at Texarkana Country Club.

Smith and Benton held their ground against their closest rivals in the opening round. Smith fired a 76, while Benton shot 78. Comer turned in a 75 and King came in at 78.

Rowdy Garrett of Foulke leads after shooting 69, but Garrett is not a threat for player-of-the-year honors.

While Smith and Benton enjoy sizable leads, the Mountain Valley stroke play tournament is considered one of the two junior majors and the winner earns 250 points.

Smith has built his points with three wins to go along with a second-place and two third-place finishes.

In the men’s division, it appears to be coming down to a battle between Cabot’s Nicklaus Benton, brother of Colby, and Pine Bluff’s Wes McNulty. McNulty has a two-point lead over Benton with eight tournaments remaining. But it may be difficult for Benton to hold on with his college golf career beginning at UALR later this month. Three of those events will be played after August.

SPORTS >> Panthers beat the heat

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

After a week of cooler, overcast weather, the sun was out in full force on Monday — just in time for the first day of two-a-day football practices at Cabot.

The Cabot Panthers, the team Hooten’s Arkansas Football picked to repeat as 7A-Central Conference champions in 2009, began on Monday morning with a two-hour workout, and later met for a two-and-a-half hour afternoon session.

The Cabot coaching staff dealt with the rising temperatures with leaky water hoses wrapped around the crossbars of both goalposts at Panther Stadium.

“I thought the kids worked pretty good,” said head coach Mike Malham, who will be entering his 28th year at the Panther helm this fall. “If they’re not enthused about it on the first day, they’re not going to be. We had a really good morning workout and we came back.

“It got a little hotter. It really hasn’t been that hot, but it’s hotter than it has been. I thought they worked pretty good. You’ve got to persevere, and if they can keep up the effort day after day, we may have something.”

Cabot had 84 players dressed out for day one, with 23 seniors, 20 juniors and 41 sophomores.

The Panthers return plenty of experience in most of their skill positions, including senior quarterback Seth Bloomberg, who led the varsity offense through afternoon scrimmage drills. Powell Bryant backed him up and took a few snaps.

Fellow seniors Michael James, Spencer Neumann and Matt Bayles also add to Cabot’s level of experience.

But with a lot of new faces on the line, Malham said fundamentals will be the key in preparation for the Panthers’ annual scrimmage with Lake Hamilton on Aug 24.

“You always have new kids,” said Malham. “You always start from step one. You want to be fundamentally sound. You don’t take shortcuts. It just makes it even better – the more experience you have back, the faster they pick it up. But you still don’t want to take shortcuts, so we’re staying with our system. We’re not going to rush it, just take it a day at a time.”

The end of August will be busy for the team, with picture day and the traditional community pep rally on Aug. 20, which is also the first day of classes at Cabot High School.

The red-white game will kick off the following Friday on Aug. 28, but with the season opener against Jacksonville the following Tuesday, Malham said not to expect a lot of playing time from his varsity units.

As for conditioning, the majority of the team looked a bit leaner than in recent years, but also displayed more quickness. The long summer of weight training showed on many of the players’ physiques, and most of the team still had energy to spare for sideline-to-sideline gasser drills at the end of the afternoon session.

“They should be in decent shape because they’ve been working out all summer,” said Malham. “They have to come in twice a week for weights and running, so it’s not the like old days when they were gone all summer and hadn’t done anything. They’re in decent shape. Now, there are some of them that didn’t push themselves as much.

“Of course now, instead of a two-hour workout, you’re out here two times a day for five-and-a-half to six hours. The time frame for them is a little longer now. But being in condition definitely helps. For the most part, we’re in pretty good shape.

We’ll be in full pads on Thursday, and let the hitting begin.”