Friday, August 21, 2009

TOP STORY >> Ex-librarian is arrested for sex with a teenager

A former librarian at Beebe Intermediate School was arrested Thursday for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old boy who was a student at the high school.

Rebecca Sue Harvey, 36, of 5422 S. Hwy. 367, Beebe, was arrested following an investigation by Capt. Eddie Cullum into allegations that she had sexual activity with a minor. Beebe police did not release the age or sex of the minor. That information came from other sources.

Several individuals were interviewed, and Cullum submitted an affidavit to the prosecuting attorney in Searcy, Police Chief Wayne Ballew said in a press release Thursday. “On Aug. 19, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Phyllis M. Hendrix filed a felony information through the White County Circuit Court and subsequently a bench warrant was issued for the arrest of Harvey,” Ballew said.

The warrant charges Harvey with sexual assault in the first degree, a class A felony. The warrant says that on or about January 2009 through May 2009, Harvey “did unlawfully and feloniously engage in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity with another person, not her spouse, who is less than eighteen (18) years of age.’”

School Superintendent Belinda Shook said Friday that Harvey resigned this month, saying she intended to go back to school.

Shook said school employees must go through state-required ethics training every year as a safeguard against improper contact with students. But she also said that even though Harvey was a school employee, the offense she is accused of had nothing to do with her job. Harvey was taken to the White County Detention Center in Searcy, but is out on a $20,000 bond.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood revamping trash fees

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council will vote Monday night on a revamped waste ordinance that includes increasing fees to residents as the city prepares to go to an automated collection system.

The automated solid waste collection system will be the method of collection for household waste within the city limits if the ordinance is approved.

The new system would go into effect by the end of the year.

Each dwelling unit in the city, without exception, will be charged $12 a month and be given one city-owned roll-out cart to use for trash collection.

On trash pickup days, the roll-out carts will be placed on the public street abutting the property or edge of the street where it doesn’t interfere with traffic flow, yet allows the cart to be picked up by the automated trucks.

Other than the pickup day, the carts must be to the side or rear of the home or the resident can be fined.

If the homeowner damages any cart that resident will be charged $50. If it is stolen, the city will replace it the first time. After that, the homeowner is responsible.

A special fee of at least $25, according to the ordinance, will be charged to pick up trash from construction; tree removal, remodeling, fires and general clean up of properties or other unusual, large quantities of solid waste or trash.

TOP STORY >> Motorcyclist guilty in pedestrian death

Leader staff writers

A Lonoke County jury Thursday found an Austin motorcyclist guilty of negligent homicide and second-degree battery in the death of a Cabot man and injury to his wife as the couple walked from a Cabot football game during halftime last September.

The jury of nine men and three women deliberated one hour. On their recommendation, Circuit Judge Philip Whiteaker imposed the maximum sentence on Larry Dalhaus, 40.

Whiteaker sentenced Dalhaus to 10 years for the homicide with a $10,000 fine and three years and $10,000 for the battery, and ran the sentences consecutively.

Jeff and Rebecca Marvin, Cabot residents, were among a group of pedestrians in the crosswalk leaving the game when Dalhaus struck them. He was riding east on Hwy. 38 and passed vehicles on the left that had stopped in the northbound lane waiting for pedestrians to cross.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Will Feland speculated that the jury recommended the maximum because Dalhaus was intoxicated, passing in a turn lane and struck people in a crosswalk.

“It may have been the totality of circumstances,” he said. Dalhaus, who has been working in Dallas, was represented by Mark Hampton.

The traffic death prompted some city residents to ask school and city officials last fall for safer crosswalks.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said then that construction of wide, raised crosswalks would be possible only after the railroad overpass was completed and the section of Hwy. 38 from the school to South Pine was released to the city.

Jerrel Maxwell, the city’s public works director, said Friday that even though the overpass is now open, to his knowledge the highway has not yet been turned over to the city. But the city plans to build the crosswalks as soon as possible, he said.

Although the crosswalks will be elevated only four inches, they will make pedestrians visible not only to the first car that stops but also to the ones that line up behind the first one, Maxwell said.

“We’re working to keep people safe,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville praised for big surplus

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville is in great financial shape and even has about $7 million in reserves, according to an independent audit.

Gerald Clark of McAlister and Co. presented the audit of the 2008 budget at the city council meeting Thursday night.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “Everyone thinks I’m Santa Claus because we have a surplus.” But he gave all the credit to former Mayor Tommy Swaim for putting the city in such great shape.

Clark told the council that the city’s balance sheet remained strong at the end of 2008 as total assets exceeded total liabilities by $52 million, even though the city’s total assets fell by about $2 million from 2007.

Clark said that in 2008, sales tax revenue was up 4 percent. Sales tax accounted for more than 60 percent of the city’s total revenue for 2008. Property tax collections, as well as franchise taxes, were also up for the year.

The auditor’s report concluded that “despite challenging economic times affecting many cities in Arkansas and across the United States, Jacksonville remains well positioned financially, with a balanced budget, uncommitted reserve balances in excess of $7 million and very minimal debt.”

Clark added that the solid city budget was “the cumulative effect of cost savings and process improvements put in place in 2008 and prior years. We commend the city’s leadership for being fiscally responsible.”

In other council business:

Police Chief Gary Sipes, in his monthly report, told the council that his department responded to 3,181 complaint calls in July and made more than 400 arrests. More than 1,100 accident or incident reports were filed during the month.

The chief also said that there were 20 curfew violations in July, all nighttime violations.

In his monthly report, Fire Chief John Vanderhoof said his department responded to 103 rescue calls, 47 still alarms, 19 general alarms and had 240 ambulance runs in July.

The council approved an ordinance that updated the language needed for the North Pulaski Waterworks Public Facilities Board to operate.

This ordinance is similar to the updating the council did of the city’s public-facilities board last month.

The council also accepted bids of slightly more than $100,000 for sidewalks along Loop Road and curb, gutters and sidewalks on West Valentine Road.

TOP STORY >> Battalion marks Vietnam milestone

Leader staff writer

Just a few months after the Tet offensive, young men from across Arkansas flew to Da Nang, a major port in south Vietnam for offloading ammunition.

It was 1968 when the group of 100 soldiers went overseas to support operations there even as President Lyndon Johnson began to push for an end to the war.

Johnson activated Headquarters Company of the National Guard’s 336th Ordnance Batta-lion, Ammo Service, in April that year along with thousands of others across the U.S. Sam High of Lonoke was 24 years old when his unit was called to war.
Sending guardsmen to war was rare then. High had been in the Guard for four years. He’s now a veterans service officer for Lonoke County.

“We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day,” High said about the 336th’s job in Vietnam.

“The unit was in charge of ammunition supply for the northern part of South Vietnam up to the border of North Vietnam. They supported the 101st Air-borne, Americal Division, and 5th Mechanized Division to name a few,” High said.

The soldiers of the 336th were fortunate, unlike the nearly 60,000 of their fellow soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. Soldiers from the 336th all came back alive.

“We all went over together and came back together,” High said.

“ One hundred (from Arkansas) were activated,” he said. “We had all joined the reserve. We went for weekend drills and summer trainings (before deployment),” he said.

Fast-forward 40 years later: on the weekend of Aug. 13-16 at Grand Plaza Hotel in Branson, several of the men came together to mark their safe return home in August 1969.

Many of them included residents of Lonoke County. In addition to High, they are retired colonel and battalion Chaplain George Lassett, retired Warrant Officer John Evatt, Fred Carrigan and Danny Devinney, both of Lonoke as is High, and Buck Buchanan and Arthur Evans of Cabot. “For the last seven years, we’ve met each year,” High said. “This was the third year in Branson.”

Keith Hurst of Little Rock and Gerald Fisher of Vilonia organized the reunion.

“We get together and reminisce,” High said.

They reported to active duty at Finkbeiner Armory in Little Rock in May 1968, moved on to Fort Carson, Colo., in June for special training, and deployed to Da Nang in Sept. 1968.

The 336th received a Meritorious Order of Commendation in 1970. Reserve companies that worked alongside the Arkansas soldiers, attached to them, the 295th, 40th and 571st ordnance companies, also received commendations for their work retrograding unusable ammunition.

“Unlike most Vietnam veterans, this unit came home as a unit and received a nice welcome at the Little Rock airport,” High said. Lt. Gov. Maurice Britt, who grew up in Lonoke and was a Medal of Honor recipient in World War II, was there with the soldiers’ families to welcome them home.

EDITORIAL >> Health cooperatives and First Electric

That Americans choose to care for those in need, no matter the convoluted route it takes to get there, is proof of our generosity, an ideal that has been maintained throughout our country’s short history. Most milestones in our nation’s history can be traced to some motivation in helping others, even actions we are not so proud of today.

In that vein, it might be called admirable that those who have enjoyed tax-funded health care for years are finally recognizing that many in the country are in need of coverage as well. The problem of offering affordable care while appeasing the insurance sector has led congressional moderates to consider the idea of cooperatives as an alternative to a public insurance plan.

They would be a welcome option if health co-ops were to operate similarly to our own First Electric Co-op, which was created in Jacksonville in 1938 to help poor Arkansans who couldn’t afford to buy it from a privately owned company that then had a monopoly on the state’s power.

But particulars haven’t yet surfaced on how such a system would function. Like most watered-down political solutions created in hopes of pleasing everybody, the co-op idea hasn’t gained a lot of proponents. The insurance industry doesn’t like it because co-ops would mean potential competition for them, the same reason it’s pushed billions of dollars into lobbying Congress in an attempt to get members to abandon a public-health option.

Liberals don’t like the idea either because it doesn’t guarantee that people in need of insurance or improved coverage would get it. Co-ops create buying power; they aren’t necessarily producers. As health insurance providers, they could essentially function as brokers.

Cooperative health-care plans wouldn’t be safeguarded against skyrocketing administrative costs either, which is why Americans now pay too much for care.

There’s more reason to give pause at the government having a hand in setting up quasi-public programs that have to do with health care. In 2003, the Medicare Modernization Act was intended to help seniors pay for prescription drugs. It gave them the option of signing up for privately run programs that paid for drugs to a limit. Remember the donut hole? That’s where millions of seniors were left when the private companies refused to pay for their drugs after they’d maxed out their small benefits. The program shifted costs on to the elderly, their families and state governments.

Seniors aren’t the only ones in need of a fair system who are getting sick in America. Affordable health care needs to be available to young people, too. They deserve higher wages that haven’t been possible in recent years due to employers’ soaring health-care costs.

A sustained America isn’t possible without real health insurance.

—Aliya Feldman

EDITORIAL >> First casualty is the truth

The shocking decline in the fortunes of health reform in this summer of discontent brought to mind a couple of aphorisms of the great humorist Josh Billings, whose fame dimmed too much alongside that of his contemporary, Mark Twain.

Billings, or Henry Shaw as his mother knew him, understood the frailties of the body politic in a democratic society. It is easily swayed by demagoguery, and it just as easily sways the government that it chooses.

“The wheel that does the squeaking is the one that gets the grease” was Josh’s most enduring line. What better describes the plummeting prospects for passage of comprehensive health-care reform in the Congress? Bands of wailing and angry people crowd into town-hall meetings to shout down their congressman, Republican or Democrat, and any voices in the crowd that are sympathetic to reform. Although the booing and screaming delegates are organized and motivated, they are a distinct minority of the public, which wants health insurance reformed so that everyone has access to medical care and it is affordable.

But the noisiness and sheer unruliness of the people persuades lawmakers, and maybe even the president, that perhaps it is best not to do very much after all.

The crowds give the appearance of a spontaneous uprising of the American people, which was the intent of the groups that organized the protests. Everyone with internet access has by now received one or another of the authoritative analyses of the legislation that lists a litany of horrors that the Democrats are trying to foist upon their unsuspecting constituents.

The protests are the same whether the venue is Little Rock, Plymouth, Mass., Dubuque or Colorado Springs. They are replayed on C-Span. Their objections are universally bogus: President Obama wants to emulate Hitler and kill off the disabled and incurably old and sick. The bills would provide free health care for illegal aliens at taxpayer expense. It is part of an Obama/Democratic plan to turn the United States into a socialist tyranny. People would be forced off their private insurance plans into a government-run health plan. Medical care would be rationed. The federal government would run the entire health-care system.

None of it is true although the protesters often claim to have read the place in one of the bills where it says illegals will be guaranteed care or where the aged and disabled will be cut off and allowed to die or where people will not have a choice of insurance plans or their doctor.

Oh, the other bit of wisdom from Josh Billings? “As scarce as the truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”

There is no demand for the truth. At a raucous forum in Massachusetts the other night, people shouted down their congressman, the terminally gabby Barney Frank, when he pointed out their errors. They insisted that the bill pending in the House of Representatives guaranteed medical care for illegal aliens. Frank thumbed through the bill and read a section that said that nothing in the bill could be construed to provide health coverage to illegal aliens. Someone cited the boilerplate antidiscrimination section of the bill and said it covered illegals. It meant you couldn’t discriminate against people who are in the country illegally, they said. Frank went to that section and read it aloud repeatedly, pointing out each time that it made reference to exceptions elsewhere in the bill — the section specifically omitting coverage for illegals. The crowd drowned him out.

The protests that would be most amusing if they were not so disturbing are from Medicare beneficiaries who universally love the program and object to the government interfering with it. Occasionally, someone will fret that his or her Veterans Administration health care will be sacrificed. Medicare and VA are the two most popular (with their members) and efficient health services in the country. They are government run.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette published a letter yesterday from a 77-year-old Hot Springs resident, which is typical of many that it runs and typical of the complaints at the forums at Little Rock. He loved his Medicare and was angry that care was going to be rationed. He heard that they were going to cut Medicare costs.

The insurance industry, which has made huge profits from Medicare Advantage plans since Congress and President Bush handed them a big subsidy in the Medicare drug law six years ago, has bombarded seniors with warnings about cutting Medicare and causing rationing. One of the proposals, indeed, is to reduce the taxpayers’ subsidy for the terribly expensive private plans. The big subsidy is speeding the insolvency of Medicare by years.

Here is the largest irony: It is the Republican Party that has demanded the curtailment of Medicare spending. Reining in Medicare was Sen. John McCain’s major plank in his run for the presidency.

The truth in this bizarre campaign is in short supply and in even less demand.

In the richest nation on earth, far more is spent on medical care and insurance than in any developed nation, but it is rationed to a far greater extent than in any of them. It is reflected in every health comparison from longevity to infant death rates.

Let us hope that Congress and specifically the timid men and women we send from Arkansas heed the largely silent and well-mannered majority and try to address the country’s most daunting and dangerous problems, the exploding expense and inefficiency of health care. This year.

SPORTS >> Rhinos look to put Storm loss behind, focus on Panthers

Leader sports editor

The Arkansas Rhinos have no time and can’t afford to stew over a poorly played game in last Saturday’s 22-6 home loss to rival Nashville.

The playoffs are on the line the rest of the season, starting with tonight’s 7:05 kickoff with the Memphis Panthers at Bob Hill Memorial Stadium at Jacksonville Middle School.

The Rhinos fell to 4-3 after a woeful offensive performance against the Storm. Arkansas managed just 139 total yards, coughed up three turnovers, committed a slew of penalties and was guilty of several bad snaps on special teams.

“Every game we’ve lost we have not played Rhino football,” said owner and offensive coordinator Oscar Malone. “In fact, we have played up to our standards in all four quarters of any game this year. Actually, I’d really rather save that for the playoffs.”

To add injury to insult in the Nashville game, the Rhinos had three key players go down. Two are expected to play tonight, while top receiver Stewart Franks is a game-time decision. Franks was horse-collared last Saturday and suffered an ankle injury.

Quarterback Damien Dunning is still nursing a high ankle sprain that Malone said he will battle the rest of the year. But Dunning is slated to start and Malone said he retains decent lateral mobility. Safety Tyler Knight went out last weekend with dehydration but will play tonight.

Other good news for the Rhinos: Assistant coach Harry Coleman, who collapsed on the sidelines last week, will be back coaching tonight, though Malone said he would probably work from the press box.

The Rhinos opened the season with a tough 16-14 win over the Panthers, who have gone on to also post a 4-3 record. Both teams have little margin for error in the battle for a playoff berth.

Malone said the Panthers are a quality team with an aggressive defense that will not hesitate to blitz. But the Rhinos will have fullback Joe Wesson back after he missed the Nashville game, and Malone said Jerald Marshall has become more comfortable in the revamped offense, meaning Arkansas will have plenty of weapons available.

On offense, the Panthers run four wideouts and have a tough, mobile quarterback and one dynamic receiver.

Malone said his team might be able to afford one more loss and still reach the playoffs, but he doesn’t want to take any chances.

“I’m telling our guys we need to win out,” he said.

Tickets for tonight’s game have been reduced to $5.

SPORTS >> Panthers, Devils meet, greet press, begin rivalry week

Leader sports editor

A lot is riding on the Sept. 1 Backyard Brawl between Jacksonville and Cabot at Panther Stadium.

It’s the season opener for both teams. The “traveling trophy” is up for grabs. And it’s the inaugural live Fearless Friday high school television broadcast.

Coaches, players, cheerleaders and the Jacksonville and Cabot mayors will be on hand on Monday at the Rockwood branch of First Arkansas Bank and Trust in Cabot for a press conference kicking off the annual rivalry game.

The event begins at 10 a.m. while the press conference starts at 11 a.m. There will also be outdoor grilling and live radio remotes.

This will be the second year in which the traveling trophy will be awarded to the winning team. Last year, Cabot visited Jan Crow Stadium in Jacksonville and waltzed off with a 41-15 victory.

For more information contact (501) 258-7041.

SPORTS >> Young team tries to copy ’08 success

Leader sportswriter

Repeating the success of last year will not come without some rebuilding for the North Pulaski Lady Falcons. Coach Amanda Hill has 13 girls out for fall volleyball camp, with only one returning senior starter.

The Lady Falcons were runners-up in the 5A-Southeast Conference last year and Hill said earning a second straight trip to the postseason will depend to some extent on the development of younger players.

There are three seniors on the squad, but two have been out of the program for at least a year. The juniors account for only four others, while six sophomores fill out the roster.

We had a good practice (Tuesday),” said Hill. “I think that was the first time that coach (Ann) Tharp and I walked out of practice and felt really good about it. As far as putting the offense and defense all together, yesterday was really the first day that we saw it all gel together. It was pretty good.”

Laura Dortch has returned for her senior year. Dortch has served as a solid all-purpose player in two seasons at North Pulaski and has been one of the Lady Falcons’ leading scorers and strongest defensive players. Dortch’s performance in the 5A state tournament last year earned her a selection to the all-state tournament team.

The other returning starters are junior Kaylee Belcher, who earned an all-state nod in 2008, and outside hitter Shayla Clemons, also a junior.

“I think we’ve got a good rotation,” said Hill. “We’re going to be okay. We would still like to have a lot more players on our team. That would give us some more depth. I would say overall that the entirety of the depth is what’s going to be a hindrance to us.”

In the Most Improved category, Cidney Adams has benefited from playing Junior Olympic volleyball during the summer, and Hill said that experience has paid off on the high school court. Adams will play the middle.

There is a lot of development taking place with the sophomores, but one 10th grader, Erica Schrunk, will see plenty of playing time on the back row. Hill hopes that junior varsity experience for the rest of the sophomores will have even more players ready by the time conference season gets in full swing.

“We look for development on the JV program,” said Hill. “Coach Tharp does a good job with them. She always continues with those fundamentals during the year to where they are ready for varsity toward the end of the season. There’s potential there to improve and be able to help us in the years to come.”

The Lady Falcons were one of few teams that gave a dominant Sylvan Hills team much of a fight in conference matches last year. The Lady Bears swept their conference season, but will be without some key seniors from last year. Despite younger teams throughout the league, the Lady Falcons are preparing for battles with all of the usual suspects.

“I still think Sylvan Hills is going to be strong,” said Hill. “Even though some are saying it’s a rebuilding year, I still think they’re going to be strong. Coach Moore does a good job at Beebe, and we always play pretty evenly with them, so that’s always a good match for us – a good rivalry. We play kind of similar, so between that and the uniforms, it can be confusing.”

The Lady Falcons open the season at Vilonia on Tuesday, and will have their first home match on Thursday against Mayflower.

SPORTS >> Taking away fond memories, leaving behind best wishes

Leader sports editor

News of every sort is breaking out across the sports world.

There is old news (Michael Vick has been reinstated in the NFL); shocking news (some Asian farmer named Y.E. Yang beat Tiger Woods on a Sunday at a major); boring news (some guy up at Fayetteville just moved up the charts at outside linebacker); and recurring news (Brett Favre has retir … er, I mean, unretired again).

But with all those headlines swirling around, the thing that matters most to folks in these parts is not what HAS happened, but what is about to happen. High school football season starts in less than two weeks – in just 10 days, in fact.

I, unfortunately, lost a bet and will be beginning my life as a New Jerseyan (I’ll be trying to remember that it’s no longer “y’all,” but rather “you’s guys”) just about the time Cabot and Jacksonville officially kick off the 2009 prep season on Sept. 1.

Though I’ll be 1,200 miles away, The Leader sports pages will remain in outstanding hands as 18-year Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sportswriting veteran Todd Traub will be sliding into my old seat right across from the very capable Jason King. King, by the way, will once again be making his predictions every Wednesday, either breaking your hearts by unduly raising expectations for your team’s prospects or risking his own life and limb by being brutally frank about those prospects.

Though I am leaving and won’t see a down played, that doesn’t mean I can’t offer my own thoughts and assessments about each of the nine teams in The Leader coverage area. I hope neither to offend any of you’s guys … um, y’all … nor to paint a brighter picture than is warranted for your team’s chances this season.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is, we seem to have limited prospects for a state champion coming out of northern Pulaski County, Lonoke County or White County.

If I were hastily assigning up arrows and down arrows for area teams, which I am, it would go something like this: Up arrows only for Cabot, Riverview and Harding Academy; down arrows for Searcy and North Pulaski (but not STRAIGHT down; new coaches give these teams new life, though both will take time to turn around); side arrows for everyone else.

Cabot would seem to have the only realistic hopes of a state title this year, and those seem hampered by the fact that, despite the return of an outstanding backfield led by Michael James, the Panthers lost almost their entire front seven.

Harding Academy probably lacks the depth of talent to go very far into postseason, but with all of its tradition and an outstanding junior quarterback in Seth Keese, who already has almost one-and-a-half-years of experience as a starter, another nine- or 10-win season looks promising. For that to happen, though, Roddy Mote must find replacements on thefront line to complement all-stater Montgomery Fisher.

Riverview is a great story after springing on to the varsity high school scene last fall to post five wins and reach the playoffs.

Back is offensive fireplug Grafton Harrell at quarterback, along with a stable of able running backs and receivers. The line should be solid, especially on the defensive side. Outside of a sophomore jinx, playoffs again look like a strong possibility.

Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills, Lonoke and Beebe all carry similar question marks into the new season, and an injury here or a player stepping up there could tilt the fortunes of any one of them.

The Red Devils over on Linda Lane are a curious case. Only two starters return on offense, but one of those is a strong-armed, seasoned junior quarterback in Logan Perry, who knows the offense inside and out. Head coach Mark Whatley needs to find players to plug in, but the defense may be good enough to give the offense time to become proficient. There seems to be a quiet confidence growing over at Jacksonville.

Almost the exact same situation exists up the road at Beebe. Fullback Sammy Williams — he of the 42 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards rushing the past two seasons — is gone, along with most of the rest of the offense. The defense will have to carry the Badgers until the offense catches up.

Lonoke must cope with the loss of two game-breaking receivers in Michael Howard and Clarence Harris, and will be calling on a quarterback with almost no experience. The tradition is there, but how far will it take them?

Jim Withrow over at Sylvan Hills has had to alter his offense and lower his expectations a little after the loss of a slew of players to academics and other sports. But Jordan Spears and Juliean Broner remain the lynch pins of an able offense and the defense returns veterans in the front seven.

For North Pulaski, it can’t get much worse than it did last year, or the past six years for that matter. A mere five wins over that period practically screamed out for a change, even if head coach Tony Bohannon wasn’t the culprit for the dismal run.

In long-time Jacksonville defensive coordinator Rick Russell, the Falcons may have landed just what they need. He knows his Xs and Os, he’s a big proponent of the weight room and he possesses the emotional fire needed to get things headed in the right direction.

Likewise, Searcy will surely get a boost from a new coach and a new era. Tim Harper was a proven winner at Des Arc. He won’t win many this year, but for the first time in several seasons, fans can reasonably look to a brighter future.

Here’s hoping all my accolades prove prescient and all my reservations prove unfounded.

And here’s saying so long to a great sports community that I will sorely miss.

SPORTS >> Battling the heat

Leader sportswriter

It hasn’t yet been determined what killed Courtney Stone, the Arkansas Baptist player who died Aug. 14, two days after collapsing during a team meeting following practice in Little Rock.

Stone could have had an undiagnosed condition that slipped past all the routine physicals, medical histories, doctor’s releases and consent forms, and university president Fitz Hill, the former Arkansas Razorback and head coach at San Jose State, has promised a full investigation.

But, with autopsy results pending, one of the suspects in the death of Stone, an apparently healthy and fit 18-year-old, is a football player’s oldest and most insidious enemy — heat.

The University of North Carolina-based National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury reports, since 1995, 33 football players from the sandlot level to the NFL have died from heat-related causes. Of those fatalities, 25 were high school players.

And the deaths could have been prevented, Jacksonville High School trainer Jason Cates said.

“Football is a 12-month sport now,” Cates said. “We’re seeing kids that are out and doing stuff and being acclimated and things like that, so it’s helping. But unfortunately there are still deaths.”

Heat stroke occurs when a person is exposed to high temperatures so long the brain, trying to maintain all bodily functions, becomes overtaxed and simply shuts down, rendering the victim brain dead.

While football will always hold its share of risks, trainers like Cates are banding with coaches to prevent heat stroke and provide better care for high school athletes suffering from heat-related illness.

“It is something that we are trying to research and make sure that we keep these kids safe at a secondary school level,” Cates said.


At most modern football practices, water flows almost nonstop, which is a far cry from the days when hard-bitten coaches used it as a reward and withheld it as punishment.

“We got a break — if we got one — that was it,” said Harding Academy coach Roddy Mote, recalling his high school days in West Virginia. “That was the only time we got water during that break. Of course the length of practices was a lot longer and of course the length of time before you got a break was longer.”

“Water breaks, you’d get a handful of ice and get back to work,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said.

Cates said water is just one facet of heat-stroke prevention. Many high school programs today keep a close watch on a player’s weight, and old ideas about two-a-day workouts and full-pad practices are being replaced with more flexible thinking.

“We make sure the kids understand,” Cates said. “And the parents understand — that’s the biggest thing — that they’re being watched through these two-a-days.”

A potential heat-stroke victim will exhibit confusion — perhaps not comprehending a simple play — and become sluggish, Cates said. Dry heaving and stomach cramps could follow.

“If you get to that level, you’re in trouble,” Cates said.

Late-level symptoms include full body cramps and the absence of sweat.

“Then you go from heat exhaustion to heat stroke pretty quick,” Cates said.

As part of a prevention plan, many programs now weigh players before and after summer workouts. Cates said that if an athlete loses more than 3 percent of his body weight, he should re-hydrate and replace that weight before he can return to practice.

Cates recalled an extreme situation at Jacksonville last year when a handful of players locked up with body cramps and were taken to the emergency room where they were given intravenous saline and kept overnight.

The players were kept out of practice for three days, and when they returned they were kept out of pads for another three days while their conditions were monitored.

Cates keeps cold towels and a whirlpool bath full of cold water handy to lower a player’s core temperature should he become overheated. He also stresses proper diet, urges players to avoid dark fluids with caffeine that act as diuretics and to bring a change of clothes.

“When clothes get saturated then the clothes are working against you,” Cates said. “Not absorbing it. Can’t evaporate.”

Coaches are urged to have more flexible practice schedules, to extend the length of breaks or make breaks more frequent during the hot months and to start summer practices later in the day.

Cabot Coach Mike Malham, who has led the Panthers since 1981, mandates his players complete all of their summer conditioning so they report in shape. He insists the players hydrate before practice, conducts the first of his two-a-days in the early morning shade, lets his players have all the water they want and holds a Gatorade and cool-down break in the air-conditioned field house during the heat of the afternoons.

If a player shows symptoms of heat exhaustion, like cramps, Malham holds him out of practice, and he said there is no substitute for a simple hand on the back of the neck to see if a player’s skin is clammy.

“I’ve been in this long enough. I haven’t lost one yet,” Malham said. “I want to knock on wood. You never know what could happen, but again, it gets down to common sense.”


On Aug. 20, 2008, 15-year-old Pleasure Ridge Park (Ky.) High School offensive lineman Max Gilpin was running sprints in a heat index of 94 degrees when he collapsed. Gilpin was rushed to the emergency room, where he was found to have a core temperature of 107 degrees. He died three days later.

On Wednesday, first-year Pleasure Ridge coach David Stinson was re-indicted on a charge of wanton endangerment after he had already pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless homicide. His trial is scheduled to start Aug. 31.

Stinson was allegedly conducting a grueling practice and withholding water from his players.

“I mean coaches are scared to death,” Cates said. “It sent ripples across the country as to how the coaches are handling two-a-day practices.”

Cates, a Jacksonville native and president-elect of the Arkansas Athletic Trainers Association, has worked to make sure similar tragedies are avoided in Arkansas, but there is only so much that can be done.

With 300 schools participating under the Arkansas Activities Association banner and only 192 certified or licensed trainers in the state, Cates said it would be impractical to mandate each school have a trainer.

“We are trying to stay away from any unfunded mandates because, No. 1, the schools, they just can’t afford it,” Cates said.

“And, No. 2, we don’t have enough certified athletic trainers in the state.”

Instead, Cates and his brethren have tried to work within the AAA and the state legislature to come up with acceptable guidelines for a number of sports safety and health issues.

Cates, the 2008 Arkansas Athletic Trainer of the Year, said there are few mandates in place for the prevention of heat stroke, but he is pleased with the progress that has been made when it comes to awareness.

“We’re forming position statements and trying to educate the coaches on each of these things,” Cates said. “And we’re also trying to educate them on athletic trainers and how athletic trainers can help the schools. And there are a lot of schools the last few years that have stepped up to the plate and started hiring athletic trainers.”

“I’m fortunate because of Jason,” Whatley said.

Cates is an employee of Ortho Arkansas, which donates Cates’ time to Jacksonville High. Harding Academy has a trainer on staff while Cabot, though without a full-time trainer, gets volunteer help from local physical therapist Joe Farrer.

“He comes by a couple times a week and he’s here for all the games,” Malham said.

Cates said there is an extensive medical history form on the AAA Web site that is recommended to all athletes and their parents.

“If anything comes up, whether it be a blood pressure issues, a pulse issue, maybe we hear a murmur or something like that, the kids have to go for further studies and get cleared,” Cates said. “We let their family doctor plan their course of action until we get an all-clear for athletic participation.”

Heart conditions, sickle-cell traits and other conditions that can be accelerated by exposure to heat can possibly be detected if the medical history form is properly filled out, Cates said.

Unfortunately, a player too often simply reports to practice with a family doctor’s clearance.

“But there is no blood pressure record, no allergy record,” Cates said. “By rule that paper says the kid is cleared to play, but at Jacksonville, if I get that, I have the kid go ahead and get that form off the AAA Web site and fill it out for me to know.”

Cates also advocates EKGs be included as part of routine physicals. A cardiology group in Jonesboro donates EKGs to the entire area, and it was just such a test that detected a previously undiagnosed heart condition in Arkansas State freshman receiver Alan Muse, who has since had corrective surgery and is back in practice.

“If there’s a group that’s doing it in Jonesboro we need to find a group that can do it in Little Rock,” Cates said, acknowledging the cost of the test is prohibitive. “There’s got to be somebody that has those resources here.”

Before Cates, physicians and concerned politicians can begin considering mandates for heat- stroke prevention — and how to fund them — Cates is waiting on the results of studies on the subject at the University of Georgia.

Cates is particularly interested in the study because of the similarities in climate to Arkansas.

“Then we’ll be able to form a position statement and look at what changes may be needed as far as addressing the coaches and two-a-days and things like that,” Cates said. “But we’re really not in a position to jump out there and make something because you don’t want to do it without scientific research.”


Without the hard science to support the passing of tough laws, doctors and trainers like Cates have found the best way to prevent heat stroke is to work hand-in-hand with high school coaches as much as possible.

For the most part, the coaches have been receptive and willing, Cates said.

“Some coaches are still traditional football coaches; they’re out there from 1 to 4 o’ clock,” Cates said. “But with the lawsuit from last year I don’t think there’s a coach that is not in tune with it. There is not a coach who wants to lose an athlete.”

Close to 4,000 attended seminars on heat exposure during AAA All-Star week festivities at Fayetteville in June. Similar, well-attended seminars have been conducted in Jonesboro and Little Rock — with coaches traveling from as far away as Newport and Junction City to attend.

“I know that a lot of coaches, just from talking to coaches and athletic trainers around the state … they’re having early morning practice to avoid the heat of the day,” said Cates, who got his degree in sports medicine at Arkansas State, which had the first accredited sports-medicine program in Arkansas. “Some of them are coming in at 7 and 8 in the evening and practicing under the lights.”

Many of the guidelines people like Cates are preaching are based on rules adopted by the NCAA and recommended by the National Athletic Trainers Association: Going longer in helmets and shorts, no back-to-back two-a-days or back-to-back workouts in full pads, flexible practice and hydration break schedules.

Of course, the NCAA has the luxury of requiring one certified trainer per every 50 athletes. Cates is the only trainer for 64 football players at Jacksonville, while Cabot and many other schools have yet to hire a trainer at all.

For the time being, and maybe for always, the first line of defense against heat stroke appears to be the coaches, who can be a notoriously demanding lot when it comes to sticking to schedules and budgeting time.

But a practice timetable is trivial when compared to the health of a young man who has his whole life ahead of him. Most coaches agree, when a player bids his family goodbye and heads off to practice or a game, they should expect to see him again.

“I wouldn’t say that putting a kid’s life No. 1 would complicate anything,” Whatley said. “From that standpoint, I don’t think it handcuffs us anymore. We’re going to be more organized and make better use of our time.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Huck is not helpful

Mike Huckabee, our gifted former governor, does some things very well. In nearly 10 years as governor, he could say one thing, do quite the opposite and win praise for both, a talent every politician covets. We found ourselves objecting to most of what he said, applauding most of what he did and then objecting again when he miscast his own record while pursuing the Republican nomination for president.

But international diplomacy? We never thought he would be good at that. Peace and understanding are never ends that Mike Huckabee thinks worth pursuing. Foes are always implacable. Friends are never even slightly wrong. Friends turned critics are to be cast into everlasting exile.

But it was not exactly with surprise that we read that Huckabee was in Israel for three days to hurl a wrench or two into the delicate peace process. Since he’s being talked about as a presidential candidate in 2012, his visit and his inflammatory words attracted some attention. He denounced the president of the United States and the nation’s Middle East policies.

While President Obama was conferring with the president of Egypt and pressing him to move other Arab nations toward accommodations with Israel, Huckabee was touring Israel and East Jerusalem denouncing the fundamental premise of United States policy for the past four presidents, that there should be a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. George W. Bush probably would have tried to have his citizenship revoked before he returned.

The president and the State Department have pushed the Israeli government to stop building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, with some but not enough success. That seems essential to getting the parties back at the negotiating table. President Obama praised Israel yesterday for moving in the right direction.

But Huckabee said Israel shouldn’t make any concessions. He goes far beyond even the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Huckabee said the United States has no business advising Israelis where they should live. They ought to be able to live anywhere they want to, he said. What if Israel tried to tell the people of New York City which borough they could and could not live in? he asked.

That’s not quite the same. The settlements are not in Israel. If Huckabee actually believed the doctrine he espoused, he would say that we have no business telling Arabs, Mexicans, Haitians and Dominicans they can’t live in the United States if they want to. Well, he did more or less say that in 2005 and 2006 and took some heat for it, but he took the contrary position when he ran for president.

Ateret Kohanim, an extreme religious group that wants more settlement in occupied lands, no nation for the Palestinians and no accommodation, sponsored Huckabee’s visit. His highly political visit flouts a historical principle, that Americans of either party do not go abroad to undermine U. S. foreign policy, whatever it is. It is no longer much observed but it served us well.

Come home, Mike.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >> Snyder draws a big crowd

For all those people who are sick with fear that the government will change the health-care system — there were droves of them at Congressman Vic Snyder’s massive town-hall meeting yesterday at the Convention Center at Little Rock — the news furnishes antidotes almost daily. With or without government action, the system is changing every day, and not for the better.

Families USA, a consumer health organization, reported this week that insurance premiums for Arkansas workers had increased 87.7 percent over the past nine years. A family paying $6,355 for medical coverage in 2000 was paying $11,927 at the beginning of this year.

But inflation is a fact of life and everyone just has to make allowance for it, right?

Not this kind of inflation. It is nearly six times the increase in median earnings for Arkansas families over the same period.

Every year, the increase in premiums reaches the breaking point for many workers and employers. Employers decide they can’t any longer sponsor medical plans for their workers, or else not all of their workers, or else not the same level of coverage. For thousands of employers, maybe most of them, the rising premium costs have driven them to negotiate policies with narrower coverage or much higher copays, or both. Even with all those economies, still the premiums go up every year at an undiminished pace.

It has reached this point: Here in poor Arkansas we spend more per person on direct medical care and insurance than any of the industrialized nations on earth and we have much less to show for it: far fewer people with access to medical care, a higher infant-death rate, shorter life expectancies.

Leaving this health-care system alone is not a luxury any of us can afford, not for long anyway.

How to stabilize and bring down medical and insurance inflation and how to keep people with health coverage through good times and bad are subjects worth serious debate and a good quarrel. Would a low-cost optional insurance plan sponsored by the government drive the big private carriers like Blue Cross, Wellpoint, Cigna, United and Aetna to hold down their underwriting costs and profits and thus stabilize premiums? Or would the low government cost eventually be too much competition for the big companies and drive them out of the market? We think the companies can fend for themselves; their profits even in this moribund economy are setting records. But it is not an issue that thoughtful people should dismiss out of hand.

The only idea that ought to be dismissed out of hand is that the government should do nothing, as many at the public forums advocate because, they say, the United States government cannot be trusted. We do not have a democracy so that we can elect a government that leaves the most desperate problems of the people unaddressed.

TOP STORY >> Cabot school rises after fire

Leader staff writer

Students went to orientation and teachers put the finishing touches on their brand new classrooms at Cabot Junior High North on Tuesday as they prepared for the first day of school today.

“I am really excited for the parents and the kids, but what makes me happiest is not having the students in portable classrooms in the storm season during the spring,” assistant superintendent Jim Dalton said.

“For all practical purposes, it is complete,” he added. “We had the elevator inspection this morning and it passed.”

Today, students will be learning in the state-of-the-art $13.5 million, two-story building that replaces the original junior high that burned down in 2006. It brings to a close three years that teachers have been holding classes in portable classrooms and at the high school campus.

Many teachers said they were pleased with the new technology and ample space of the building.

Ben Lippert, a seventh-grade ancient-world history teacher in his second year at Cabot Junior High North, said being in the new building is a welcome change. He taught in Wisconsin for six years before teaching in Cabot and is looking forward to teaching with additional technology in the classroom.

“Everyone here is excited for the new building. I’m very impressed with the new technology and the features of the classroom,” he said.

“We have a new audio system. Everything we say is amplified by speaker. The kids won’t have to strain to hear us,” Lippert said.

Lippert continued, “I like everything about this school after being in the trailers last year. This is just nice to come home and have everyone in the same building. It will help improve the education for our children.”

Susan Buntin is a seventh-grade science teacher who is in her first year of teaching at the junior high. She taught at Cabot Middle School South last year and is also excited to be in the hi-tech school.

“I think the technology we have here is really awesome. The classroom has lab facilities and everything we need as far as I can tell. The lab is easy to work with,” Buntin said.

Katherine Karkkainen teaches art history and studio art. She has taught at Junior High North for eight years.

“The art room is fabulous. I love my room. It is nice, big and light feeling. The openness and brightness makes you feel happy,” Karkkainen said.

She said the room has an inviting atmosphere. The room is more open than the one she taught in at the original junior high. Karkkainen said while the junior high was under construction, ninth-grade classes were held in different buildings on the high school campus.

“It will be nice to be under one roof. We’ll feel more cohesion instead of being spread out. It’s kind of like, ‘The Jeffersons’ We’re movin’ on up,” she said.

Eighth-grade English teacher Jordan Collier is in his fifth year teaching in Cabot. It is his second year at Cabot Junior High North. Before that, he taught for three years at the Alternative Learning Environment building.

“It’s awesome. I’m excited for the kids to have an actual school building. You have a better sense of community,” Collier said.
Chuck Martin of Cabot brought his daughter, Ashley, a seventh-grader at the school, to orientation.

“It is very pretty and beautiful,” Ashley, 12, said about the new school. “I am overwhelmed at how big it is. It could be a high school.”

Chuck Martin said three years ago his oldest daughter was picking up her schedule for school when the fire broke out. He said the new school is bigger and has the opportunity to accommodate more students if needed.

The new Cabot Junior High North is 127,282 square feet. It has 47 classrooms, five computer labs, nine science labs, three team rooms for teachers to meet, a counseling center, a health and a nurse area, three art studios, a band suite and a choir suite.

The junior high will have 105 employees. Approximately 65 of those will be licensed teachers. Around 1,172 students are expected to attend the junior high. The school holds seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade classes.

The cafeteria is the largest in the district. The Junior High North cafeteria will be able to serve 600 students at a time.

Other new features include motion detectors in the classrooms that will control lights to save energy.

The school will have increased parking. A new driveway was constructed to provide access all the way around the junior-high building. The school has a metal roof, metal trusses and a fire-suppression system.

TOP STORY >> Wing Ding brings in major-league event

Leader staff writer

A major-league sporting event is coming to Jacksonville’s Wing Ding Festival.

No, it’s not football, baseball or even lacrosse. But it is called the fastest-growing sport in America.

It’s competitive eating.

Denise Goforth, a spokesman for the city’s annual festival, told the advertising and promotion commission on Monday night that the festival is contracting with Major League Eating to have a competitive wing-eating contest in 2010.

Goforth said this year the festival will run a two-division eating contest as a prelude to the professional event.

“We have a category for amateurs and one for celebrities and the military. We have two wings out here at the air base that we’d love to have eat wings,” she quipped.

The A&P gave the festival $10,000 earlier this year for entertainment and this is the route organizers chose. The festival is increasing prize money for the cooking competition, adding to the eating competition with prize money and bringing back Radio Disney.

“That still leaves us about $4,000 for other acts,” Goforth said. “We hope the eating competition will put us on the state, regional and national map.”

The MLE is the sports franchise that oversees all professional competitive-eating events and competitive-eating television specials on ESPN and other networks. It lists its mission as providing a safe environment for all events while also seeking to create a dynamic and enjoyable fan experience.

Among the MLE professional eaters are Takeru Kobayashi, Joey Chestnut, Sonya Thomas and Patrick Bertoletti, whose records include 58 bratwurst in 10 minutes, 66 Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, 103 Krystal hamburgers in eight minutes, 65 hardboiled eggs in less than seven minutes and 21 pounds of grits in 10 minutes.

MLE events, according to a company press release, are watched by millions of fans.

Alderman Reedie Ray, who is a commission member, is excited about the idea of a competitive eating contest, but, then of course among his many awards and honors is first place in a central Arkansas pie-eating contest.

This year’s Wing Ding festival is set for Saturday, Oct. 3.

In other A&P business, the commission:

Tabled a request by Ron Newport of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful to approve the first installment, about $4,000, on a 25-foot soaring sculpture by John Deering that the organization wants to place on city hall grounds. The total cost of the sculpture will come to more than $50,000.

The commission had legal concerns about purchasing the sculpture without going out for bids, and was also concerned that there was not enough in the budget to support the request.
Newport said that there are provisions that allow organizations to bypass the bidding requirement when it comes to art projects.

He and the commission will discuss it again at the September meeting when the city attorney will have the answers about the bidding.

In the financial report by Cheryl Erkel of the city’s finance department, the commissioners heard that the prepared- food tax is down about 2 percent for the year and the hotel-room tax collections are down about 17 percent.

June’s taxable hotel/motel receipts of $374,258 were the worst in June in five years of collecting the tax. In 2008, which was an outstanding year for the local hotel/motel industry, taxable receipts came in at $508,390.

The city’s portion for June came to $7,400 for the month and about $39,000 for the first half of the year.

The city’s restaurants posted taxable receipts of $3.27 million for June, down about $80,000 from June 2008. The city’s portion came to about $66,000 for June and $384,000 for the year.

Half the amount collected is earmarked for the parks and recreation department. The remaining amount is used by the commission to promote and market Jacksonville and various events in the city.

The commission approved spending $9,000 with the Sells Agency, the marketing firm the city hired to help promote Jacksonville, to develop an advertising and promotion Web site.

Mike Sells told the commissioners that most major cities have three Web sites—the city Web site for its residents, a chamber Web site for business and an A&P site for visitors and tourists, which all interlink with each other.

The commission also ap-proved the chamber’s plans for a multidivisional Christmas lighting contest. Awards will be given to the best display in the residential, church, commercial and government categories. Those interested in participating must complete an application by Nov. 20 and be ready for judging by Dec. 7.

For more information or applications, call the chamber at 982-1511.

TOP STORY >> Before opening, finishing touches

Leader senior staff writer

While expensive new Pulaski County Special School District schools are poised for construction in Maumelle and Sherwood, students at Jacksonville schools will again make do with less.

The kitchen may not be up to speed for the start of Jacksonville Middle School classes at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, but principal Veronica Perkins said the school is repaired and refreshed and the staff eager to get started.

Less than a mile away, Jacksonville Elementary School reopens on the heels of an unfavorable inspection by city code inspectors, who reported dozens of hazards and violations after an Aug. 7 visit.

In an Aug. 11 letter to the district, senior building inspector Martin J. Sanady wrote, “Some of these violations are more significant than others; however, collectively allowing children back into the building gives pause.”

Sanady advised the district to address some of the more serious violations, such as open or compromised electrical equipment or tripping hazards, before the opening of school and to submit a plan of correction, complete with timeline, by Monday.

Calls to PCSSD to discuss the elementary school were not returned.

“We have not received a response to the letter,” said city administrator Jim Durham.

Among the problems cited after the elementary school inspection were roof damage, gable and louver damage, improper wiring methods, and cracked and broken electrical switches and outlets.

Bathroom stall dividers were falling off the walls and bathroom countertops are delaminating, which creates the potential for mold and or disease. Not all bathroom receptacles were safety receptacles, both a microwave and refrigerator are plugged into an extension cord and open junction boxes were found in several locations.

Walkway railings are in disrepair, and there is no pan under the hot-water heater.

Sanady warned that failure to submit a repair plan by Aug. 24 would result in further action.

Durham said he was particularly concerned over an area where the electrical conduit is separated and wires are pinched and tied to a metal sidewalk canopy.

“That’s an extremely dangerous situation,” he said.

The middle school was already in disrepair. With the doubling of the student body caused by combining the single-gender boys and girls middle schools, much work was needed.

Workmen, cleaning crews and teachers swarmed over the middle school Tuesday trying to get everything ready for the arrival of the first bus of students at 7:50 a.m. today, according to principal Perkins.

Perkins said the kitchen might not be ready for the first day of school, in which case students will get sack lunches. “We have contingency plans for sack lunches for the first two days,” she said.

Other than that, “It’s going to be a normal first day,” she said. “The school looks really good. We’ll face the same challenges that anyone else will face and (if needed) we’ll follow protocols.”

She said Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes rounded up volunteers who painted classrooms for three days.

Four portable classroom buildings will be ready, she said. But workers still toiled to bolt together the halves of the fifth portable. It is for instructional coaches and a special-education laboratory, she said.

“The classroom portables are newly wired and the air conditioning is running,” she said.

Next door to the Jacksonville Middle School, the innovative Star Academy, a dropout prevention program, still had room for more students, according to principal Charlotte Wallace. The program has room for 80 students, but only about 50 had committed, Wallace said late Monday.

“The parents and kids are excited and we’re still in the process of recruiting,” she added.

She said the Star Academy could accept new students only through the fifth day, because the classes are so concentrated that it would be too late for a new student to catch up after that.

The program helps students graduate in a timely fashion.

TOP STORY >> Water project hits dry hole

Leader staff writer

Funding problems continue for the 15-year-old Lonoke-White water project that is supposed to connect communities in the central part of the state to Greers Ferry Lake.

Participants were told at the noon meeting Tuesday that Arkansas Natural Resources Com-mission, which is expected to distribute the federal loan money to pay for much of the project, will not bend the rules to make it happen.

The Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, which plans to build the project, can’t borrow money because it has no customers of its own. Only existing systems with existing customers are eligible. And the plan to take on someone else’s customers in name only is not acceptable. The only way the project can get funding is if some of the larger water providers in the group agree to take on the responsibility of borrowing the money.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the ANRC in a July 23 letter that the project, now estimated at $45 million, is for long-term state water planning and not in response to an existing public health problem which was counter to the requirements for Drinking Water State Revolving Fund money.

DWSRF is the fund through which federal money in the form of a low-interest loan was to be funneled. The project is also earmarked for a $15 million stimulus grant.

When the problem was discussed last week, members agreed that a viable solution was to get a permit from the state Health Department and take on either 77 water customers from Bayou Two or 300 or so from McRae.

Clint McGue, project attorney, told project members Tuesday that a Monday afternoon meeting with ANRC didn’t go well.

“The ANRC has done sort of a 180,” he said. “We’ll have to take a different approach to find $30 million.”

McGue said last week that the options of each member getting a loan to pay their part of the project or for some of the members with large customer bases to borrow the money for everyone were not viable solutions.

This week, he said the only solution was for the members with large customer bases to borrow the money.

“The EPA has decided they must have strict compliance with regulations,” he said. “We’ll need volunteers to get funding.”

McGue said the money is still set aside to pay for the project. But the question that must be answered soon is who will access that money. The deadline for signed contracts for construction is Feb. 17, 2010.

Although there are no firm commitments, representatives from Vilonia, North Pulaski, Grand Prairie and Cabot said they were willing, with their boards’ approval, to consider borrowing the money.

Jacksonville also needs assurance from ANRC that its $24 million loan will not be placed in jeopardy if it also applies for a loan to help build the Lonoke-White project.

Cabot is committed to paying $35,000 a month for the project. Bill Cypert, spokesman for the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, said Cabot won’t pay any more than that.

Woody Bryant, the newly hired project manager and member of the Grand Prairie Bayou Two Water Commission, said he had expected more resistance.

“The consensus is better here today than I thought it would be,” Bryant said.

The meeting comes on the heels of a recent Lonoke City Council meeting, which voted unanimously to accept their share of financial responsibility if the association gets its grant, and also to buy its allocation of water from the Mid- Arkansas Water Alliance.

“We won’t have to go up on our rates unless the grant comes through,” Mayor Wayne McGee said.

Leader senior staff writer John Hofheimer contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >>Two country groups to headline White County Fair

Leader staff writer

Organizers of the White County Fair, set for Sept. 14-19, announced last Thursday that not one but two well-known country bands will perform this year.

Ricochet, best known for its hit song, “Daddy’s Money,” will perform Thursday night, Sept. 17. And on Friday night, Sept. 18, Confederate Railroad will take the stage to perform hits like “Queen of Memphis” and “Trashy Women.”

Chuck Wisdom, a retired Beebe banker charged with finding performers for the 74th annual White County Fair, said the fair has hosted big-name performers since 1970, when the Wilburn Brothers performed.

Last year, the Kentucky Headhunters was the group that brought in the crowd, and over the years the fairground stage has been graced with stars like Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Sawyer Brown and the Bellamy Brothers.

“Good entertainment is essential to a good fair,” Wisdom said.

Luke Williams, the Beebe teenager trying to make it in Nashville with his band, opened for the Kentucky Headhunters last year and will open for Confederate Railroad this year.

Gospel singers the Freedom 4 Quartet and Krystal Jones will open for Ricochet.

The entertainment is free with gate admission, which is higher on Thursday and Friday nights.

Although the fair doesn’t officially open until Monday, Sept. 14, the attractions start Saturday, Sept. 12 with the White County Fair Horse Show with free admission.

The fair queen will be chosen on Monday night followed by talent shows on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Bull riding is set for Thursday night. And on Saturday the attractions include a rodeo and a demolition derby.

The midway rides are provided again this year by P.B.J. Happee Day Shows Inc., a family-owned business based in Marion.

Pam Casper, one of the owners, said the company paid $100,000 to outfit its giant gondola wheel with LED lights.

“The carnival is going green this year,” Casper said, adding that the lights are so striking they wowed even the carnival workers, who are hard to impress.

LED lights could eventually be required on all carnival rides, she said but for now, “this is the only one traveling in the United States.”

Tickets are $4 for adults and $3 for children on Monday and Wednesday. Admission is free Tuesday.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children over five on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There is no admission charge for children five years old and under.

The fair publication this year is in booklet form and organizers say will be easier to read because of the large print and they promise this year it won’t fall apart because it is stapled in the middle.

The booklet will be available at local businesses and at the fairground office. Pick one up for rules about exhibiting animals, and entering contests for such skills as handicrafts, needlework, home canning, bread making, painting, gardening and farming.

TOP STORY >> Ending aid to county schools is proposed

Leader senior staff writer

Calling the offer the most generous any state has made in ending a desegregation agreement, State Atty. Gen. Dustin McDaniel Tuesday proposed phasing out the state’s desegregation funding to the tune of $392 million over seven years.

In letters sent to attorneys for Pulaski County Special School District, Little Rock School District and North Little Rock School District, McDaniel wrote:

“This is a good offer that will give the districts financial stability and allow them to move beyond this litigation so that they may focus on educating students and preparing the next generation of doctors, teachers and scientists.”

“Moreover, the state will almost certainly save millions of dollars by resolving this matter now, as opposed to waiting until the matter is disposed of by both the trial and appellate courts.”

Currently, the state subsidizes the desegregation agreement to the tune of about $68.8 million a year.

“I think we’re past the billion-dollar mark,” said Will Bond, who sponsored the law assuring a phase-out of funds rather than sudden cessation.

“The judge would still have to approve the settlement,” Bond said Tuesday. “In my opinion that is generous. The school districts need to really get this case over with. We’re a decade late. It’s not time to get it wrapped up, it’s past time.”

U.S. Dist. Judge Brian Miller is slated to take over the desegregation case at a 10 a.m. hearing Sept. 30.

The desegregation money is used in part for transportation of students, funding majority-to-minority transfers and magnet school programs to help achieve racial balance across the three districts.

The law provides that the payment under the agreement must not exceed the total amount spent on desegregation-related expenses during the 2008-2009 school year.

This most recent year, the three districts split $68.8 million.

McDaniel’s seven-year phase-out would fund the agreement approximately like this: $68.8 million the first year, then in subsequent years, $64 million, $60 million, $56 million, $52 million, $48 million and the last year, about $44 million.

The attorney general also asked for an accounting on how the funds would be spent.

Neither PCSSD nor North Little Rock responded to the state’s previous offer, but Little Rock said it wanted funding to drop only to 90 percent in the eighth year.

The letter was delivered to PCSSD attorney Sam Jones III, Little Rock School District attorney Chris Heller, North Little Rock School District attorney Steve Jones and John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Intervenors.

SPORTS >> Topless racing makes initial stop in Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Topless season will hit Beebe Speedway this Friday when the O’Reilly Mid South Racing Association late-model series makes its third and final appearance at the quarter-mile clay oval.

Racing begins at 8 p.m.

All cars will compete with their roofs removed. The MSRA will race in Greenville, Miss., the following night in its first annual Topless 40 event. Many of the drivers already had the roofs removed for last week’s Topless 100 at Batesville, and series director Chris Ellis decided to also make the Beebe race a topless event as a convenience to the drivers.

The race was originally scheduled for the following Friday, but when the annual Topless 40 event at Monticello ran a month earlier than scheduled, Beebe was able to get in on the topless action.

“The people at Monticello didn’t want to run a Friday race with the first week of school and everything else going on,” said Ellis, who also serves as series flagman. “That’s not their usual night. So we ran it last month. We’re running topless at Greenville the next night, so we just decided to let them run topless at Beebe, as well, to make it a little easier on everyone.”

The first two MSRA races at Beebe went caution-free for 40 laps, with veteran Batesville driver Wendell Wallace taking the win at the first race in April, and Russellville’s Jon Kirby winning the July 17 event.

Wallace and Kirby are two of 10 drivers that have MSRA wins under their belts this season in a year of parity. With 15 races run so far, Wallace, Greenbrier veteran Bill Frye and MSRA points leader Billy Moyer, Jr. of Batesville are the only drivers that have more than one win in the series.

Moyer, Jr. will be looking to extend his lead in the season standings over Trumann driver Kyle Beard this weekend. Moyer holds an 80-point lead over Beard heading into Friday’s race, and is 110 points ahead of third-place driver Jeff Floyd of Walnut Ridge.

Moyer, 21, and Beard, 23, are two younger drivers who have made their marks on the local late-model circuit since 2007. With young rookie-of-the-year contenders Michael Murphree of Little Rock, Oklahoma driver Gary Christian and Missouri pilot Austin Rettig also becoming more competitive in the series, the future of late-model racing in the area is more secure than was anticipated only five years ago.

“You look at the guys that are big names now; they had to start somewhere,” said Ellis. “One of the promoters said I didn’t really have any names, but I told them that when Wendell Wallace started out back in the 80’s, he wasn’t a name. You make a name by getting out there and winning races and putting on a good show.”

Ellis is also in the process of getting things in line for next season. He hopes to expand the schedule to 28 events, and already has eight dates set up for Friday nights. There are also new sponsorship opportunities in the works, which could improve driver purse payout for next year. Ellis also wants to implement electronic scoring for 2010.

Track conditions have been good for the first two MSRA events at Beebe. Ellis said that how the track does this Friday is mostly up to Mother Nature herself.

“We need some humidity,” said Ellis. “If it’s dry and windy and sunny, you can water the track all week and it’s still going to dry out. There are a lot of variables involved. Running too many classes is the most common thing we’ve seen this year. When you run six other classes besides late models, that’s a lot of laps to put on a track in a single night. But it’s up to the promoter, and he has to run the classes that he thinks will help make a profit for the track.”

SPORTS >> Devils still have positions to fill

Leader sports editor

With a little less than two weeks to go before Jacksonville’s season opener at Cabot, head coach Mark Whatley still has some ‘help wanted’ signs posted.

The Red Devils came into the season with a slate of new positions up for grabs after the loss of several offensive linemen as well as all of their skill players other than quarterback Logan Perry. While Whatley thinks he has the fullback slot inked in, he has been using pencil at tailback and at left tackle.

Doug Sprouse, a defensive end a season ago, appears to have locked up the fullback position, while a sophomore and two juniors have shown varying degrees of inconsistency at the tailback slot that was vacated by graduating speedster Patrick Geans.

Jacksonville’s toughest replacement challenge will be at wide out, where the dynamic duo of 6-5 Demetrius Harris and cohort Terrell Brown terrorized6A-East secondaries in 2008.

Only Devin Featherstone returns with any experience, but Whatley feels pretty good about the receiving corps that is developing.

Still, with the loss of game-breakers Harris, Brown and Geans, the Red Devils may opt for more of a move-the-chains offense this fall, utilizing their backs in the passing game and relying on shorter routes.

In junior quarterback Logan Perry, Whatley figures he has the man to run the show. Whatley said Perry, who started all 11 games as a sophomore, has increased his arm strength noticeably, adding that Perry’s understanding of the offense is thorough.

“He’s threading it in there with the confidence you normally see in a senior quarterback,” Whatley said.

In a scrimmage last Friday, the offense moved the ball well on its first series, Whatley said, but the defense, which returns nine starters, pretty much took over after that.

“We’re not playing as well as we need to play,” Whatley said of his offense. “We’re just a little inconsistent. We had several second-and-fours and you have to be able to convert those. We’re not putting plays together.”

The defense, on the other hand, looks to be solid, especially up front and in the linebacking corps.

“That’s definitely our strength,” said first-year defensive coordinator Derek Moore, a former Razorback who takes over for long-time defensive coordinator and new North Pulaski coach Rick Russell.

Fifty-nine players came out for summer two-a-days, a pretty satisfying total, Whatley said. His plans are to play most of his players one way, with the exception of Featherstone, who will line up at wide receiver and at cornerback.

Whatley said he will likely have to rely heavily on sophomores on both sides of the ball and has Devon McClure slated to take over for Harris at safety. Harris was an all-stater a year ago and was tabbed The Leader’s defensive player of the year after racking up 145 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Another sophomore, Michael Thornabar, appears to have nailed down one of the defensive end slots.

But with a young secondary — Terrell Brown was also a mainstay at cornerback — Whatley and Moore are counting on the front seven to pick up the slack.

“Yeah, we’re going to be aggressive up there,” Whatley said. “You’ve got to be.”

Whatley, his coaches and the fans will all get a better look at how it’s all coming together this Saturday evening when the Red-White scrimmage kicks off. The seventh grade will go at 5 p.m, followed by the eighth and ninth grades at 6. The varsity will kick off at 7.

Whatley said the first team offense will go against the first team defense, followed by the second teams and the third teams.

Each scrimmage will last only 15-20 plays, he said.

SPORTS >> Making the grade

Leader sportswriter

Brandon Eller plays a game where they count everything, so it’s a good thing he excels at math.

Eller, the former Sylvan Hills High standout, has concluded his baseball career at Arkansas State and will wrap up his academic career when he graduates as a first-team academic All-American in December.

A math major, Eller posted a 4.0 GPA throughout college and joined football player Brian Flagg, the former defensive end who graduated in May, as Arkansas State’s first-teamers on the 2008-09 Academic All-American roster.

“It was definitely real challenging sometimes,” said Eller, who played mostly first base last season and is planning to coach and teach. “It just depended on what the semester was for me. I’m pretty good at math, but some of the education classes and some of the upper education math classes took some studying on road trips and online.”

Flagg and Eller are among a record 10 Sun Belt Conference athletes to make the All-American team, topping the previous high of seven who earned the honor in 2005-06.

“I’ve always taken a little bit of pride in being able to make good grades,” Eller said. “I’m almost done now. … The classes get a little harder. I didn’t know if I was going to lose that 4.0 but I’ve been able to keep it.”

The academic team is chosen by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). To be eligible, a student-athlete must be a varsity starter or key reserve, maintain a minimum, cumulative GPA of 3.30 on a 4.0 scale, have reached sophomore academic and athletic standing and be nominated by the sports information director.

They don’t come more qualified than Eller from a GPA standpoint. As for the on-field stuff, he had that pretty well taken care of too.

Eller started all 53 games for the Red Wolves in 2009. He batted .311 and was third on the team in hits (64) and RBI (39).

“We are so happy for Brandon Eller,” first-year Red Wolves coach Tommy Raffo said. “What a special honor that has been bestowed on him and the ASU baseball program. He is very deserving, with all the hard work he has put in on and off the field.”

A Sherwood native, Eller came to Arkansas State as a slugging shortstop and pitcher out of Sylvan Hills. He won three state tournament games in relief and batted .570 his senior year, when the Bears won a state championship, and he also helped the team to a title as a sophomore and a runner-up finish as a junior.

Eller’s biggest collegiate thrills were beating No. 2 Ole Miss his junior year and hitting his second career grand slam to beat Louisiana-Monroe in a Sun Belt Conference game as a senior.

Eller, 6-1, 175 pounds, didn’t worry too much about his statistics, but given his major field of study, they were never very hard to figure.

“I usually knew what my batting average was and stuff because I could do most of that in my head,” Eller said. “But I didn’t think of stats too much; I just tried to play.”

It was a little more challenging to balance baseball and school, but Eller was able to get to the field with teammates and get his hitting in his spare time. On road trips Eller flip-flopped his schedule, using his time off the field to hit the books.

“It really wasn’t too bad, balancing the time,” Eller said.

Eller still needs his student- teaching internship to graduate, but he figures to complete that this fall with his prefect GPA intact.

“I want to coach. I’m getting a coaching endorsement,” Eller said. “It’s 20 extra hours but I’m almost done with that too.”

Eller went to Arkansas State on an academic scholarship, though he was good enough to earn at least a partial athletic ride.

“It’s a balance,” Eller said. “I would stress education. For me, I got all my scholarships through education. That’s something you’ve got to fall back on.”

Eller learned the value of a fallback plan when a shoulder injury ended the pitching half of his career his freshman season at Arkansas State.

He was 3-3 with a 5.06 ERA and hit .667 as a freshman. He played mostly first as a sophomore and senior, mostly second as a junior and was always available as the designated hitter.

“Before I got hurt I thought I had a chance to get drafted,” said Eller who batted .347 as a sophomore and .290 as a junior.

“But my last couple years I wanted to enjoy my college career. I just wanted to have fun playing college ball.”

His sterling GPA made that a certainty.

“That was obviously another incentive to keep my grades up,” Eller said.

SPORTS >> Storm ravages Rhinos

Leader sports editor

It was a game that had just about everything but on-field drama.

In a sloppily played rematch between two of the premier teams in the North American Football League, the Nashville Storm finished off a season sweep of the Arkansas Rhinos with a 22-6 win at Bob Hill Memorial Field in Jacksonville on Saturday night.

The game, billed as a battle on the order of a Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles clash, failed to live up to the hype as the Storm scored twice early while the Rhinos struggled to get anything going offensively. They finished with only 139 yards, suffered three turnovers, a slew of penalties and a couple of bad snaps on special teams.

The contest, in fact, may best be remembered for all the strange things that happened along the way, rather than for the play on the field.

Nashville was awarded six downs on one series, which allowed it to turn a second-and-50 situation into a field goal.

Two series later, the Rhinos were given only three downs on their series.

But the strangest, and scariest, moment of the night came midway through the fourth period when Rhino assistant coach Harry Coleman collapsed along the sidelines. Play was stopped for nearly 15 minutes as medics attended to Coleman and a prayer chain was formed around him while the ambulance was summoned.

“He’s fine,” Rhino owner and coach Oscar Malone said on Monday. “It was his blood pressure. He was caught up in the game and we all were kind of stressed out.”

The Storm, which improved to 6-0 as the Rhinos dropped to 4-3, featured five offensive linemen who tipped the scales at over 1,700 pounds. Despite that, the Rhino defense was able to settle down and put the clamps on a Nashville team that came into the game averaging 55 points a game. But Nashville was able to strike twice in the first 10 minutes to take a 13-0 lead, going 55 yards in eight plays and 78 yards in five plays.

The second of those scoring drives followed a promising drive by the Rhinos that ended with an Alfred Thomas fumble at the Nashville 25. Thomas, filling in at fullback, had just rumbled 23 yards when the ball came loose. The big play in the Nashville drive was a 50-yard completion to the 1 from Phellepe Hall to Jeremiah Weaver.

But aided by a pair of pass-interference penalties, the Rhinos struck back. After quarterback Damien Dunning hooked up with Stewart Franks for 20 yards to midfield, wide receiver Tim Mason was interfered with at the goal line, setting up Dunning’s one-yard sneak. A bad snap on the extra point kept the Rhinos trailing 13-6 with 58 seconds left in the opening period.

That would be the final touchdown of the night as strong-legged Storm kicker John Gorecki took care of the rest with three field goals.

The strangest series in an overall strange game came on Nashville’s ensuing possession. After moving to the Rhino 25, the Storm was flagged for three consecutive penalties and faced a second and 50 from its own 35. Hall completed a 40-yard pass to set up a third and 10, but after a seven-yard run, the down marker still showed second down instead of what should have been fourth down.

A completion for no gain and a two-yard run moved the ball to the 16 and Gorecki came on to boot a 34-yard field goal to extend the Nashville lead to 16-6 with 9:42 left in the half.

“That was a poorly called game and we just couldn’t get a break,” Malone said. “It was in Nashville’s favor and I hate to say that, but there were a lot of game-changing calls.”

A roughing-the-punter penalty on Nashville got the Rhinos out of the shadow of their own goal line on the next possession, but not only couldn’t Arkansas move the ball, Dunning got hurt and the Rhinos had to punt.

Mason picked off a Hall pass, but the Rhinos received only three downs on their next series and a bad snap on the punt turned the ball over to Nashville at the Rhino 17 with just 33 seconds left in the half. Though the Rhinos busted through to sack Hall back at the 27, a personal foul moved it to the 13 and Gorecki tacked on a 30-yard field goal as the Storm took a 19-6 lead into the locker room.

The Rhinos, thanks to a sputtering offense and eight Nashville penalties, ran only 15 offensive plays in the first half and only 31 overall. Though Dunning returned at quarterback to start the second half, it made little difference as the Rhinos made only one first down after halftime when Dunning hit Franks on a crossing pattern and he rumbled for 61 yards down to the Storm 17. But the drive stalled and Arkansas’ last hope was vanquished on a fourth and goal from the 3 when Brendon Medcalf was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage.

Nashville tacked on a field goal midway through the final quarter after the Storm intercepted a Dunning pass deep in Rhino territory.

Nashville finished with 341 total yards, but only 121 of those came after intermission.

For Arkansas, Dunning completed 4 of 13 passes for 100 yards, while Jeremiah Crouch was 2 of 3 for 17 yards.

Malone said Dunning suffered a high ankle sprain which will take six to eight weeks to heal. Despite that, he said Dunning is scheduled to start this Saturday when the Rhinos host the Memphis Panthers.

“The guys know we did not play our best offensive game,” Malone said. “But we corrected those yesterday in practice. We know we can bounce back from it.”